Before I graduated OCS, I tried every one of the commissioning routes, save enlisted to officer. I applied to the Naval Academy twice and spent a year and a half as a Marine Option Midshipman in NROTC. Only after that did I apply for the Platoon Leaders Course and attend the 10 week PLC combined.
To be clear, good and bad officers come from all of the commissioning routes. Don’t let someone tell you that good officers only come from one of the commissioning routes. One of the determinants of appropriate commissioning routes is age. I.e. there is no point in going to college at the Naval Academy or through NROTC if you have a degree. Likewise, you are unlikely to apply for the 10 week Officer Candidate Course if you are a freshman in college.
Common steps in each commissioning routes process
- Several waves of paperwork and applications.
- You will get medical clearance through MEPS/DODMERB
- Take a Physical Fitness assessment (the type of assessment is different depending on commissioning route.)
- Interviews with a commissioning representative.
- The application goes to a selection board.
Timeline: High School.
The Naval Academy is the longest and most in-depth process for applicants. In addition to the normal college and military service applications, applicants must obtain a congressional nomination from their Congressman, Senator or the Vice president. This is a very similar route to the US Merchant Marine Academy
- Applicants file a preliminary application.
- Once an applicant passes the first application, they are assigned a Blue and Gold Officer. This is a volunteer liaison from the Naval Academy who will conduct the interviews and oversee the application. They are not a recruiter, however, they will assist in your paperwork and answer any questions about commissioning routes and life at the academy. Blue and Gold Officers are often alumni or the parents of alumni.
- Applicants must receive a nomination from their Congressman or Senator. This is done through selection via a separate application and interview with their selection board. To apply, check your congressman’s website for an application. The top applicants will be interviewed. Obtaining a nomination does not guarantee admission to a service academy. I had three nominations and still didn’t make it. Congressman and Senators can nominate up to ten applicants from their districts per year. If you are the child of a career service member, you are also eligible to apply for a nomination from the President. Both the President and Vice President are able to give as many nominations as they want.
- Applicants who are not admitted to the Naval Academy may be offered a slot at the Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS). After one year at NAPS, they will be directly admitted to the Naval Academy. If you are admitted to NAPS, take it. You won’t get into the academy next year if you don’t.
- You are not bound to military service until after your second year at the Academy. At this point, Midshipman will sign their “Two For Seven” committing themselves to at least 7 more years on active duty (2 at the academy and 5 after).
Naval Academy Midshipman do not attend OCS to become Marines. Instead, they are evaluated through an exercise called Leatherneck. Leatherneck is a 4 week evaluation period in Quantico at OCS and TBS. The Naval Academy outlines the training and evaluation at Leatherneck here.
- Free tuition,
- Exposure to the wider mission of the naval service.
- Four years to see leadership and develop your own leadership style.
- You can join the Navy if you don’t like the Marine Corps.
- Guaranteed job after college.
- You will miss the traditional college experience and many personal liberties afforded to a normal college student.
- Opportunities for internships and visits home are limited as your life revolves around training at the Academy.
- You might complete four years at the Academy and not get a Marine Corps commission.
Timeline: High School/Early College
- Submit an NROTC application.
- Apply for five colleges alongside the application.
- The Navy will decide whether you get a scholarship. And, which college you will attend.
- Notification via email.
NROTC is often the first option for college-bound seniors who know they want to serve. There are two options for NROTC Midshipman: Scholarship (tuition paid) and College Programmer (no tuition or financial assistance).
You are not bound to military service until the beginning of your sophomore year. On the first day of sophomore year, you are committing to the agreed upon contract. Or you have to pay back your scholarship money.
Scholarship students will attend CORTRAMID a four-week program to give them exposure to the many facets of the naval service. Midshipman spend one week in the surface, submarine, aviation and Marine ground communities.
A midshipman who does not receive a scholarship may participate in NROTC doing the same events and training as a scholarship student. However, they are excluded from training events like CORTRAMID or Mountain Warfare School. College Program students must attain advanced standing before the end of their sophomore year or they will automatically be dropped from the program. Each year the number of advanced standing slots changes, but it is extremely competitive.
Semper Fi club
All Marine option Midshipman are required to attend Semper Fi club. This is a weekly meeting where students are taught OCS specific knowledge, tactics, and Marine specific PT including hikes, the endurance course, and the combat fitness test.
NROTC students have one major advantage over Midshipman at the academy or “civilian” candidates at OCS. Most NROTC students will have MECEPs, Marines in the unit attending school and participating in battalion functions alongside the Midshipman. These Marines can be a huge opportunity for mentorship and a resource as you prepare to lead Marines like them. Befriend a few of them and you will have an advantage when it comes to OCS. MECEPs must graduate OCS before reporting to the NROTC unit and starting school.
- You may get a scholarship and have the opportunity to attend good professional development training.
- You only attend OCS for six weeks.
- Guaranteed job after college.
- You will have an automatic friends group when you get to college.
- In my personal opinion, this is not the best of both worlds as often advertised. You are technically in the military, so the unit dictates even basic things like when you can leave for academic breaks or what days you need to wear a uniform.
- You may be voluntold (someone else volunteered you) for additional duties. For example, I was voluntold for color guard and the pistol team. This was in addition to the normal battalion events.
- You will take additional Naval science courses and labs. This can be a pro as well.
- Many NROTC units are underfunded. In my unit, we made up for this by cleaning the college stadium after football games. It was common to arrive at 2000 and not be done till 0600 the next morning. Many of your weekends are used up to pay for things you already expected to have (such as uniforms, packs, etc). So you might have a commitment to the unit every day of the week.
- College program students do not attend CORTRAMID or Mountain Warfare School.
I’ll keep the OCS portion of this post short. There is plenty of information on the blog already.
You attend OCS twice for six weeks. The first segment is usually after your freshman or sophomore year.
PLC Combined or the Officer Candidate Course is the last option and best fitted for candidates who are entering their senior year of college or already graduated.
- You can live life as a complete civilian during college.
- You have the opportunity to do internships or travel on your own time without worrying how it will affect training.
- There are many opportunities you will not have post-college. This is the time to take advantage of these opportunities. For example, study abroad, do an internship in school, pursue a personal passion, become an RA, intern for a startup, play collegiate sports, etc.
- No military scholarships (you are eligible for financial assistance after completing Juniors or PLC combined).
- Less time to develop your leadership style in a military setting prior to OCS.
- No training opportunities like those afforded to Midshipman.
- It could be several years before you get accepted to OCS.
For more information about commissioning routes check out becominganofficer.com