The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship is one of the most valuable college scholarships in the United States. It pays up to full tuition, a monthly salary, and a yearly book allowance for those applicants who wish to become officers in the United States Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marines.
Strictly speaking, an ROTC participant is not joining the Armed Forces. Participants will not be sent to “boot camp.” However, the primary purpose of the ROTC program is to produce its officers, so they must agree to serve as officers in the military after graduation in order to go through the entire program, or if they have received an ROTC scholarship. Initially enrolling (the first two years of college) does not obligate participants to serve unless they have also received a scholarship. Scholarship winners generally serve four years on active duty.
ROTC classes normally involve one elective class and one lab per semester. Although the classes involve hands-on work as well as classroom work, they are standard college classes that fit into a normal academic schedule. These courses can help students with personal and academic decision making while giving them the tools to exercise leadership in college life, even before graduating and becoming officers.
ROTC cadets and midshipman have the same lifestyles and academic schedules as any other college students. They join fraternities and sororities. They participate in varsity team and individual sports. They take part in community service projects. Most of the intensive training for ROTC takes place over the summer when officer candidates are not attending school.
HOW TO APPLY FOR AN ROTC SCHOLARSHIP
In order to apply for a scholarship, one does so online. Each Service’s ROTC program has a scholarship page which can be found via a standard search engine. The application opens up each year starting between April and June of the candidate’s high school junior year. Scholarship selection and notification is done on a rolling bases starting in September through March of the candidate’s senior year.
The application consists of chronicling the candidate’s scholar, athlete, leader accomplishments: SAT/ACT scores, unweighted GPA, and high school courses; high school athletics as well as any other individual or team athletic participation; and leadership positions held. In addition, each Service requires its own physical fitness test as well as an interview normally held at an ROTC program college or university location.
Most ROTC scholarship recipients have a strong scholar, athlete, leader profile: over a 3.0 GPA (unweighted), top 20% of the class, SAT/ACT over 1200/24, winners of varsity letters, and team captains/leaders of school or outside organizations. In order to receive a scholarship, the candidate must also pass a physical and be free of any medical issues which would prevent the candidate from being deployable worldwide as a military member.
The part of the application that receives the greatest weight is the official interview at the ROTC program (about 40-50% of the total). Preparing and doing well in the interview is essential for selection. The importance of practicing interview techniques with a real person- whether it be a parent, relative, or neighbor- is essential. If the candidate has an acquaintance who is currently serving or retired officer in the service component that the candidate is applying for and can practice with that person- the better. The second most important area is SAT/ACT score. All Services take the best score into their calculations and most “superscore” the test. So it is to the candidate’s advantage to take the test multiple times to achieve the best outcome. Finally, the physical fitness test and scoring well on it can help separate the candidate from other applicants.
It should be noted that some ROTC scholarships are not full four-year scholarships. Some also do not pay full tuition. All Naval ROTC scholarships pay full tuition at both public and private schools. Half of the Army scholarships pay full tuition and half pay for three years. Only 10% of Air Force ROTC scholarships are full four years scholarships (known as Type 1), 20% pay up to $18,000 per year for four years (Type 2), and the remaining 70% are four year in state tuition scholarships (Type 7).
The fact that many scholarships are not full scholarships is another reason for striving for best performance on the interview, SAT/ACT, physical fitness test and other parts of the application in order to win a full four-year scholarship. The difference in benefits from a 3-year versus a 4-year Army ROTC scholarship or a Type 1 versus a Type 7 Air Force ROTC scholarship can be worth thousands of dollars per year.
It should be noted that some colleges or universities may be better to take ROTC at than others from a financial standpoint. Some schools help make up the difference for those scholarship recipients who receive something other than a full four-year scholarship by providing a first-year tuition scholarship or grant aid to close the gap between the scholarship and the tuition cost. There are a number of state schools which consider out of state ROTC scholarship cadets “in state” students. Going to such a state school can be particularly valuable to Air Force Type 7 recipients who are attending from out of state.
There are a number of schools that also give free room and board to ROTC scholarship winners. This can make the ROTC scholarship a “full ride” scholarship with tuition and fees, books, room and board and a stipend all provided. At high priced private schools, such an ROTC scholarship can be worth $300,000 or more over four years.
FOUR TAKEAWAYS FOR WINNING AN ROTC SCHOLARSHIP
- The ROTC interview is the most important thing to do well on. Prepare extensively for it.
- A good SAT/ACT score is a way to separate yourself from other candidates.
- Do well on the individual Service’s fitness test.
- Have a solid athlete and leader profile. Take a college prep high school curriculum and get the best unweighted GPA you can.
ADVICE AFTER YOU WIN A SCHOLARSHIP
Attend the college or university which is the best fit for you. ROTC is only part of your college experience. Most of your time in college will not be in ROTC so make sure you will be happy at that college.
Since many colleges will be a good fit for most students, it is worthwhile to explore colleges and universities that provide additional financial support to ROTC scholarship recipients—whether that is a scholarship to bridge the first year of a three year scholarship, grant aid to close the gap between the scholarship and tuition cost, in state status to out of state students, or a room and board scholarship.
Indeed, the ROTC scholarship is a great opportunity for those students who wish to serve as officers in the United States Armed Forces. By understanding how applicants are selected for such awards, you can best prepare to win on of these valuable scholarships and attend a college or university which will provide the least out of pocket cost to you.
Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kirkland (U.S. Army, Retired) was one of the few officers ever to command two separate Army ROTC programs–Claremont McKenna College from 2006 to 2009 and the University of Southern California from 2010 to 2013. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy, West Point and has also earned a MA and PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. He served over 25 years on active duty. The author and his team provide in-depth, personal consulting to ROTC applicants and their parents to help win these scholarships. For a deeper understanding of what the ROTC scholarship entails, check out Rob’s thorough explanation of the topic on the Tests and the Rest podcast.