The United States Army is one of the most respected military institutions in the world. That’s in no small part due to the rigorous training and skills of the officers in the force. If you are considering joining the army, you should think about whether you want to be an enlisted service member or whether going to army officer school is right for you.
There are stringent requirements for army officers, and attending army officer school is a daunting undertaking. However, for people who want to make a career out of military service, becoming an officer is a wise decision.
What Are the Requirements to Be an Army Officer?
Less than 20 percent of army service members are officers. Officers take on leadership roles, often acting as managers over enlisted troops. Because of this, the military has detailed requirements on becoming an army officer.
The most basic requirement to be an army officer is that you hold a bachelor’s degree. Depending on what path you take to becoming an army officer it may be possible to start the process before your degree is completed, but you will ultimately need to finish your degree in order to be an officer.
In addition, people who want to become an officer most complete one of four different pathways to become an officer.
How to Become an Army Officer
There are four distinct ways to become an army officer. The path that is right for you will depend on your previous career experience and current education level.
- Direct Commission Officers: People who have previous job experience in medicine, law, chaplain work or cyber security may be able to enter the army as a direct commissioned officer. The rank that direct commissioned officers enter with depends on their previous work experience and what military assignment they are taking on. People who are interested in becoming direct commissioned officers can apply online.
- Army ROTC Officers: People who are currently enrolled in graduate or undergraduate college education can become an army officer by participating in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, better known as ROTC. There are even ROTC opportunities available to soldiers who are already enlisted. In addition to taking normal coursework, people who are enrolled in ROTC take military-focused electives. ROTC offers scholarships and incentives that will cover a portion of tuition. People who graduate from an ROTC program are commissioned as officers with a rank of Second Lieutenant, the lowest of the officer ranks.
- U.S. Military Academy: People who are between the ages of 17 and 23 can apply to attend college at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Cadets at West Point complete their undergraduate degree while learning about military topics. Upon graduation, they are commissioned as officers with a rank of Second Lieutenant and serve as active duty service members.
- Officer Candidate School: Officer Candidate School (OCS) is the most common path to becoming an army officer. The school is open to enlisted service members, and people with no previous military experience. People who complete the OCS obtain the rank of Second Lieutenant.
What to Expect at Army Officer School
All branches of the military, including the navy and air force, offer officer candidate school. These programs are designed to give people the skills that they will need to succeed as a leader in their chosen branch of the military. For example, officer candidate school for the navy includes lessons about living at sea and on shore.
The army officer school requirements are thorough. In order to apply, an active duty military member must have at least a four-year degree and be between the ages of 19 and 32. They must have no more than six years of Active Federal Service and be eligible for a secret security clearance.
Civilians who are applying for Officer Candidate School must meet all these requirements and be a U.S. citizen. People who are applying who are already members of the U.S. Army Reserves can apply for Officer Candidate School at 18. Everyone who applies to officer training school must complete basic training before starting to train as an officer.
The Army OCS Schedule
Although Officer Candidate School is only 12 weeks long, it is an intensive program. Knowing the army OCS schedule will help prospective officers understand what to expect before they arrive at the training program.
Each class at the Officer Candidate School is divided into squads. Along with the rest of the squad, perspective officers complete academic, physical and tactical exercises that are designed to prepare them for a military leadership.
The OCS Army Schedule is divided into two phases. During phase one recruits learn leadership skills and are tested to make sure that they have the physical and mental ability to become an officer in the U.S. Army.
The second phase consists of a 18-day training mission. During this part of OCS, candidates are able to put their skills to the test and ensure that they have the necessary qualifications to lead troops.
How to Apply to Officer Candidate School
In order to be accepted into officer candidate school, applicants must complete an army OCS packet. The army OCS packet is meant to ensure that the applicant meets the requirements to become a U.S. army officer.
The application requires a two-page, handwritten personal essay on the topic, “Why I Want to be an Officer.” Applicants must also provide letters of reference, transcripts and proof that they meet all the other requirements for attending Officer Candidate School.
Although the application can seem daunting, the army provides a checklist that applicants should review before applying to Officer Candidate School. In addition, an Army recruiter can help prospective officers properly fill out an army OCS packet.
Becoming an Officer in the Army National Guard
People who are interested in becoming an officer in the Army National Guard do not need to attend officer training school or follow any of the four paths to becoming an army officer. Although they can take those routes, they also have two additional options.They can follow programs specifically designed for people looking to become an officer in the National Guard.
State Officer Candidate School takes place on weekends for 16-18 months, as well as for two two-week periods. People who successfully complete this program will become commissioned officers. Army National Guard soldiers can also complete the National Guard Bureau Accelerated Officer Candidate School, which is an eight-week accelerated program.
Serving the United States as an officer in the U.S. Army is a position of great power and great responsibility. For many people, enrolling in Officer Candidate School, whether for the Army, Navy or Air Force, is the first step toward making a rewarding career as a military officer.
Kelly Burch is a freelance journalist living in New Hampshire. Her educational work has appeared in The Washington Post, Parents magazine and more.