Want to Join ROTC? Here Are the Pros and Cons
What Is ROTC?
What exactly is ROTC?
ROTC is an acronym for Reserve Officer Training Corps. In the program, college students train to become officers in the United State Military. The program has branches in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. While graduates may also serve in the Marine Corps and Coast Guard after college, these branches do not have specific ROTC programs, although the Coast Guard does offer a similar program called the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative.
Approximately 1,700 colleges and universities across the country, including many highly prestigious schools, offer ROTC programs. While scholarships aren’t a guarantee, many cadets do receive significant 2-, 3-, or 4-year scholarships.
For more information about ROTC, check out A Guide to ROTC Scholarships.
Benefits of Joining ROTC
While not all students receive scholarships through ROTC, many do, and the awards are often significant; in many cases, you won’t have to contribute to your college tuition at all or cover any additional expenses, such as housing. This can be an enormous relief for students who are concerned about their ability to pay for their education.
You’ll also enjoy a complete college experience alongside your ROTC training. Like other students, you’ll attend your academic classes, participate in clubs and extracurriculars, and live in dorms. In other words, being a cadet won’t make you miss out on a typical college experience—you’ll just have your ROTC commitment, usually one or two classes, alongside it.
One of the most significant advantages to joining ROTC is that you will receive extensive training that will allow you to serve at an officer level upon graduation. This means you’ll have an enormous head start on a military career. You’ll also be able to apply other skills and specialties you learned in college, such as technology, to your service.
Also keep in mind that ROTC is a very prestigious program, and it’s considered an honor to participate in it. You’ll gain numerous important qualities, including leadership skills, discipline, and maturity. Plus, you’ll have no trouble staying active and healthy.
There are many opportunities for postgraduate education and scholarships for ROTC graduates after fulfilling active duty, so the program can also prepare you for a life and career after your service. ROTC cadets (students in training) cannot be called for service until they graduate and finish the program, so you won’t need to worry that your military duty will interrupt your undergraduate education.
Additionally, your post-college service requirements are not in effect until you enroll in the ROTC Advanced Course, which is generally taken after the two-year Basic Course, or receive a scholarship. That means you can take a class and participate in basic training without committing to service.
Drawbacks to Joining ROTC
Joining ROTC—especially if you receive a scholarship—is a serious commitment. You must sign a legally-binding contract that could last up to 12 years. Under some circumstances, you must make this decision before even beginning the program.
If you drop out or are expelled from the program, you will face serious consequences, including potential legal action. You will also be required to pay back your scholarship if you have received one. (However, keep in mind that many of these consequences only apply to students who do receive ROTC scholarships.)
If you commit any violations of ROTC’s standards or your school’s, or drop below ROTC’s academic requirements, you may be asked to leave the program, and you will still face consequences and potential legal action.
While individual branch requirements vary, federal law requires that ROTC members must commit to a four-year active duty, usually directly after college, and an additional 8-year military service. These requirements may be slightly lower for non-scholarship students. Ultimately, this means you need to be certain that serving in the military is something you really want to do. Remember that this also means you’ll need to delay other career or education aspirations until your active service is complete, though you can pursue them while you are fulfilling non-active service requirements.
Should I Join ROTC?
Ultimately, the decision to join ROTC depends on your personal goals and ambitions. You shouldn’t join solely for the sake of the scholarship, because it is an enormous commitment—plus, some students don’t receive a scholarship at all. Additionally, there are many academic, physical fitness, and medical requirements you’ll need to meet in order to participate.
If you think a military career is right for you, ROTC can be a great option. You’ll gain plenty of leadership skills, discipline, and maturity, not to mention a head start on a rewarding career.
Want to learn more about the ROTC branches? Check out their individual websites:
Learn more about other scholarships: What You Need to Know for a Successful Scholarship Season.
Get a taste of ROTC by participating in Junior ROTC. Check out the Ultimate Guide to JROTC to learn more about the program.
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