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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Tracewell

So You Want to Be a Soldier?

Updated: Nov 20, 2021

Serve your country, be a leader, learn a trade, get college benefits, travel the world? If these ideas sound intriguing, read on!

Today, let's take a dive into the several pathways available to high school students for joining the military, along with the benefits and risks. We will cover enlistment, service academies, ROTC, and the National Guard & Reserves. The first thing that’s compelling is the ability to enter a service-oriented and fulfilling career with no student debt and guaranteed financial benefits. More importantly, military service provides you the opportunity to learn skills that will benefit you for life, such as responsibility, focus, and discipline.

The risks are obvious -- the military protects our country during times of war and natural disaster, which may at times put one in harm's way. In addition, most enlistees commit to a minimum of eight years of service — four years of active duty and four years of inactive reserves. An inactive reservist can be called to active duty due to a national emergency.

All five military branches -- Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard -- provide training programs and career paths in dozens of fields, including arts, photography, media, aviation, engineering, computer systems, healthcare, human resources, meteorology, and much more.

There’s so much more to military jobs than flying planes, steering boats, shooting guns, and driving tanks. You can also train animals, make maps, decode secret messages, and even play in a marching band!


The most well-known way to join the military is through enlistment. This is the largest and arguably most vital part of the U.S. military. Enlistment is the process of talking to a military recruiter, taking an oath of U.S. military service, attending basic training, and choosing your military job.

Your major requirement is to take the ASVAB test and pass a physical exam to join the military. Baker Charter Schools offered the ASVAB in January at our Bend and Portland locations — we hope to continue offering this test at more locations in the future. This test is good practice if you plan to join the military in the future, or as a career-exploration tool. You can contact the Portland MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) for information on scheduling your ASVAB test.

Your military recruiter will be your main point of contact during your enlistment process, so ask questions, bring along a friend or family member, and consider visiting with recruiters from all services.


Another pathway to the military is through the service academies. It’s fiercely competitive and there’s a specialized admissions pathway, but attending one of the five service academies is a fabulous way to get an outstanding college education while you prepare to serve as a military officer. Some of the largest college scholarships are awarded each year by the service academies — Tuition, books, room & board and medical and dental care are all fully paid for all four years, plus pay, benefits and training. Check out the below links to the U.S. service academies and see which one fits you best!

You graduate from each of the U.S. military academies as a commissioned officer and with a Bachelor of Science degree. Upon graduation, you have a minimum service obligation of five years.

Admissions criteria for service academies include the following:

  • High school academic performance

  • Standardized test scores (SAT or ACT)

  • Athletics and extracurricular activities

  • Leadership experience and community involvement

  • A congressional letter of recommendation (not required by the Coast Guard Academy)


If you don’t get into a service academy (remember, it’s highly competitive!), there is another pathway from college to commissioned officer! A related college-military pathway is through ROTC — Reserve Officer Training Corps. ROTC is a college program available at over 1,700 colleges and universities in the United States, and in exchange for paying tuition and other college costs, students must commit to serve in the military after graduation for a certain number of years, which varies by service branch. Your ROTC training enables you to begin your military service as a commissioned officer.

Each service branch has its own ROTC program. Visit the ROTC recruitment websites of the U.S. Army, Air Force, or Navy to learn more about joining and how to apply for ROTC scholarships! Scholarship deadlines vary but usually fall between December 1 and January 31 of your senior year.

The ROTC route is a great blend of your regular college classes that you take as part of your chosen degree, along with military curriculum, which includes courses and training in leadership, military history, combat technique, physical training, and more.


Finally, you may have also heard about the National Guard and Reserves — what is this? Some people choose to enlist as reserve duty service members, rather than active duty, and here’s the main difference: time!

Active duty is more like working a full-time job, while reserve duty is more comparable to a part-time job that allows you to still have a civilian career while you train near your home.

There are seven reserve sections to consider: The Army National Guard of the United States, The Army Reserve, The Navy Reserve, The Marine Corps Reserve, The Air National Guard of the United States, The Air Force Reserve, and The Coast Guard Reserve.

  • Steady Income: You are paid twice a month, on the 1st and 15th, every month, based on your pay grade and service requirements.

  • Advancement: You are promoted based on job knowledge, your performance, time in pay grade and service requirements.

  • Paid vacation: You earn 2.5 days paid vacation per month for a total of 30 days each year up to 60 days.

  • Training: You choose your career path based on your aptitude, physical abilities, security clearance, motivation and determination.

  • Health Care: While on active duty, you will receive complete medical and dental care at no cost.

  • Life Insurance: While serving on active duty (for instance during boot camp and annual training) members can select inexpensive term life insurance.

  • Allowances: While serving on active duty, you will receive additional tax-free money for Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), if government food facilities are not available in the area you are stationed; and a uniform allowance (for enlisted personnel only) to help maintain your uniform.

  • Tax Advantage: Only your basic monthly pay is subject to Federal or State income tax.

  • GI Bill: The Montgomery GI Bill will help pay for college education or vocational training.

  • Tuition Assistance: While in the Reserves or Guard, you may continue your education, and may be helped in defraying the cost of college-accredited courses. Additionally, if you are in the National Guard some states offer substantial benefits such as free tuition to state colleges or universities. To find out more about this bonus, talk to your recruiter or education officer.

  • Additional Benefits: There are exchange and commissary privileges, temporary lodging expenses, travel, Veterans Administration home loans and more.

And that’s the tea on the many pathways to joining the military after high school! Whether you consider enlistment, service academies, ROTC, or the National Guard/Reserves, the options abound with exciting opportunities for your future.

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