With college costs on the rise, many students are looking to the military as an alternative path to a career after high school. However, joining the military does not have to mean giving up a college education.
If you're looking for a way to serve your country while achieving your goal of earning a college degree, a Reserve Officers Training Corps program might be right for you.
ROTC programs allow students to earn a degree while receiving financial support from the military. After graduation, students begin service as an officer in the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps. Students take course work for a major, as well as courses related to the branch of the military in which they plan to serve. Each branch's program has its own requirements.
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Not all colleges and universities offer an ROTC curriculum, but you can use the branches' websites, such as GoArmy.com, to search for colleges that offer the program that interests you.
Whether you have just completed high school or are midway through your college career, there are ROTC scholarship opportunities available. These competitive scholarships are awarded on academic merit.
There are also financial support options, such as a stipend for living expenses, available for students who join an ROTC program but do not necessarily receive a scholarship.
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The amount of financial support you receive will depend on the specific program you participate in. Some ROTC students receive full funding for tuition, books, housing and personal expenses for four years of college. These scholarships are quite competitive, and are based on academic performance, not financial need.
Students who do not receive a full scholarship from their ROTC program are still eligible to apply for outside scholarships to cover any remaining financial need, and some receive a living stipend from their program.
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Students who participate in an ROTC program are expected to serve in the military after graduation. This can range from four to 10 years of service, depending on the branch of the military.
If you're unsure whether a military commitment is right for you, check out Today's Military, a resource created by the U.S. Department of Defense to educate students and parents about military service.
If you accept an ROTC scholarship and later decide the program isn't right for you, the military will allow you to keep any funding you received during your freshman year in college. You will have to forfeit any funding you received beyond your freshman year.
Students interested in joining the Marine Corps should apply through the Navy ROTC program. The U.S. Coast Guard does not offer a ROTC program, but students may be interested in joining the Coast Guard Student Reserve.
Students in this program spend eight weeks in training during two summers and work two weekends a month during the school year in a paid position with the Coast Guard. After graduation, students begin reserve service.
Once you have decided to welcome the challenges and rewards of participating in an ROTC program, you can apply online by creating an account with the branch of the military that interests you.
Angela Frisk holds a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota—Twin Cities and is a former scholarship recipient. She joined Scholarship America in 2012.