What Are ROTC Programs?
There are many options for helping to fund a college education. In addition to financial aid and federal loans, many students will ultimately apply for scholarships or receive merit aid from their universities. One option for students who are also interested in military service and gaining leadership skills is the Reserve Officer Training Course, commonly referred to as ROTC.
While ROTC could earn you a free college education, it certainly has strings attached. To learn more about the program and discover if it’s right for you, don’t miss this post.
What Is the ROTC?
The Reserve Officer Training Course (ROTC) is a college-level program offered at more than 1,700 colleges and universities nationwide. Its aim is to prepare college students to serve as officers in the military once they have completed their degrees. In exchange for a commitment of service, the ROTC awards scholarships which pay for each recipient’s college education.
Different versions of the ROTC exist for different branches of the military, including the Army, Navy, and Air Force. There is no ROTC program for the Coast Guard, but you can learn more about a similar Coast Guard development program through the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative.
In general, each ROTC program provides leadership development, career training, and military skill development. Some classes take place in the classroom and others take place in the field. Physical fitness training is also required.
ROTC exists in a few different forms. Students who enroll without a scholarship or who don’t commit to serving in the military after graduation still receive invaluable skills and training that will serve them later in life. Only those who apply for and are awarded an ROTC scholarship are required to commit to military service. In order to receive the scholarship, students commit to at least eight years of service upon graduation.
The Army ROTC program, along with the Navy ROTC and Air Force ROTC, are some of the largest scholarship grantors in the country. Each year, the Army ROTC program alone provides roughly $274 million in scholarships to over 10,000 students.
How to Earn an ROTC Scholarship
There are two avenues for applying for an ROTC scholarship. Students can apply for one at the national level during high school, or they can wait until college, join the ROTC, and apply for one at the campus level at that point. Regardless, ROTC scholarships are fairly competitive.
According to US News and World Report, roughly 12,000 high school seniors compete for about 2,000 Army ROTC scholarships each year. Of these, about half are three-year scholarships and the remainder are for all four years. Most high schoolers who receive a scholarship are in the top 25 percent of their class, are members of the National Honor Society, and participate in participate in extracurriculars or sports.
In general, to be eligible, you must also achieve a minimum GPA and meet the SAT or ACT score requirement established by each service branch. All applicants must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 17 and 26. You must also meet certain standards for physical fitness.
Students who apply for and receive a scholarship in high school will receive three or four years of paid college tuition at an ROTC school, along with stipends for books, room and board, and living expenses. If you don’t receive a scholarship while you’re still in high school, though, you aren’t out of luck.
Scholarships are also available to current college students who join the ROTC. If you didn’t perform especially well in high school, you have the opportunity to join the ROTC in college and prove yourself through your performance there. You can then apply for the scholarship and receive two or three years of paid tuition along with the other benefits of the scholarship, as long as you commit to serving in the military after graduation.
What If You Decide Not to Commission?
When you accept an ROTC scholarship, you sign a contract to meet certain academic standards and to serve in the military after graduation. This doesn’t mean that you have to go straight into a full-time deployment, though. Your eight years of service can be on active duty, in the National Guard, as an Army Reserve or a combination of these.
There is only one excuse for backing out of the contract, and that is a medical condition that makes it physically impossible for you to serve. Otherwise, a student who accepts an ROTC scholarship and then withdraws before serving will be expected to pay back the entire value of the scholarship. This is also true for students who are kicked out of the program or who fail to meet the academic requirements.
What Are the Top ROTC Programs in the Country?
Many students are surprised to learn how widely available ROTC programs actually are. Some may think that these programs are reserved for large state schools or schools with trade-heavy programming. This is far from the truth, though. In reality, ROTC programs are even offered in the Ivy League.
Here’s our list of 15 high quality colleges and universities that provide ROTC programs. If you’re interested in a school that provides a top notch education that stands on its own, with the added benefits of an ROTC scholarship program, look no further:
- California Institute of Technology
- Claremont-McKenna College
- Columbia University
- Cornell University
- Dartmouth College
- Duke University
- Harvard University
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- Northeastern University
- Princeton University
- Santa Clara University
- University of California at Berkeley
- University of Notre Dame
- University of Pennsylvania
- Yale University
Want access to expert college guidance — for free? When you create your free CollegeVine account, you will find out your real admissions chances, build a best-fit school list, learn how to improve your profile, and get your questions answered by experts and peers—all for free. Sign up for your CollegeVine account today to get a boost on your college journey.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.