ROTC Programs: How Do They Work?

Nov 14, 2017

Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs prepare students for careers in the military and help them develop leadership skills. These programs offer scholarships to students who are interested in attending college and serving in the military at the same time. View article »

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Video Transcript

ROTC Programs

Students can choose to enroll in Army, Air Force, Navy, or Marine Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) programs. We'll cover enrollment requirements, program features, and benefits for students.

More than 1,700 colleges across the country offer ROTC programs to college students who want to gain leadership skills and military training while receiving a paid education. These students select a specific career training program and take military-based leadership courses. ROTC programs are slightly different for each branch of the military.


High school students, college students, and enlisted soldiers can enroll in the Army program.

Topics of study include:

  • Army leadership
  • Military operations
  • Physical fitness
  • Communications
  • War principles

High school juniors or seniors may enroll in the Army ROTC through a scholarship program. College students can enroll in the ROTC's basic or advanced training course, depending on how far along they are in their college studies. The ROTC advanced course takes about two years to complete. Students must first complete a 28-day training program at Fort Knox, KY, to be eligible for enrollment.

From there, they study:

  • Command functions
  • Weaponry
  • Military justice
  • Personnel management
  • Ethics

Students acquire leadership skills through classroom learning, labs, physical training, and field exercises. The program pays for college tuition, and graduates will become officers in the U.S. Army. Scholarship options are available for enlisted soldiers who want to leave active duty to attend college. Enlisted soldiers can choose between the Green-to-Gold scholarship and the Green-to-Gold active duty option. The active duty option is for enlisted soldiers who want to remain on active duty and attend college at the same time.

Air Force: Four-Year Program

The Air Force program is also offered at many U.S. colleges and universities in the United States. Aspiring officers can pursue either a 4-year or 2-year program.

The 4-year Air Force ROTC program starts with a general military course offered during the first two years of the program. This course is available to scholarship recipients and to students who are awaiting approval. The general military course consists of one hour of classroom work and between one and two hours of leadership laboratory each week.

During the last two years of the program, students take the professional officer course, which is designed specifically for college juniors and seniors. The classes are small and emphasize cadet presentations and group discussions, and students conduct leadership laboratories and manage a unit cadet corp. Topics of study include management, communication, and national defense policy. Once they enroll in the professional officer course, students are automatically enlisted in the Air Force Reserve and assigned to the Obligated Reserve Section.

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Air Force: Two-Year Program

The 2-year program is the same as the last two years of the 4-year program, with different admission procedures. Admission to the 2-year program is highly competitive, and students must complete a 6-week extended field training exercise. Students are formally admitted when they return to school in the fall semester and enroll in the program.

Costs associated with college tuition, textbooks, and lab fees are covered by the program. Students receive a monthly stipend of up to $400 and academic credit for the ROTC elective course. Additional benefits include the opportunity to learn from world-class, active Air Force officers.


Because the Marine Corps is a branch of the armed forces within the Department of the Navy, candidates for both the Navy and Marine Corps enroll in the Navy ROTC program. Similar to the other programs, the Navy also helps students acquire leadership skills and prepares them for careers in the military. Eligible students must be U.S. citizens who have already been admitted to an approved Navy ROTC school. They must also be at least 17 years old by September 1st of their first year of college but no older than 23 years of age on December 31st of that same year.

Once admitted, students participate in weekly drills and community service projects and are required to wear their Navy uniforms once a week. During summer cruise training, students spend a portion of the summer in the field, learning from Navy officers. Summer cruise training provides students with the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and helps them decide which area of emphasis to pursue. Areas of emphasis include ashore and afloat aviation, nuclear power, and foreign exchange.

Marine Corps

As future Marines, students acquire a background in naval history, weaponry tactics, and engineering. The first two summers of the program are spent learning about Marine Corps history, leadership, missions, and ethics. The third summer is spent at the Officer Candidates School in Quantico, VA, where students are trained, screened and evaluated. Assessments are based on physical performance, academics, leadership potential, and commitment to success, which are necessary skills for a commission in the U.S. Marine Corps.

The Navy program pays for books, the cost of education, and lab fees. Additionally, students receive a monthly stipend based on their current year in school. Stipends range from $250 per month for freshmen to $400 a month for seniors. Upon graduation, students receive commissions as ensigns in the Navy.

Students in the Marines will have their tuition paid and will receive money for books, uniforms, fees, and other expenses. After graduation, students are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Marine Corps.

Enrolling in an ROTC program with one of the different branches of the military can provide valuable education and career preparation, as well as financial benefits.

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