Becoming an Officer


An officer is a servicemember in a position of authority. Officers are the leaders of the Military, supervising and managing activities in almost every occupational specialty. Unlike the enlisted joining process, becoming a military officer requires extra training, education or expertise. In exchange for the increased responsibility, officers receive superior benefits and excellent credentials valued by both military and civilian employers. And for someone with a four-year college degree it can be the real-world experience necessary to advance a career.

Types of Officers

There is more than one kind of officer in the Military, and all of them are in positions of leadership.

  • Commissioned officers typically enter the Military with a four-year college degree or greater and have completed officer training.

  • Warrant officers are typically promoted from the enlisted ranks for technical expertise and rank between the highest enlisted and lowest commissioned officers (with the exception of the Air Force).

A third position of authority you may have heard of is noncommissioned officers or NCOs. Despite the title, NCOs are actually higher-ranking enlisted personnel.

Learn more about enlisted personnel

Becoming a Commissioned Officer

Just as there are different types of officers, there are different ways to become one. Where you are in your education and career will help determine the best route for you.

Officer Candidate (or Training) School (OCS/OTS)

This program helps turn college graduates with no prior military training into military officers. It is also the way for an enlisted servicemember with over 90 hours of college credit to advance to commissioned officer.

Requirements and training vary based on Service. Find out what it takes to become an officer by exploring the OCS/OTS websites for each of the Armed Forces:

Direct Commission

The Military offers direct commission opportunities to trained professionals in fields such as medicine, law, engineering or religion. Direct commission officers typically earn a higher entry salary due to their expertise and may be required to either participate in an indoctrination course or Basic Training (similar to enlisted Basic Training), depending on the Service.

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

The ROTC is the most common way the Military accepts officers. Offered at more than 1,000 colleges and universities across the United States, ROTC is an elective curriculum that prepares young adults to become officers in the U.S. Military.

Learn more about ROTC programs

Attending a Service Academy

Service academies combine general education with special military training. While Service academies can be extremely hard to get into, once accepted, attendees receive full benefits, a full four-year scholarship and upon graduation, a commissioned officer rank.

Learn more about Service Academies

For more information about specific Service academies, visit the following websites:

Attending a Senior Military College

Senior Military Colleges (SMCs) offer a variety of majors, valuable leadership training and financial aid packages for eligible students. Those who attend SMCs participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), but cadets at SMCs are not required to serve in the Military after graduation, unless they have received ROTC scholarships. If they do choose to serve, they will become commissioned officers.

Learn more about Senior Military Colleges

Explore individual Senior Military Colleges:

Becoming a Warrant Officer

Warrant officers are highly skilled, technical and tactical leaders who specialize, throughout an entire career, in one specific area. Although warrant officers make up only a small portion of the Armed Forces, they hold a great deal of responsibility. Only the very best enlisted personnel, typically with five to eight years’ experience in a specific technical field, are selected to become warrant officers. Enlisted servicemembers, and on rare occasions, for specific fields only, civilians, have to apply to become warrant officers, and at minimum meet the following requirements:

  • U.S. citizenship
  • General Technical (GT) score of 110 or higher
  • Pass a three-event physical fitness test
  • Secret security clearance

If the preceding requirements are met and a candidate’s application is accepted, he or she may attend Warrant Officer Candidate School (WOCS). Upon completing WOCS, he or she is appointed as a warrant officer.

The Benefits of Becoming an Officer

The benefits of becoming an officer in the Military are far-reaching. Tangible benefits include increased salary and better housing. And the intangible benefits are perhaps of even greater value. Leadership development, management and increased real-world experience are some of the immeasurable qualities of becoming a military officer. Such characteristics can prove helpful in both the Military and professional civilian work forces.