What Is ROTC?

Updated February 3, 2023

ROTC is a great way to start a new career in the U.S. Armed Forces. Here, we list the best ROTC programs.

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Many people know of the ROTC program, but may not have a clear answer to the question: "What is ROTC?" ROTC prepares college students to become officers in the U.S. Armed Forces. ROTC students can earn a university degree tuition-free in exchange for an agreement to join the military after graduation.

What does ROTC stand for?: Reserve Officers' Training Corps. Students can attend an ROTC program at over 1,700 colleges in the U.S. Three branches of the military participate in ROTC: the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force. Prospective Marine Corps officers can join the Navy ROTC.

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What Is the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)?

Though conception of the ROTC program and the Reserve goes as far back as 1819, Congress formally created the ROTC program in the National Defense Act of 1916. The first ROTC class started that year, at Harvard. Students can join junior ROTC in high school and ROTC in college.

ROTC requirements do not include bootcamp, but participants, also called cadets, agree to enroll in the military after graduation if they receive a scholarship. The number of required service years varies depending on the scholarship received and which career and branch of the military you choose. Non-scholarship students can complete the two-year ROTC basic course during college without committing to military service after graduation.

ROTC scholarships cover two, three, or four years of college and may cover full tuition and fees. Students may also receive a book allowance and a monthly stipend up to $5,000 per year. Specific scholarship benefits vary depending on the type of student (high school, college, or enlisted personnel) and branch of the military (Army, Air Force, or Navy/Marines).

ROTC colleges attract students interested in serving in the military and earning a degree. ROTC cadets gain leadership skills and discipline that can serve them in other careers.

Military Training in High School

The U.S. military offers Junior ROTC (JROTC) programs at high schools and some middle schools around the country. This less intensive version of ROTC develops character, patriotism, citizenship, and respect for the Armed Forces. Students learn about the branches of the military and participate in group physical education.

JROTC helps students decide if they want to join ROTC in college or enroll in the military right after high school. ROTC programs accept applicants with no JROTC experience.

ROTC in Undergraduate and Graduate School

ROTC colleges combine academic coursework with military training. Undergraduate and graduate master's students can participate in ROTC. ROTC cadets receive substantial leadership training, a valuable skill for future careers managing people. Their leadership skills make ROTC graduates stand out from classmates and look attractive to many employers, particularly in business.

ROTC colleges combine academic coursework with military training.

ROTC provides a career path after graduation, when students complete their required service in the U.S. military. While enlisted, they manage soldiers and equipment. This helps ROTC participants land civilian jobs in business, government, and other sectors.

ROTC Application and Scholarship Requirements

ROTC application requirements include U.S. citizenship and a high school diploma. Applicants must pass the ROTC physical fitness assessment and agree to serve in the military for a certain number of years after graduation. Some branches of ROTC require a high school GPA of at least 2.5 and minimum SAT or ACT scores.

Scholarship prerequisites and service commitments differ by branch, scholarship length, and major.

ROTC scholarships can pay tuition and fees for two, three, or four years of an undergraduate program or a master's degree. Scholarship prerequisites and service commitments differ by branch, scholarship length, and major.


Army ROTC school prepares students to become Army officers and pursue diverse careers all over the world. Army ROTC cadets complete leadership courses and military training during college. Army ROTC scholarships pay for tuition in exchange for agreeing to serve in the Army after graduation. We discuss application requirements for Army ROTC below.


The Army awards ROTC scholarships based on merit, not financial need. Both high school and college students can apply for the Army ROTC program. The deadline to start an Army ROTC scholarship application is February 4, 2022.

ROTC application requirements include U.S. citizenship, a minimum 2.5 high school GPA, a minimum score of 1,000 on the SAT or 19 on the ACT, and a high school diploma or its equivalent. Applicants must meet physical fitness standards, be between the ages of 17 and 26, hold a high school diploma, and agree to serve in the Army after graduation.


Army ROTC participants receive scholarships that pay all tuition for two, three, or four years. Scholarship recipients also get a $420 monthly living stipend for each year. High school students and college students can apply for Army ROTC scholarships. The Army may also pay for additional expenses like books and fees.


Army ROTC cadets can major in almost any academic area. Students usually take one ROTC elective class and lab each semester. These leadership-focused courses fit into the student's normal academic schedule. Potential classes include introduction to Army leadership, military operations and tactics, and applied leadership theory.


Army ROTC cadets take advanced military training courses in their junior and senior years of college. Students learn advanced military tactics, participate in physical fitness and field training exercises, and complete a five-week summer leadership camp at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Army ROTC cadets do not go to basic training (bootcamp).


Army ROTC graduates become commissioned officers in the U.S. Army or U.S. Army Reserve and get special training in one of the 17 Army branches. The Army offers more diverse career opportunities in a greater number of places in the world than the other branches of the military. This lets enlisted participants develop a variety of professional skills. Scholarship recipients serve four years; non-scholarship cadets serve three years.

Navy and Marine Corps ROTC

The Navy ROTC program, offered at 77 colleges in the U.S., is the largest source of Navy officers. Future Marine Corps officers can also join the Navy ROTC. Students complete a combination of academic courses and military training and enlist in the Navy or Marine Corps after graduation.


To qualify for the Navy ROTC scholarship program, applicants must graduate from high school before August 1 of the year they plan to attend college. High school students can start the Navy ROTC application in the second semester of their junior year. They can apply for the Navy, Marine Corps, or Nurse scholarship program.

