What is ROTC?: A 2-Minute Guide

ROTC, or The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, is a military program through colleges that prepares students for their military careers as an officer. There are plenty of benefits to joining the ROTC, but it is not a decision that is to be made lightly as students are making a commitment to joining the military after graduation. Keep reading to get the rundown on this program, plus the pros and cons of joining.

What is ROTC?

The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps is a program that helps students pay for college while also training them to serve as officers in a branch in the United States Military: the Army, the Air Force, or the Navy. Over 1,700 colleges and universities across the country offer an ROTC program.

The ROTC program can offer up to four years of scholarships to the participating student. These scholarships cover tuition, fees, room and board, and more while also offering a living stipend. In exchange, however, the student agrees to meet certain obligations during and after college, including agreements to serve in their branch for a minimum number of years as an officer, to maintain above a specific GPA (starting at 2.5), and to abstain from illegal drug use.

Requirements to enter (and stay within) the program depend on the military branch, but grades, SAT/ACT scores, and other factors come into play. If a student didn’t perform well in high school but does better in college, they may also become eligible for a scholarship through the ROTC. 


The JROTC is a program that is available through high schools in the United States. Unlike the ROTC, it does not come with a required commitment from students after high school graduation. Students can join the program for 2 to 4 years depending on their school district where they’re required to attend regular JROTC classes as part of their course schedule.

Students in these classes will learn everything from how to stand at attention to military-style drills and good citizenship to navigation. The Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard all offer JROTC programs, but the availability of the branches depends on the school.

While JROTC is not a prerequisite for joining ROTC, some have found that having this high school experience makes it more likely that students will be selected for the scholarship program in college. If a military career or service is something that interests you, it could benefit your future and finances to start as soon as possible.

What are the Benefits, Downsides, and Considerations of Joining the ROTC?

One of the biggest benefits of the ROTC program is the fact that it is a scholarship. Students that enter the program during their first year of college could receive a full-ride scholarship. Others that join later won’t receive money for all four years but will receive an award for the years they served. 

Students who join ROTC can also:

  • Develop leadership skills
  • Develop decision-making skills
  • Enter the military as an officer with a commission
  • Work with a mentor

However, students must not make this decision lightly. This is a commitment, and signing up for ROTC is signing a contract that you will be held to. Students must meet the academic program commitment while at school (minimum GPA, ROTC classes, etc) and commit to several years of service upon graduation from college.

Failure to meet the academic requirements could result in the student losing their position in ROTC. Failing to enter service after graduation could also mean the student has to repay the financial aid they received and face other repercussions.

Therefore, joining the ROTC is one that requires careful thought as it will impact the rest of the student’s life.

What Does the ROTC Program Look Like?

Students entering the ROTC need to remember that this is a commitment to serve the country with military service. It is never a decision that should be made with the flip of a coin. If entering the program is for you though, you’ll want to choose the best program for your needs. Here is a quick guide to the various branches’ programs, service obligations, and other details you’ll need to know before signing up:

  • Army
    • The Army ROTC can focus on training that is related to leadership, military tactics, combat survival training, and more.
    • Students must agree to serve a minimum of four years, depending on the length of the scholarship received. 
  • Air Force
    • Training can include international security, aerospace studies, and field training
    • Service obligations range from about 4 to 10 years 
  • Navy and Marine Corps
    • Training covers flight time on navy aircraft, maritime self-defense, and more
    • Service obligations range from about 3 to 8 years depending on education and the length of the scholarship.

Joining the ROTC program brings a wealth of benefits to the students. Especially if the individual could benefit from a scholarship to attend school. However, as with joining the military as enlisted, signing up for the ROTC also deserves careful consideration. From choosing which branch to join to deciding whether or not the military is right for you, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of this decision.

If you’re on the lookout for scholarships, College Raptor can help! Our Scholarship Search Tool helps students find and apply for awards they qualify for – and it’s free! Simply sign up here to get started.