What Is ROTC?

by TBS Staff

Updated August 25, 2022 • 5 min read


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ROTC programs can be rewarding commitments — both financially and personally — for students with the discipline to serve while pursuing educational and professional goals.

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) is a college-to-military program that trains students to become commissioned officers while also earning their academic degrees. In exchange for employment as a commissioned officer post-graduation, cadets pledge to serve eight years of military service. Cadets who apply for and win an ROTC scholarship can even get their tuition covered in full, which often attracts learners interested in military careers.

Read on for our primer on what college students can expect from ROTC.

ROTC and College Students

Though they join ROTC for different reasons, most candidates choose the program for its financial, professional, and personal venefits. ROTC guarantees degree-seekers employment as a commissioned officer after graduation. It also builds life skills in leadership, problem-solving, and survival preparedness. Most importantly, an ROTC scholarship can cover the cost of college, which is what attracts most college students to ROTC.

ROTC programs offer two-, three-, and four-year scholarships based on the amount of time remaining in your studies. Most ROTC scholarships completely pay for college expenses, including tuition, room and board, and course materials. While all majors can join ROTC and apply for an ROTC scholarship, not all schools offer the program, and some majors — such as business, engineering, and public policy — have preference for ROTC scholarship money.

In addition to degree coursework, ROTC cadets study military organization, military tactics, and military technology to prepare for work as a commissioned officer. They also undergo military training. Some graduates go on to work as military personnel in specialty positions, such as an educator, nurse, or analyst.

What Is the Difference Between ROTC and JROTC?

Several things distinguish ROTC and JROTC. First, ROTC was developed as a direct training program for college students who want to become officers or other military personnel, while Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corp (JROTC) is a lot more informal, serving high school students who aren't sure of their career trajectories. JROTC offers young adults a primer in military customs, decorum, and values, but the program also aims to improve citizenship and leadership skills in young adults.

Whether or not they ultimately turn to the military, JROTC graduates can benefit from the experience. College admissions often look favorably on completion of a JROTC program, as it develops leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. Some colleges and universities even offer scholarships for JROTC cadets that allow them to earn college credit while in high school.

In addition to classroom instruction, JROTC cadets participate in school, extracurricular, and community outreach activities with their cohort. There is no service commitment, so after graduating high school, cadets are not required to complete military service.

ROTC for Graduate Students

ROTC programs admit graduate students. The typical learner joining ROTC in graduate school does so to access tuition assistance for graduate studies, build leadership skills, and secure employment post-graduation. For graduate students entering ROTC for the first time, a GPA of 3.0 or above is usually preferred.

Most ROTC scholarships completely cover the cost of graduate school. While all majors can apply for ROTC scholarships, preference typically goes to learners in STEM, business, public policy, or foreign languages. Special ROTC scholarships for law school or medical studies canalso pay most or all of a student's graduate expenses.

In addition to completing the same military coursework as undergraduate ROTC cadets, ROTC graduate students also complete military training the summer before they begin the program. ROTC graduates with an advanced degree typically work in the service as commissioned officers, but they can also find employment as analysts, nurses, and engineers.

ROTC Scholarships

Learners in ROTC are eligible to apply for partial and full scholarships, but enrolling in ROTC does not guarantee a scholarship. ROTC scholarships can be competitive, and they often demand academic excellence as a condition for receiving award money, along with the eight-year commitment to military service.

Scholarships are open to all majors and awarded on the basis of merit rather than financial need. The basic requirements for most ROTC scholarships are U.S. citizenship, a high school diploma, and being at least 17 years of age, though the exact cutoff age varies. Different branches of the military have their own standards for eligibility, so it's best to research scholarship guidelines to be sure you meet requirements before applying.

Remember that if you enroll in ROTC training but don't earn a scholarship, other military scholarships may meet your needs. There are many resources that can help in your search.

What Are the Disadvantages of ROTC?

  • Military Service Commitment: Commit to ROTC only if you are certain you want to join the military after graduation and can handle an eight-year military service obligation.
  • Increased Responsibility: In addition to completing your degree coursework, you will need to commit to physical fitness, waking up early, and attending additional classes and meetings. These commitments will be as important as your academic responsibilities.
  • Inaccessibility to Persons with Disabilities: ROTC requires a certain level of physical ability, so it is not accessible to people with certain disabilities.
  • Scholarship Standards: ROTC scholarships set high academic and personal standards, and if you drop below them, you could lose your scholarship.
  • Legally Binding Commitment: You must be certain you want to be in ROTC before you sign the contract. If ROTC expels you or if you drop out, you could face legal consequences and will need to pay back your scholarship money.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Does ROTC Stand For?

ROTC stands for Reserve Officers' Training Corp.

How Much Does an ROTC Scholarship Pay?

Many ROTC scholarships pay for all expenses incurred during college, including tuition, room and board, and course materials. Some may only partially pay for specific degrees.

Is It Hard to Get an ROTC Scholarship?

ROTC scholarships are competitive and have strict academic standards, as they are based on merit and not need. National scholarships are often particularly competitive.

Do ROTC Cadets Get Paid?

ROTC cadets typically receive a monthly stipend of about $400, though the actual amount can vary based on the type of scholarship and military branch.

Do I Have to Join the Military After ROTC?

Once you sign a contract to enroll in ROTC, you have committed to eight years of military service upon graduation, regardless of whether you receive a scholarship.

Does ROTC Look Good on a Resume?

ROTC impresses many civilian employers. It shows you followed through on obligations and met the high standards set by ROTC programs. However, do not join ROTC specifically for this benefit, as the ROTC program tailors mostly to people interested in a military career.

Header Image Credit: wavebreakmedia | Shutterstock

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