If you are looking for a way to help pay your college costs, one program worth considering is ROTC – this stands for Reserve Officers Training Corps. All four branches of our Armed Forces – Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines – offer ROTC programs, but not all are available at all universities. These programs offer college tuition assistance but ask for service in return. Here’s a look at how these programs work and the pros and cons for signing on for this type of financial assistance.
Army ROTC – This programs offers scholarships for two, three or four years that cover tuition, fees, an allowance for books and a monthly cash stipend of up to $5,000 a year. You will have to take some military related courses while in school and participate in specified activities. These scholarships are not need-based but are academic-based. Your service obligation is four years active duty plus four years in the inactive reserves after graduation, and once you graduate and complete your training, you’ll be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.
Pros – Starting officer pay isn’t bad, there are excellent medical and dental benefits and you’ll be provided quarters to live in at no cost. If you’re married, you will get benefits for your spouse and any children and either a home to live in for your family on base or a housing allowance to help you cover the cost of living off base. Army service looks good on a resume and you’ll learn leadership skills.
Cons – If you change your mind about participating in ROTC past your freshman year, you will have to pay back the funds you were awarded. If you make it all the way through college on your ROTC scholarship, the only way you can get out of your service obligation typically is if you are wounded or otherwise disabled in the line of duty. This is a serious commitment, but may be well worth it.
Tips – High grades are required and preference is given to those majoring in a field of use to the military such as engineering, computers, high value foreign languages and nursing.
Air Force ROTC – This program is offered at more than 1,100 colleges and has the same service commitment. Like Army ROTC, if you qualify for a full ride, your tuition, room, board and books will be paid for, as well as a modest monthly allowance. As with the Army program, these are not need-based, but are academic-based. High grades are a must. You may also get an edge if you participate in a Junior ROTC program (JROTC) at your high school or a similar program like Civil Air Patrol (CAP).
Pros – You won’t have to spend your senior year interviewing and agonizing over whether you will have a job at graduation because you know you’ll have one waiting on you. And even though starting pay for a second lieutenant is modest at roughly $34,000, you won’t have to contend with student loans or rent an apartment. And if you live on base, you can even eat for free. This should leave you with more disposable income than most of your fellow grads.
Cons – For any of these programs, you will likely not have a say in where you are assigned. There are Air Force bases all over the world, in Europe, Asia and the Pacific. You could be sent to any of these and if you are married, you should know that not all of these locations allow you to bring your spouse along for the ride.
Tips – Great letters of recommendation can help tip the scales in your favor with your scholarship application, particularly if any of these come from a legislator or high ranking military personnel.
Navy ROTC – This program is referred to as NROTC and covers the scholarship program for both the US Navy and the Marines. For all of these programs, you cannot have any type of criminal record, have to be in good physical condition, have good grades, high SAT or ACT scores and take the Armed Forces Qualification Test and receive a high score. These programs are all very competitive. The service requirements are the same as for the other two programs.
Pros – All of these programs pay for undergraduate work, but once you graduate, as an officer, you can also receive tuition assistance to pursue an advanced degree. You could actually leave your four years of service with your Master’s in hand, as well, for no cost. Or you can decide to stay and keep serving.
Cons – You have to apply early. Scholarship applications for the next year open up in summer so if you apply this year, it would be for 2015 funds. Majors are limited that they will accept – most are STEM majors (including nursing) with some high-need languages thrown in the mix.
Tips – Even if you don’t get it in your freshman year, you may be able to get a scholarship in later years if you serve in ROTC without a scholarship and/or if other program participants drop out, thus releasing funds. You can apply as early as the second semester of your Junior year and this is highly recommended.
If you have an interest in travel and serving your country, pursuing an ROTC scholarship can be very worthwhile. As with most scholarships, the program is competitive, but less so than vying for an athletic scholarship. If you are still in high school and interested, speak to your local Armed Services recruiters for tips on how you may be able to get a leg up on your competition. Four years of active duty may seem onerous, but it may be much more preferable than a decade (or more) in serious debt paying off student loans.
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