What is ROTC? How Do They Work?

What is ROTC? Here is a guide to explain on the ROTC for college, ROTC programs, how they work, types and more.

Updated by Harsh Rao on 16th October 2020

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps commonly used as ROTC is a group of educational institution-based officer training programs for the training of commissioned officers of the United States Armed Forces. In other words, the ROTC program provides students an opportunity to complete their studies and serve once they complete their degree, or to take part in the program without a post-college commitment for a short period of time.

ROTC in the US was founded by Alden Partridge and was initiated with the Morrill Act of 1862, which inaugurated the land-grant colleges.  This way, the students may train while learning, taking military science courses alongside regular college classes, with the requirement to enlist as an officer in the U.S. Army, Navy, or Air Force upon graduation. ROTC program commissions officers to enter active duty within a year from graduation. Not only do you earn a degree, but you develop valuable life skills for the future. How the ROTC program is experienced differs from individual to individual.

How does ROTC work?

The U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard do not have their own ROTC programs, but the graduates of Naval ROTC programs have the opportunity to serve as officers in the Marine Corps, if eligible through the Marine Corps requirements, yet ROTC graduate officers serve in all the other branches of the U.S. military. Since the Coast Guard constitutes of no ROTC program and the officers can only be allocated through the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Coast Guard Officer Candidate School, transfer from another U.S. military service after the completion of at least 4 years commissioned service in that other branch of the U.S. military, or through the Coast Guard College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI).

Army ROTC units are classified as brigades, battalions, and companies. Air Force ROTC units are dispenses with the students classified into wings, groups, squadrons, and flights. The Army and Air Force ROTC students are called cadets. Naval ROTC units are organized as battalions and also include NROTC students under "Marine Option" who will eventually be commissioned as officers in the Marine Corps. Marine NROTC students may be formed in a separate company when the program includes sufficient numbers. All Naval ROTC students are referred to as midshipmen. Naval ROTC midshipmen will participate in summer cruise programs every summer, either afloat or ashore, similar to their U.S. Naval Academy midshipmen counterparts.

History of ROTC

The concept of ROTC in the US was founded by Alden Partridge and was initiated with the Morrill Act of 1862, which inaugurated the land-grant colleges. The federal government wanted for these schools to have a curriculum with military tactics as a part of it, giving shape to what will be formed as ROTC. The originating college of the ROTC was called Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.

ROTC for College Students

Students can earn the ROTC scholarship in high school or in college. Students who earn the scholarship in high school receive four years of funding if they remain in the ROTC program. Two and three-year scholarship options are available to current college students.

"The Army (ROTC) has a lot of scholarship opportunities once you've made your mark on campus. If you didn't do particularly well in high school but you arrive on campus and do extremely well in the program at the university there are a lot of opportunities to earn that scholarship in the Army," says Army Col. Brad Brown, a professor of military science at Texas A&M University—College Station, which is one of six Senior Military Colleges.

In addition to the option to have tuition and fees or room and board covered, ROTC cadets also receive a living stipend. According to ROTC officials, that amount can vary by branch and class standing. Online, the Army lists its living stipend at $420 a month compared with $300-$500 for the U.S. Air Force and $250-$400 for the U.S. Navy, according to websites for each branch's ROTC programs. A stipend for books varies by the branch from $750 to $1,200.

Students interested in joining an ROTC program must meet certain standards for academics and physical fitness. To be eligible for a scholarship, students must meet minimum GPA requirements and SAT or ACT scores established by each service branch and be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 17 and 26, according to official ROTC websites and information from college programs.

In addition to a college curriculum that includes physical exercise and military science courses, cadets contracted to join the armed forces also must attend training, which ROTC officials say can last about a month and emphasizes learning and applying leadership skills in tactical environments. Held in the summer, the training covers physical conditioning, handling weapons, and survival skills.

ROTC for Army

Since 1936, Army ROTC has provided students with the opportunity to combine world-class leadership and management training along with their respective academic studies. The state-of-the-art curriculum, which consists of a series of classroom and hands-on leadership training experiences, gives students the necessary foundation to serve successfully in positions of responsibility in either America’s Army or the corporate world.

ROTC for Navy

The Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program was founded in 1926 and the U.S. Marine Corps joined the program in 1932. The naval NROTC program is offered at over 150 colleges nationwide. The Nation's first Marine Corps oriented NROTC was established at The Citadel in 1970.

ROTC for Air Force

Air Force ROTC is a program offered to ready you to become an Air Force officer while earning your degree at the same time. There are specific scholarships and grants specifically for ROTC students. This affords you the opportunity to become a leader, in academics and thought. Our program is more than just a series of classes — it’s a challenge and the head start on a lifetime of success, within the Air Force and in life.

What are the ROTC obligations?

One of the most common questions about ROTC is regarding the obligations. Here is what you should know:

There is no obligation unless you are enrolled in ROTC and you sign a contract. You will not be presented with a contract until your junior year if you aren't a scholarship winner.

Upon signing a contract, you will incur an 8-year obligation, just as you do any time you join the military.

You must agree to a contract to continue into your junior year, and once you sign the contract, you will be paid a monthly stipend. You can typically continue to serve past your obligation should you choose.

You can fulfill your commitment in one of the following ways, depending on whether you are a scholarship recipient and whether you initially serve on active duty or enter the Reserves or National Guard when you graduate.

Benefits of ROTC

  • ROTC offers an opportunity for scholarships. While many are subjected to this offered financial aid but those lucky selected candidates regale perks like free tuition and other additional expenses including housing.

  • ROTC offers a similar college experience alongside training. Like other conventional educational institutions, students attend academic classes, participate in clubs and extracurriculars, and live in dorms.

  • The most lucrative perk of joining ROTC is that the student obtains rigorous training that prepares and trains him/her to serve at an officer level upon graduation. 

  • ROTC is an extremely prestigious program, and it’s an honor to be a part of it. You’ll master an array of interpersonal skills including leadership, discipline, and maturity. Additionally, it helps you stay healthy and fit. 

  • There are plenty of post-graduation and scholarship opportunities post duty for an ROTC graduate.  

  • A student can also attain the basic ROTC training without committing to service as post-college service requirements are only in effect if you enroll in the ROTC Advanced Course.

Drawbacks of ROTC

  • On joining ROTC, candidates are required to sign a legally binding contract with a contract tenure which can last up to 12 years. 

  •  Expulsion or dropping out of the program can lead to legal actions against the candidate. The candidate is liable to return/pay back the scholarship if any.  

  • Violations of ROTC’s standards or failure to maintain ROTC’s academic requirements can lead to expulsion from the program resulting in the same consequences or legal action as the aforementioned clause.  

  • Federal law requires that ROTC members commit to at least 4years of active duty, usually directly after college, and an additional 8-year military service. However, this varies from branch to branch. 

Conclusion

The most mind-boggling question is- should you join the ROTC? 

Well, the decision of joining the ROTC depends entirely on you. One should not join for the sake of scholarship since it is a commitment. ROTC programs maintain a strict regime in terms of academics and physical fitness and only those who are confident in adapting to such stringent environments should apply.

A student with an aspiration to be part of the military force of the nation can opt for ROTC for it is an excellent platform to gain knowledge of myriad domains and get a jump-start on a successful career.