Joining the Army: Overview

Joining the Army ROTC cadet Clemson recruit
A Clemson University Army ROTC cadet stands in formation before the school's Military Appreciation Game, Nov. 2, 2019. (Ken Scar/U.S. Army Cadet Command)

Thinking of joining the Army? Want to know what it takes and what types of jobs in the Army are available? Get the lowdown in this fact sheet.

Army Basics

Directory of Army bases -- Get a feel for the Army community with this directory of Army bases around the country.

The latest news on the military, including the Army -- All the latest headlines about life in the Army and the military.

Army equipment guide -- From the Beretta M9 pistol to the Stryker combat vehicle, get the details on the equipment used by the Army.

Joining the Army

Soldiers can serve as a full-time, active-duty service member or as a member of the Army Reserve.

Active duty is similar to working at a full-time civilian job. You will have your own military occupational specialty (MOS), and you will fill a specific role within your unit. Your length of service may range from 2-6 years. Active-duty members fall into two general categories: enlisted personnel and officers.

Enlisted soldiers

Enlisted soldiers are the backbone of the Army, with each member having his or her own specialized training and filling a role within his or her unit. Officers are the Army's leaders. They guide enlisted soldiers during missions and provide the know-how and expertise to get the job done. Active-duty service terms typically last 2-6 years. Deployment can last up to a year, but the length may vary, depending on a unit's specific mission. Soldiers are eligible for a two-week rest and relaxation (R&R) leave after six months of deployment.

Military officer programs

There are four paths to becoming an Army officer.

Army ROTC -- The Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) allows students to enroll in elective leadership and military courses at colleges and universities. At graduation, ROTC cadets are commissioned as second lieutenants. For more details, see the ROTC section in this article.

Direct Commission -- Direct commission provides leaders in professional fields, such as law, medicine and religion, the opportunity to become Army officers. At completion of an officer training program, they are commissioned at a rank determined by their career branch.

Officer Candidate School -- Officer Candidate School allows college graduates to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to be commissioned as Army officers. Through classroom instruction and training exercises, candidates learn to become leaders.

U.S. Military Academy -- West Point is one of the country's oldest colleges. Cadets are immersed in military customs and traditions while working toward a college degree. At graduation, cadets are commissioned as Army second lieutenants.

Serving in the Army Reserve is similar to working a part-time job. You can live where you want, focus on your civilian career and stay close to your family. You also will have access to many of the benefits of active-duty soldiers, but your time spent on duty is decreased greatly. In the Reserve, you will spend one weekend a month in training and two weeks a year attending a field training exercise (FTX). Soldiers in the Army Reserve may be called to active duty to provide their expertise. Your service in the Army Reserve may range from 3-6 years, depending on your Army Reserve job.

Army Careers

Army jobs -- Search the Army's database of available careers for enlisted, officer and Reserve members.

Special careers in the Army

Below is official information about specialized careers in the Army.

Army music

Army Chaplain Corps

Army law (JAG Corps)

Army health care

Special Forces


Army linguist

Warrant officer

Joining the ROTC

The Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) is an elective for undergraduate and graduate students that provides leadership training. Available at more than 1,100 colleges and universities nationwide, it offers merit-based scholarships that can pay up to the full cost of tuition and open educational opportunities.

High school students

If you're a high school junior or senior and are interested in enrolling in Army ROTC, you can find more information here.

College students

If you're interested in enrolling in Army ROTC and you are in college, start by talking to the Army ROTC enrollment officer on your campus about taking the Army ROTC basic elective course and about the incentives available, including opportunities to compete for two-, three-, or four-year merit-based scholarships.

Junior college and graduate students

If you have two years remaining in junior college or graduate school, you are still eligible to enroll in Army ROTC. Talk to the Army ROTC enrollment officer on your campus.

Leader's training course

This course is for those college students who want to complete Army ROTC training in two years. To qualify, you must complete a 28-day training program at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Upon completion of the leader's training course (LTC), graduates return to campus prepared to enter the advanced course. Talk to the Army ROTC enrollment officer on your campus.

Ready to Join the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

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