What is the ROTC, and How Can It Help You Avoid Student Debt?December 12, 2022
According to a recent report by the Education Data Initiative, the average student loan debt per borrower has climbed to $37,693. And for those who attended private colleges, the average loan debt is a whopping $54,921. While the cost of college isn’t expected to decrease in the foreseeable future, some options exist to help pay for school.
One of those options is the Reserve Officer Training Corps program (ROTC), which is a program for college students offered by the U.S. military. Here’s what ROTC is, how it works, and how participating may help you pay for college.
What is the ROTC?
ROTC has been around for a century, and it’s offered at over 1,000 U.S. colleges and universities. There’s also a Junior ROTC (JROTC) program for high school students. The Army, Navy, and Air Force all have ROTC programs. The Marines doesn’t have a dedicated ROTC program, but those who enroll in the Navy program can opt to serve in the Marines after graduation.
Participants commonly referred to as cadets, learn leadership skills, take military courses, and receive military training through the ROTC program. But cadets don’t go through boot camp or get deployed while in school, as they would if they enlisted in the military. You can choose to participate in the program for a short time or long term.
Those who commit to long-term participation serve in the military after graduating from college. Different branches of the military and different roles require different service commitments. For instance, the Army requires cadets to serve eight years, while the Air Force requires four years of service for most roles.
Does the ROTC pay for college?
In addition to learning leadership skills and receiving military training, long-term ROTC participants who commit to serving after college can also earn scholarships. These scholarships are merit-based, meaning they’re awarded to students for academic or extracurricular excellence.
The process and timeframe for applying for an ROTC scholarship will vary slightly based on the military branch. In general, though, high school students apply early in their senior year. Scholarships are also available for current college students enrolled in the ROTC program as well. You can apply at a participating school; local Army, Navy, or Air Force office; or through each branch’s ROTC program website:
You might wonder, “How much does ROTC pay for college?” The answer is simple. If you’re awarded an ROTC scholarship, it could cover up to 100% of your college tuition and fees, though room and board won’t be covered in most cases. You can also get stipends for books and personal expenses.
How to qualify for ROTC scholarships
As mentioned, ROTC scholarships are merit-based. But in addition to excellent academic or extracurricular performance, you’ll also need to meet other qualifying criteria to get and keep your ROTC scholarship.
Each military branch has slightly different qualifying criteria, though all require that you be at least 17 years old and a U.S. citizen (or in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. You’ll also need to maintain a relatively high GPA, meet physical fitness requirements, and more. You can learn more about qualifying criteria at each military branch’s ROTC program website.
The bottom line
For those who are interested in both college and the military, the ROTC program offers valuable benefits. Both short-term and long-term participants learn leadership skills that will serve them well in any career. And if you enroll in the program for the long term, commit to serve, and earn an ROTC scholarship, you could leave college debt-free.