What is ROTC?: A 2-Minute Guide

  • ROTC is a military program that is available at over 1,700 colleges and universities in the United States.
  • Participants in ROTC may be eligible for a scholarship that covers the cost of their tuition and college expenses.
  • Participants in the program must commit to serving after graduation for a set number of years.
  • There are ROTC programs in college for Navy and Marine Corps, Army, and Air Force.

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 committing 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.

How Does ROTC Work?

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.

ROTC may also be available to interested students without the scholarship, though this can vary from school to school and branch to branch. Commitment to serve may still be required even if the student does not receive the scholarship.

What is JROTC

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.

The curriculum in JROTC can include:

  • Fitness challenges
  • Drill formations and ceremonies
  • Air rifle training competitions
  • Flight science
  • Astronomy
  • Color guard
  • Nautical science
  • Navigation
  • Ship handling
  • First aid
  • And more

What are the Benefits and Considerations of Joining the ROTC?

There are a few things students should consider before joining ROTC in college.

ROTC Benefits

One of the biggest benefits of the ROTC program is the fact that it is a scholarship. Students who enter the program during their first year of college could receive a full-ride scholarship in addition to stipends to help cover living expenses.

Others who join later likely won’t receive money for all four years but can be eligible to receive an award for the years they have 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
  • Learn technical skills
  • Have access to career guidance
  • Access to continued education and specialized training

In addition, one benefit to ROTC that may provide some with comfort is avoiding having to answer the question, “What will I do after college graduation?” Since you are required to join the military after you receive your degree, there can be peace of mind knowing you don’t have to find a career, at least right away.

Considerations: ROTC is a Commitment

However, students shouldn’t 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 go in with 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:


An ROTC program for the Army is available at over 1,000 colleges and universities in the United States. Training focuses on leadership, military tactics, combat survival training, and more. Those who participate must agree to serve a minimum of four years, depending on the length of the scholarship received.

To be admitted into the Army ROTC college program, students must:

  • Pass an Army Physical Fitness Test with 60 points or more awarded in 3 events.
  • Take one Army ROTC elective and lab every semester.
  • Not take illegal drugs.
  • Meet academic standards set by the program.

Students accepted into the program are usually granted the ability to choose any major that interests them as long as they take the ROTC electives.


Over 1,100 colleges offer the Air Force ROTC program to students. Training can include international security, aerospace studies, and field training, among others. Service obligations can range from between 4 to 10 years.

Those interested in the Air Force ROTC college program must:

  • Score a minimum of 75 points on the Physical Fitness Test twice every year if receiving the scholarship (those not receiving one do not have to pass).
  • Earn a C- or higher in aerospace classes, complete the Air Force Officer Qualifying test, and pass leadership labs.
  • Not take illegal drugs.

Certain majors are favored when it comes to the Air Force program, with scholarships first going to students who are pursuing degrees in STEM or foreign languages.

Navy and Marine Corps

Navy and Marine Corps ROTC programs are only available to just under 80 colleges and universities in the United States. Training can cover flight time on Navy aircraft, maritime self-defense, cruise training, and more. And service obligations after graduating can range from 3 to 8 years depending on the education and the length of the scholarship.

Those interested in this ROTC program must:

  • Pass the Applicant Fitness Assessment before enrolling.
  • Complete certain courses including physics, English, calculus, naval science, and others.
  • Not have a previous history of illegal alcohol or drug use.

As with the Air Force ROTC programs, scholarships will go to students pursuing degrees in STEM and foreign language first.

ROTC in College FAQ

How Does ROTC Differ From JROTC?

ROTC is the program for college students while the JROTC program is for high school students.

Does The ROTC Count Towards Military Service?

No, the ROTC does not count towards the total time served and cannot be used towards retirement.

What Should a Student Expect After Graduating?

For ROTC graduates, military service begins immediately after a degree is earned. Graduates can expect to be placed into the officer level (second lieutenants or Navy ensigns). The length of the student’s commitment depends on the service and the number of years they received the scholarship. However, once that commitment has been met, students can decide to leave the military or continue.

What Requirements Do You Need to Join ROTC?

The requirements needed to be eligible for an ROTC program depend on the service branch. Generally, however, you need to:

  • Have and maintain a 2.5 GPA.
  • Take mandatory classes and meet any other commitment requirements.
  • Be at least 17 years old.
  • Score a minimum of a 19 on the ACT or a 920 SAT.
  • Pass physical tests.
  • Meet other requirements such as no drug use.
  • Be pursuing an approved major.

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! We have a Scholarship Search Tool that’s available to students to help them find and apply for awards they qualify for – and it’s free! Simply sign up here to get started.