Entering the Military

Entering the Military

An American flag

Joining the military is a serious commitment.  Before signing any document to enter the military you should read the document carefully and talk to someone you trust if there is anything you don’t understand.  If you want to join the military, you start by choosing between serving as an enlisted service member or as an officer.

Enlisted service members make up the majority of the military forces and perform much of the hands- on work.  To enlist, you must be 18 years old.  You may also enlist if you are 17 and have your parents’ consent.  You must also have graduated from high school, although a General Educational Development (GED) certificate is sometimes acceptable.

Once you have talked to a recruiter and made a commitment to serve, you set a date to visit a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to finish the enlistment process.  The MEPS is a joint-service organization that determines candidates’ physical qualifications, aptitude, and moral standards as set by each branch of military service.  There are MEPS located all over the country.  When you go to the MEPS, you should:

  • bring a Social Security Card, birth certificate, and driver’s license;
  • remove any body piercings, and make sure your clothing does not have obscene images;
  • bring glasses or wear contacts, and bring along an eyeglass or contact lens case and solutions;
  • get a good night’s sleep, and arrive early.

Candidates officially complete the process of joining the military once they meet all of the requirements at the MEPS.  The process may take up to two days.  Food and lodging are usually provided for candidates.  At the MEPS, the candidate can expect to:

  • take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery;
  • have a physical examination;
  • meet with a counselor and determine a career; and take the oath of enlistment.

After processing at the MEPS, the new recruit will either report for basic training immediately or, if the recruit is enlisting before finishing high school, take basic training within a year.

Officers are the managers of the military, planning or directing operations or acting in professional roles in fields such as medicine and law.  Officers have generally completed a four-year college degree or more advanced education before serving, though it is possible to advance through the enlisted ranks and complete officer training later.  An officer’s education often determines what career he or she will have in the military.  Usually the candidate will meet with a military advisor or career counselor during college to select a potential job specialty.


If you are interested in serving as an officer, you have four options:


  • attend a Senior Military College or Academy;
  • enroll at a traditional college or university with a Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program;
  • attend Officer Candidate School (OCS) after graduating from college; or
  • receive a direct commission after earning a professional


Some enlisted service members are promoted to officer rank.  Most branches of the armed forces have programs, including additional training, that help service members make the change.  A commanding officer may recommend an enlisted service member with the right qualifications for OCS or ROTC (if they plan to go back to school).  A warrant officer (who ranks between the highest enlisted service members and the lowest commissioned officers) may be promoted from the enlisted ranks for technical expertise.  A high-ranking enlisted service member who has been given officer-like authority by his or her superiors may become a non-commissioned officer (NCO).