There have been several big changes to the Air Force ROTC scholarship program that affect who will be offered scholarships and how much money they will receive. These changes affect:
- Current high school students applying for Air Force ROTC scholarships in 2022-23 (for scholarships that start in Fall 2023) and future applicants to the HSSP.
- Rising 200 and 300 level cadets (sophomores and juniors) currently enrolled in college Air Force ROTC programs
TL;DR More scholarships will be awarded to current cadets through the In College Scholarship Program (ICSP) who have demonstrated sustained interest and strong performance in Air Force ROTC. Fewer scholarships will be awarded to high school seniors, but those scholarships will all be Type 1 (full tuition) scholarships.
More Current Air Force ROTC Cadets Will Get Scholarships
The details are still coming out, but multiple Air Force college ROTC recruiting officers (unit staff members responsible to communicating with students interested in the program) have confirmed that Air Force is changing its scholarship program to award more scholarships to students who are already enrolled in ROTC units. These are cadets who have demonstrated readiness for college academics and performed well at the military requirements ROTC put in front of them, including fitness tests, air science courses, and military training. This applies to students interested in both Air Force and Space Force commissions (which are both administered through Air Force ROTC).
These changes to how Air Force ROTC scholarships are distributed will be a boost for Air Force and Space Force cadets who were not offered scholarships directly out of high school. It also allows the Air Force to base its scholarship decisions (and the decisions about who becomes an Air Force or Space Force officer) on observations by ROTC staff over the course of months or years rather than best guesses based on test scores, high school grades, and a relatively short interview. This change in the scholarship program is also based on the observation that cadets awarded ICSP scholarships tend to have higher retention than cadets awarded scholarships out of high school, probably because those cadets have had their own opportunity to see what ROTC and the Air Force or Space Force is like and not base their continued service on a best guess based on recruiting videos and a brief unit tour.
Fewer Air Force ROTC Scholarships for High School Students
However, since the scholarship budget didn’t get bigger, the increase in scholarships for current college cadets has to be offset by a reduction elsewhere. Specifically, there will be fewer scholarships awarded to students applying through the High School Scholarship Program (HSSP). This includes students applying as high school seniors and high school graduates who have not attended college yet. In the past, around 1,000 scholarships (of varying award levels) were awarded through HSSP. The expectation is that this will drop to around 500 scholarships (but it could be fewer).
Fewer Types of AFROTC Scholarships
Another change to Air Force ROTC scholarships is that there is now only one type of high school scholarship award level, the Type 1 scholarship, which pays full tuition and fees at any public or private institution with an Air Force ROTC detachment. The Type 2 ($18,000/year at public or private institutions) and the Type 7 (full tuition capped at in-state tuition rate where the cadet qualifies for in-state rate) are no longer available.
In past years, the Type 1 scholarships were only offered to about 5% of AFROTC scholarship awardees and were almost exclusively reserved for cadets doing critical majors (being technical majors (with the exception of biology) and high need language majors). Now all high school students offered an Air Force ROTC scholarship will get the higher value Type 1 scholarship, but there will be fewer scholarships offered to high school students overall.
What Should Students Do Now?
What do these changes in the Air Force ROTC scholarship mean for high school students interested in becoming Air Force or Space Force officers? The selection rate for Air Force ROTC scholarships will be much lower for high school seniors this cycle (and probably for several years). They will likely go to the most outstanding applicants – with high test scores AND strong grades in rigorous classes AND outstanding fitness test scores AND a demonstrated history of leadership. The AFROTC interview will continue to be a key part of the scholarship application, and students walk in ready to clearly communicate why they want to be part of the Air Force or Space Force for the next 10 years (or longer).
It also means that students who are not offered a scholarship straight out of high school should go ahead and join the ROTC unit and demonstrate their potential as future officers – with great college grades (particularly in critical majors) AND outstanding performance in unit military training and fitness AND high grades in air science classes AND taking initiative to find ways to make a difference in the unit (aka show leadership). But it also means that they need to look closely at college affordability when they build their college list, since they will be paying for at least a year of tuition.
Some aspects of the changes in the Air Force ROTC scholarships are still unclear, like exactly how many high school scholarships will be awarded and what percentage of current cadets will be offered scholarships. In addition, some colleges offer institutional scholarships to defray the cost of food and housing. If a college has typically offered this scholarship only to incoming freshmen, will they change their eligibility policy to reflect the shift in Air Force priorities?
Air Force ROTC Recruiting Officers will likely have more clarity later in the cycle. If you read through the HSSP Applicant Guide and still have questions, don’t be afraid to reach out to a Recruiting Officer to ask them. But remember you are creating an impression; so be professional and show that you’ve done your homework first. I’d recommend starting with an email, since that gives you a chance to think through what you’re asking before hitting send.
At Admissions Decrypted, I work to guide students through the college application process. This includes ROTC Scholarship applications. If you want help with your application (including essays and practice interviews) please reach out.
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