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Joining the Military With a College Degree: Rank + Benefits

07.27.2023 • 6 min read

Lizann Lightfoot

Editor and Military Spouse

Learn about rank in the military with a college degree and the steps to join the military. Also read about the ROTC program is and its importance.

In This Article

  1. Why Join the Military After College?

  2. 3 Military Benefits With a College Degree

  3. Rank in the Military With College Degree

  4. What Is the ROTC Program, and Why Is It Important?

  5. Earn a Degree With Outlier

You can join the military in several ways, offering different educational or career advantages.

Some people attend a military academy, where they earn a college degree while doing military officer training. When they graduate, they are automatically commissioned as a military officer. The military pays for their education, in exchange for a certain number of years of committed military service.

Some service members enlist in the military after high school and use military benefits to pay for their college degree. Because you cannot become an officer until you have a college degree, most people joining without a degree are in the enlisted ranks.

Finally, some people earn a college degree first, then join the military after college. They can do this through a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program at numerous colleges nationwide or by completing a degree on their own before contacting a military recruiter.

Completing college credits helps you earn ranks in the military, so you can join as an officer or an enlisted service member. Most commonly, a college degree leads to officer ranks. Enlisting with a college degree is less popular.

How do you know which choice is right for you?

And once you decide, how can you figure out which college credits lead to Army rank or Air Force benefits?

This article will discuss the pros and cons of enlisting with a college degree and the best branch of the military to join with a college degree.

Why Join the Military After College?

Joining the military has incredible benefits, including:

  • Job security

  • Health care coverage

  • A housing allowance

  • Promotion opportunities

  • Education programs

If you want to join the military, you have a choice to join before or after college.

Joining the military before college means you can use military benefits to pay for a college degree. But it often takes longer, and career advancement isn’t guaranteed. Most service members are expected to do their military job full time, while taking part-time classes on their own.

If you join the military after college, you’ll automatically enter at a higher officer rank. This comes with pay bonuses and career advancement opportunities. You can still enjoy military education benefits to fund a master’s degree, but you’ll have more doors open if you earn your bachelor’s degree first.

Let’s explore the benefits of enlisting in the military with a college degree, and how to determine your future rank in the military with a college degree.

3 Military Benefits With a College Degree

Whether you earn a college degree at a military academy, through an ROTC program, or on your own, a college degree qualifies you for an officer position. If you commission as an officer with a college degree, you’ll have a guaranteed job after college and a clear career path.

Numerous benefits are available when joining the military with a college degree.

1. Officer Position

Military officers receive many benefits, especially when contrasted with enlisted military ranks. The professional development programs available to officers focus on leadership and career skills, which employers outside the military community respect.

2. Higher Salaries

Military officers are paid more each month than enlisted service members. For example, a brand new officer, an O-1, makes $3,637 monthly in Basic Pay. This does not include additional payments for benefits like housing.

In contrast, a new E-1 makes only $1,773 monthly. The enlisted service member would need to reach the rank of E-7—or at least 6 years of service—before their monthly Basic Pay would equal a new officer’s salary.

Officer ranks have additional benefits, like:

  • Higher housing allowances

  • More spacious housing on base

  • Higher reimbursement rates for each move

  • Additional educational scholarship programs

Since retirement pay is calculated based on Basic Pay, officers earn more each month after retirement than most retired enlisted service members.

3. College Loan Repayment Program

If you complete a college degree before joining the military and need help repaying student loans, you’ll be excited to learn every branch of the military—except the Marine Corps—has programs to reimburse college graduates who join the military.

Through the College Loan Repayment Program, the Army and Navy will repay up to $65,000 of your student loans. The National Guard reimburses up to $50,000, and the Coast Guard will repay up to $30,000. The Air Force will pay up to $3,500 toward your loans for each year of service, up to $20,000.

Military BranchStudent Loan Reimbursement
ArmyUp to $65,000
NavyUp to $65,000
National GuardUp to $50,000
Air ForceUp to $20,000
Coast GuardUp to $30,000

The program has qualifications, including several years of committed military service to that branch. It can be an excellent way to get the military to help cover the cost of your student loans while you get military career training and job security.

Rank in the Military With College Degree

Here’s how to join the military after college and get the military rank you’ve earned with college credits.

1. Decide Your Military Branch

Each branch of the U.S. military has a different function and specialized jobs. They also offer bases at different locations and don’t all have the same resources available for families. Talk to veterans, current service members, and recruiters to decide which is the best fit for your skills and goals.

You can choose an officer job in the following branches of the armed forces:

  • Army

  • Navy

  • Marines Corps

  • Air Force

  • Space Force

  • Coast Guard

  • National Guard

2. Check the Prerequisites to Qualify

The military has requirements, and not everyone is eligible to join. Members must be U.S. citizens or have a permanent resident green card.

To become a military officer, you must meet the age limit set by that particular branch, pass a background check, and pass a physical exam that looks into your personal medical history. Some officer positions will look at your academic history as well.

3. Start Your Application Process

Begin your application by speaking to a military recruiter at a military entrance processing station (MEPS). They will conduct the background screening process and give you the aptitude test for your chosen branch. Scores on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test are used to assign specific jobs and roles in the military.

4. Complete Your Basic and Officer Training

At this point, enlisted service members would take the oath of enlistment and begin basic training.

Officer ranks do not typically go to basic training school or boot camp. Instead, it is incorporated into their ROTC program or service academy training. Once they have earned a college degree, candidates attend officer training called Officer Candidate School (OCS) or Officer Training School (OTS) for 9–12 weeks, depending on the military branch. This training is focused on academic and leadership skills instead of intense physical challenges.

After completing officer training, candidates become commissioned officers in the military. Your college degree secures you the rank of military officer, with all the benefits and privileges of that job.

What Is the ROTC Program, and Why Is It Important?

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program is a path to earning a college degree and becoming a military officer. Through ROTC, candidates receive a 4-year scholarship to pay for college tuition, books, and a monthly living stipend.

In exchange, the ROTC candidate agrees to serve in the military after graduation. Depending on your job and college degree, the active duty commitment can be 3–8 years.

In addition to regular college courses, ROTC candidates:

  • Take courses in military science

  • Attend consistent drills and summer training activities

  • Maintain a minimum GPA

Upon graduation, they will attend officer training and be commissioned as a military officer.

Earn a Degree with Outlier

To get closer to entering the military with an officer rank, consider starting with an associate degree.

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This program prepares you for a career in tech. You’ll learn programming, statistics, and calculus, plus business basics like professional communication. You’ll also earn a certificate from Google, IBM, or Meta in your first year.

Liberal Studies, Associate of Arts

An affordable way to cover the prerequisites for a broad range of college majors, this associate degree covers the sciences and humanities. You’ll learn about writing, psychology, economics, sociology, and philosophy, all from world-renowned college professors. And you’ll learn job-ready skills with a career certificate from Google or Intuit.

Each of these programs is just $149 per credit: low enough to be completely funded with Pell Grants or military education benefit programs!

Learn more about Outlier’s Degrees+ program, and see how it can fit into your schedule.

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