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The Reserve Officer Training Corps was founded in 1916 as a result of land-grant universities and is now offered at more than 1,100 colleges across the country. While these are not degree-based programs, they are a valuable part of the college experience for many students. Not only does ROTC provide an avenue for commission as an officer in the armed forces, participants also receive grants and other opportunities as part of their agreement to service. The information below provides a background into the ROTC program for students interested in serving their country.

ROTC Programs: Preparation for a Service-Focused Career

The Army, Navy, and Air Force all have ROTC programs. Students interested in the Marines participate in the Navy program and the U.S. Coast Guard has its own Split Training programs similar to ROTC. Students should speak with a recruiter to determine which branch of the military best suits their needs and personality. Below is a list of the four available ROTC programs.

  • Army ROTC: Prospective Army officers may complete ROTC officer training in two or four years and graduate ready to lead Army recruits.
  • Navy ROTC: Students in the Navy ROTC take one Naval Science class each semester and participate in weekly drills. They also have the opportunity to attend Summer Cruise Training, working alongside Navy officers.
  • Air Force ROTC: Students at more than 1,100 colleges across the country may participate in the Air Force ROTC. It offers two- and four-year programs led by active-duty Air Force officers.
  • Coast Guard Split Training: High school seniors and college and vocational students ages 17 to 30 can participate in Coast Guard Split Training, which is very different from the ROTC programs of other branches. Enlistees attend school as normal and train for two summers and one weekend a month, receiving pay for their weekend service.

While the branch ROTC programs are very similar in style and requirements, each one prepares graduates for a very different career in military service.

While the Army ROTC is the largest and most popular branch of ROTC, the requirements are very similar for all branches. Applicants must meet certain age and academic requirements as well as pass a physical fitness test. Students may also qualify for scholarships based on similar academic and physical achievements. Graduates of ROTC programs become commissioned active duty officers, bound by service in the military for two to ten years, depending on the length of training, military branch, and the degree earned. Students who attend one of the nation’s military schools do not participate in the ROTC program. Rather, they are fully immersed in military training throughout their college careers.

Additionally, military science programs are not degree programs. Students earn degrees in the major of their choice while receiving the background and experience to become leaders in the military post-graduation.

Program Highlight:
Online Master of Arts in Military Studies

Developed to prepare students to teach classroom military history courses or for career advancement for personnel in the armed services, an online Master of Arts in Military Studies focuses on topics such as military leadership, peacekeeping strategies, military organizations, the role that militaries have played in national and international developments and homeland security. Curricula is comprised of core courses, concentration courses, and electives. Examples of common courses are research methods in military studies, strategy and tactics, joint warfare planning and implementation, great leaders in military history, comparative history and research and economics of war and defense. Many online schools in military studies offer programs entirely online. In addition to having an undergraduate degree, some schools require students to submit a three-to-five page admissions paper that outlines the reason they want to enroll in the program. Students should be prepared to create a detailed thesis prior to graduation. Post-graduation, students could work as educators, strategic leaders or historians at organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security, United States embassies, the Department of Defense, or law firms.

Navy ROTC

Students enrolled in a Navy ROTC (NROTC) program take a series of required classes and participate in regular physical training sessions. They learn Navy procedures and participate in weekend and summer training programs. Most NROTC members join in their freshman year of college and those who join on a scholarship become Scholarship Midshipmen and are bound to service after graduation. Scholarship programs are highly competitive. Graduates of the Navy ROTC commit to at least five years of active duty in careers within surface warfare, naval aviation, submarines, nursing corps, special warfare and explosive ordnance disposal. Scholarship and non-scholarship participants in NROTC complete the same program. All NROTC students must complete a naval sciences course each semester. Below are just a few examples of the courses that may be required in a Navy ROTC program, in addition to general education and degree curriculum:

COURSE NAME overview
Introduction to Naval Science An orientation class that gives students a broad background of the roles of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps.
Naval Maritime History Reviews U.S. Naval history from European origin to present day.
Navigation Helps students to understand basic piloting and the laws of vessel operations.
Naval Engineering Teaches engineering practices as they apply to naval engineering.
Leadership and Management Discusses managerial functions, communication and philosophies of leadership and motivation in the Navy.
Naval Weapon Systems Students learn about the concepts and principles that apply to naval weapon systems.
Naval Operations Examines relative motion, surface ship operations and naval command, control and communications.

