ROTC as a Graduate Student

The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) prepares college students for careers as military officers. Dating back to 1916, when it was founded as part of the National Defense Act, today's ROTC program combines academic education with military training. ROTC cadets earn a degree while completing additional military science training. After completing the program, graduates join the military as officers and take on leadership roles in the Army, Navy, Air Force, or other armed service branches.

Grad student ROTC recipients can use the program to pay for a master's degree. ROTC programs provide full tuition and a book allowance for grad students, along with a monthly stipend. During grad school, ROTC cadets complete the same coursework requirements as other students, with additional military training requirements. After graduation, master's students can join the military as officers, typically for a four-year service agreement. When recipients fulfill the service requirement they can transition to civilian jobs in the same field as their master's degree.

This guide covers ROTC in grad school, including requirements and benefits. It also explains the difference between ROTC and officer candidate school and provides information about additional ROTC scholarships.

Is ROTC in Graduate School Right for Me?

ROTC offers several benefits for graduate students. First, students who use ROTC programs to earn a master's degree receive 100% tuition coverage and a stipend while in grad school. Second, ROTC offers leadership training and a career path after graduation. Grad students who use the ROTC two-year scholarship commit to four years of military service after graduation. During this enlistment, ROTC grad students build leadership and technical skills as an officer, and after military service, they can transition into civilian jobs in the business, government, or elsewhere.

Many students believe ROTC only funds undergraduate degrees; however, 32% of ROTC recipients earn graduate degrees. Students who join ROTC for graduate school complete military science prerequisites the summer before beginning their master's program. During a month-long program, ROTC grad students complete the 100-level and 200-level military training ROTC undergrads complete. Students who join ROTC in college can extend their scholarship to cover graduate school if they have not received four years of scholarship funding.

Prospective ROTC grad students must be committed and disciplined because the program adds requirements on top of regular master's degree coursework.

ROTC vs. Officer Candidate School

Both grad student ROTC recipients and cadets at officer candidate school train to become officers; however, the process differs, as do the outcomes after completing the program.

Officer candidate school shares similarities with military grad school programs, providing advanced training in military science. But unlike ROTC for grad school, officer candidate school does not grant a degree. Officer candidate school offers a quick route to advanced military roles, with most branches requiring three months to complete the program. A master's degree, by contrast, often takes two years.

While both programs prepare students for officer responsibilities, ROTC programs also include graduate-level coursework in nonmilitary fields, such as business. For example, ROTC grad students can earn an MBA, which leads to private sector career opportunities after leaving military service. ROTC cadets still complete military training and military science coursework like cadets at officer candidate school, while also earning a master's degree.

Timeline for ROTC Graduate Students

Grad student ROTC recipients complete their degree on the same timeline as other students. Most master's programs require two years of full-time study; ROTC grad students complete the same coursework requirements as other students in their cohort. However, ROTC does add additional requirements. Most programs include a leadership training course, which grad students complete the summer before starting their master's program. The program, which takes several weeks, provides foundational training for future officers. During the course, ROTC members learn about military tactics and study military leadership. They also complete prerequisite ROTC courses in military science.

ROTC grad students who have already completed military training as an undergraduate or enlisted soldier may be able to waive the training program. For example, students who have attended basic training have already met the military science prerequisites.

ROTC programs do place some restrictions on graduate students. For example, recipients must meet age requirements. The Army ROTC only accepts students who will be age 30 or younger the year they graduate and become an officer. Prospective ROTC grad students over that age can apply for an age waiver. As well, recipients must meet academic standards. ROTC programs look for candidates who possess strong academic, physical, and leadership qualities. Unlike other graduate students, ROTC grad students must meet medical qualifications for military service.

Most of the ROTC requirements, like the leadership training course, occur before students begin their graduate program. Once ROTC grad students begin their coursework, they complete the program on the same timeline as other students.

Paying for Graduate School with ROTC and Military Benefits

ROTC programs and military benefits can fully cover grad school. ROTC offers scholarships that provide full tuition plus fees, a book allowance, and a monthly stipend for graduate students. Grad student ROTC benefits will pay for a degree in business, education, STEM, or public policy. These degrees prepare graduates for careers in the military, the government, or the private sector. Recipients agree to a service term after graduation and enlist as officers. ROTC two-year scholarships require a four-year service commitment.

The Army, Navy, and Air Force offer ROTC programs to pay for a master's degree. The requirements vary, with physical fitness requirements, academic standards, and guidelines on eligible institutions and degrees. ROTC or military benefit recipients can often apply for additional scholarships as well. Prospective students can learn more in the military and veteran grad school guide.

Scholarships for ROTC Students in Graduate Programs

ROTC Two-Year Scholarship: Students attending a two-year master's program can use ROTC two-year scholarships. Recipients agree to serve in the Army for four years.

ROTC Three-Year Scholarship: Students considering a three-year master's program can use an ROTC three-year scholarship to fund their education. Recipients commit to four years of service in the Army.

Tillman Scholar Program: With an average award of $10,000, this program supports military veterans and spouses earning a graduate or professional degree on a full-time basis.

CSU-Global U.S. Military Personnel and Family Scholarship: Offered by Colorado State University, the scholarship supports U.S. military personnel and their families while earning a master's degree.

Army ROTC Green to Gold Scholarship: Current enlisted soldiers can earn a master's degree through the Army ROTC Green to Gold program. After earning the degree, graduates become Army officers.