Students with 30 or more college semester credits (or 45 quarter credits) cannot apply for a four-year scholarship, but may qualify for the two- or three-year option. Scholarship applicants must major in a Navy ROTC-approved subject such as mechanical engineering, systems engineering, astrophysics, or oceanography.


The national Navy ROTC scholarship program covers most or all tuition, mandatory fees, three summer cruises, uniforms, and naval science textbooks for as long as it takes for the student to earn a bachelor's degree (up to four years). Recipients get a textbook stipend and a monthly subsistence allowance that increases each year of college. The Navy ROTC also offers two- and three-year scholarship benefits.

Scholarship recipients must commit to three to five years of active-duty military service depending on which Navy ROTC program option they choose (Navy, Marine Corps, or Nurse).


Navy ROTC requirements include a normal academic workload and a naval science curriculum. Students learn leadership principles and what it means to be a military officer. Navy ROTC participants follow the same academic schedule and can graduate in the same time as a traditional student.


Navy ROTC participants complete physical training, drills, and other Navy ROTC activities. In between school years, Navy ROTC participants engage in training activities that help them understand military life and potential career options after graduation. Summer training sessions explore topics like nuclear power, afloat aviation, and foreign exchanges with navies from other countries.


Navy and Marine Corps ROTC graduates may qualify for technical management and leadership roles in the Navy and Marine Corps. Students who choose the Navy option work in one of the Navy's warfare communities such as submarine, special warfare, or surface. The Navy ROTC program also offers a nurse option to enter the Navy Nursing Corps as an ensign.

Air Force ROTC

Over 1,100 universities offer Air Force ROTC (AFROTC) programs that last either three or four years. The curriculum includes a mix of regular college classes, Air Force courses that cover combat techniques and leadership studies, and military training exercises. Air Force ROTC cadets receive scholarships in exchange for agreeing to serve in the military after graduating.


AFROTC application requirements include exceptional grades, meeting weight and fitness standards established by the Air Force, and passing the Department of Defense Medical Examination Review Board medical exam. Air Force ROTC cadets who want to become pilots must also pass a flight physical. Non-scholarship AFROTC cadets do not need to meet Air Force ROTC weight and fitness standards.

The Air Force gives scholarships to high school students, college students, and currently enlisted personnel. Scholarship requirements vary for each type of applicant. AFROTC prefers applicants with majors in specific foreign languages or in technical areas like aeronautical engineering, aerospace engineering, and biomedical engineering.


The Air Force awards several different types of ROTC scholarships to high school and college students and enlisted personnel. Some pay full tuition and fees, a monthly living stipend, and a book allowance. AFROTC participants continue to receive educational opportunities and leadership training while serving in the military.


In addition to completing the general college curriculum in the student's major, AFROTC requirements include classes on leadership and aerospace studies. Cadets spend two years completing the general military course and compete for a spot in the professional officer course during their second year in the program.

AFROTC participants receiving a scholarship must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA; non-scholarship cadets need a minimum 2.0 GPA. All cadets must pass the Air Force Officer Qualification Test, a standardized exam similar to the SAT or ACT.


AFROTC cadets receive military training while in college and participate in a variety of group activities, including community service, formal functions, and Color or Honor Guard. Between their sophomore and junior year, cadets complete a two-week field training camp that includes weapons training, aircraft orientation flights, and physical conditioning.


Air Force ROTC graduates enter the Air Force as second lieutenants. The number of required years of active duty depends on career path, but most receive a four-year active-duty service commitment. Pilots receive a 10-year service commitment and air battle managers and combat systems officers must serve six years.

Should I Consider ROTC at College?

Students should weigh the pros and cons of applying for ROTC colleges. Participating in ROTC can lead to substantial academic funding, making it possible to earn a degree completely tuition-free and without accumulating a large debt. ROTC scholarships are not retroactive, so the sooner you decide to apply, the better.

ROTC graduates skip entry-level positions after finishing school, moving right into management and leadership roles as officers in the U.S. Armed Forces. They continue to develop versatile leadership skills while completing their military service, which civilian employers frequently prize.

ROTC requirements include completing ROTC classes and military training while in college. Scholarship recipients must also devote years to mandatory military service after graduation. As enlisted members of the military, they run the risk of being deployed while serving.

This is a big commitment that students should not take lightly. Discuss this important decision with family, academic advisors, and ROTC recruiters before applying to the program.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many colleges have ROTC programs?

More than 1,700 ROTC colleges exist across the U.S. Three types of schools offer ROTC programs: regular civilian colleges, junior military colleges, and senior military colleges.

What do you do in the ROTC program?

ROTC requirements vary depending on which branch of the military you choose. Students take regular academic courses while also completing ROTC classes focused on leadership and military theory. ROTC participants also participate in physical fitness and military training exercises.

What are the ranks in ROTC?

ROTC ranks show where each person fits in the chain of command. ROTC's six cadet officer ranks from lowest to highest are: cadet second lieutenant, cadet first lieutenant, cadet captain, cadet major, cadet lieutenant colonel, and cadet colonel.

What is the meaning of JROTC?

JROTC stands for Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps. The U.S. Armed Forces offer JROTC at high schools and middle schools throughout the U.S. The program emphasizes patriotism and citizenship and develops respect for the U.S. military.

Featured Image: carlofranco / E+ / Getty Images

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