The Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC, often pronounced ROT-see) is a program to educate and train future US military officers at civilian colleges and universities. Students are simultaneously full-time college students and ROTC cadets or midshipmen. They take courses in military, air, or naval science alongside their other college classes. They also have regular military training during the school year and over the summer to prepare them for their role as future military officers. ROTC scholarships pay for tuition and more at many colleges around the US.
There are three different ROTC programs. Army ROTC trains future Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard officers. Navy ROTC trains future Navy and Marine Corps officers, and has a special track for Navy Nursing. Air Force ROTC trains future Air Force officers and now offers some cadets the option of commissioning into the Space Force.
Students can only participate in ROTC at colleges that host a ROTC unit for that program, or that are a cross town affiliate with the unit at another college. For example, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Navy ROTC unit includes cross town students from Harvard and Tufts. Meanwhile, Air Force ROTC Det 60 at University of Southern California includes students from USC as well as students from two dozen nearby colleges including Embry-Riddle, Occidental, Cal State Polytechnic Pomona, and Chapman.
Make sure that there is a ROTC unit or cross-town agreement for the specific program you want to join. Students at Occidental for example could affiliate with the Army ROTC unit at UCLA or the Air Force ROTC unit at USC, but would not have a Navy ROTC option available.
It’s also important to remember that the high school scholarship applications are just that, an application for a ROTC program scholarship. Students still need to apply to – and be admitted to colleges where they’d like to use the scholarship.
Each ROTC program has a scholarship competition for high school students. The application typically opens in spring of junior year, with scholarship review boards over the fall and winter. Because students might not hear the results of their scholarship application until spring of senior year, it’s essential to complete college applications without waiting for ROTC scholarship results.
The application typically requires an academic record, SAT/ACT test scores, teacher recommendations, activities list, essay responses, an interview, and a fitness assessment. Students must also go through a medical review board that determines medical qualification. Students are evaluated on their academic ability and potential as future military leaders.
Participation in high school Junior ROTC is not required, but is one of many ways a student might develop leadership skills. Other common venues of growing as a leader include team sports, scouts, Civil Air Patrol, Sea Cadets, student government, academic teams and clubs, and work.
College students can join a ROTC unit whether or not they have been awarded a 4-year scholarship. They would take the same ROTC courses and do the same school year training events, but usually don’t do summer training. Non-scholarship students may be considered for 3- or 2-year scholarships or a contract that results in a commission after graduation. Usually, success in earning a scholarship as a college student depends on college grades and performance as a ROTC cadet or midshipman.
ROTC scholarships pay for part or all of college tuition and required fees, depending on the program and scholarship category. Scholarships usually also include a book allowance, uniforms, and a monthly tax-free stipend.
The specific eligibility, application, and service requirements vary according to which ROTC program the student joins and what career path they are assigned after graduation. See each Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program page for current information.
Navy ROTC (Navy and Marine Corps)
Air Force ROTC (Air Force and Space Force)
Army ROTC (Army, Army Reserve, and Army National Guard)