Army ROTC

Army ROTC students take elective curriculum alongside their required college classes to gain real world and leadership skills that will help them in the field. The curriculum for Army ROTC is divided into two phases: basic course and advanced course.

  • Basic Course: Basic course typically takes place during the first two years of college and covers basic military skills and principles of leadership. During this phase, students must take one elective class and a lab each semester, in addition to physical and field training exercises. Some colleges and universities allow students to take Army ROTC basic course without indicating a commitment to the military post-graduation.
  • Advance Course: Advance course occurs during the final two years and covers advanced military tactics, team organization, planning, and decision-making. Like basic course, students must take one elective and lab each semester and physical training. In advance course, students must also take a summer leadership camp. During their senior year, students take a series of electives that prepare them for the transition to an Officer.

While Army ROTC curriculum varies from school to school, below is an example of topics that may be offered:

COURSE NAME overview
Leadership and Personal Development An overview of military leadership with a focus on critical thinking, goal setting, time management, physical fitness and stress management in leadership.
Introduction to Tactical Leadership Students learn how to present briefs, problem solve, provide feedback and write effectively while focusing on leadership values.
Innovative Team Leadership Explores leadership styles and team dynamics important in the Army leadership framework.
Foundations of Tactical Leadership Students learn about the challenges of leading tactical teams.
Leadership Laboratory Students receive hands-on training in basic soldier skills.
Advanced Military Fitness Training Modeled after the Army physical fitness training program, students participate in various physical fitness activities.
Adaptive Tactical Leadership Students practice leadership scenarios and further develop leadership skills.
Leadership in Changing Environments Delves into tactical leadership at the platoon level using simulation challenges.

Air Force ROTC

The Air Force ROTC program is designed to prepare future Air Force Airmen for leadership roles in the military. Students apply their new skills throughout the program in practical drills and training. Air Force ROTC curriculum is divided into four areas: Profession of Arms, Leadership Studies, Communication Skills, and Military Studies/International Security Studies. During their junior year, scholarship cadets enter the Professional Officer Course (POC), which commits them to serve in the U.S. Air Force after completion of all Air Force ROTC and college degree requirements. With the exception of pilots, combat systems officers, and air battle management, most fields require a four-year active duty commitment. Programs will vary by school, but below is a sampling of some of the courses that Air Force ROTC student may take:

COURSE NAME overview
Air Force Organization Students gain a deep understanding of the Air Force as an organization including customs and officer career opportunities.
Air and Space History Presented with an emphasis on Air Force core values and officership, students gain a historical understanding of air and space history.
Leadership & Management Students are assigned leadership roles within the ROTC as they learn about leadership within the Air Force
Officer Preparation Students prepare for active duty.
Field Training This four-week program allows students to participate in physical conditioning, weapons training and survival training.

Military Schools

Military schools and academies offer students another venue to obtain a college degree and graduate ready to serve as a military officer. Schools such as West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the Air Force Academy are some of the most widely known and well-respected federal service academies and military schools in the country. There are also a number of other private military-prep colleges and junior colleges from which to choose. These schools generally do not participate in ROTC programs; rather, they immerse students in the military throughout their entire degree program. The application process is more stringent and demanding, as is the training; however, graduates of both ROTC and military schools/academies have similar opportunities for leadership.

In the U.S., there are six Senior Military Colleges that offer ROTC programs and are recognized under 10 USC 2111(a). Those six colleges include the following:

  • University of North Georgia
  • Norwich University
  • Texas A&M University
  • The Citadel
  • Virginia Military Institute
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

There are also five Military Junior Colleges, where cadets can become commissioned Officers in two years through the Early Commissioning Program, which has played a significant role in producing lieutenants in past years. The five Military Junior Colleges in the U.S. include Wentworth Military Academy, Valley Forge Military Academy, Marion Military Institute, New Mexico Military Institute, and Georgia Military College.

What Can You Do With ROTC Programs?

Post graduation, students could work as educators, strategic leaders or historians at organizations such as the Department of Homeland Security, United States embassies, Department of Defense or law firms.