Military Career Options
There are many career opportunities within the US Armed Forces available to both high school and college graduates. Each branch offers unique opportunities for students searching for a future through military service.
Check out our video recording of our military options panel discussion.
The website Today's Military offers many resources for those considering the armed services.
- Education & Benefits Infographic (PDF)
- Joining the Military: What to Expect (PDF)
- Jobs in the Military (PDF)
- Finding the Right Job: A Step-by-Step Guide (PDF)
The military is made up of six branches, each with their own active-duty and part-time components. Each varies in service commitment, location, and how its members contribute to the overall mission of protecting the United States. (Sources: todaysmilitary.com and military.com)
Air Force and Air Force Reserve:
Today's Air Force operates with a three-part vision: global vigilance, reach and power. The Air Force protects American interests at home and abroad with a focus on air power.
The Air Force Reserve trains and serves on a part-time basis, performing flying and other specialized missions for the Air Force.
Air National Guard:
The Air National Guard as we know it today is a separate reserve component of the United States Air Force. The Air National Guard trains part time to assist, first on the state level, but they may also serve nationally.
Army and Army Reserve:
As the oldest branch of the US Military, the Army protects the security of the United States and its resources. The dominant land power. The Army generally moves in to an area, secures it, and instills order and values before it leaves. It also guards U.S. installations and properties throughout the world. Learn more about the US Army.
The Army Reserve offer the opportunity to work in a civilian career or attend college full time while training and serving near home until needed. Members deploy alongside the Army. Army Reserve Soldiers spend one weekend per month and two weeks per year training to keep their skills sharp. Learn more about the Army Reserve.
Army National Guard:
The Army National Guard is community-based and reports to the governor of its respective state unless called to protect US domestic interests in times of conflict or natural disaster. Members may also be deployed internationally alongside full-time service members when necessary. Each state has its own Guard, as required by the Constitution; in fact, it is the only branch of the military whose existence is actually required by the Constitution. Members of the National Guard hold civilian jobs or attend school while conducting their military training part time. Learn more about the Iowa National Guard.
Coast Guard and Coast Guard Reserve:
The Coast Guard is a maritime force offering military, law enforcement, humanitarian, regulatory, and diplomatic capabilities. The Coast Guard does rescues, law enforcement, drug prevention, and clears waterways. Learn more about the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard Reserve typically trains and serves near home, offering the chance to contribute part time. Coast Guard reservists spend an average of one weekend a month and two weeks per year performing duties vital to our nation's security. Learn more about the Coast Guard Reserve.
Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve:
The Marine Corps is known as the U.S.' rapid-reaction force. They are trained to fight by sea and land, and usually are the first "boots on the ground." Marines are stationed around the world at all times, ready to deploy quickly whenever and wherever needed. Total service commitment ranges from four to six years. Learn more about the Marines.
The Marine Corps Reserve is critical to the Marine Corps' ability to provide a balanced, ready force. Many Marines come to the Reserve after serving on Active Duty, as the Reserve gives them an outlet to continue serving while pursuing a civilian career or furthering their education.
Navy and Navy Reserve:
The Navy delivers combat-ready Naval forces while maintaining security in the air and at sea. It spans 100 international ports and the open ocean. It secures and protects the oceans around the world to create peace and stability, making the seas safe for travel and trade. A Navy Sailor generally serves a term of four years aboard one of the Navy's 293 deployable ships. Learn more about the Navy.
The Navy Reserve trains close to home, offering the ability to pursue a full-time civilian career, or obtain special military training while serving. They serve in the US or abroad in support of the Navy's mission.
The newest branch of the military, the U.S. Space Force was signed into law in December 2019. The sixth branch of the military, the Space Force is also still in development and will be for some time as many final decisions are made, including uniforms, basing and even recruitment. In concept, Space Force will have advanced defensive operations on land, in the air, and in orbit. The Space Force will maintain the military's competitive edge in space with specialized training and enhances its capabilities through the acquisition and development of next-generation space-based systems. Learn more about Space Force.
The Space Force currently does not have a reserve component.
There are five United States service academies - the United States Military, Naval, Air Force, Merchant Marine, and Coast Guard academies. These academies have acceptance rates ranging from 9-18 percent. The admission process is rigorous, beginning sooner than the traditional college process. Candidates can begin the process during their junior year of high school by completing questionnaires and applying for official nominations. A nomination must come from members of Congress, US senators, the Vice President, or other military personnel. Applicants must also complete assessments for physical and mental health, including the Candidate Fitness Assessment (CFA), a six-event physical fitness exam.
In addition to these steps, candidates cannot be married, pregnant, or have any children for whom they have legal responsibility.
US Military Academy - West Point, New York
The U.S. Military Academy at West Point's mission is "to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army."
Tuition is fully paid in return for an active-duty service obligation and students receive a monthly pay as at predetermined percentage of that of a commissioned officer.
Learn more about West Point.
US Naval Academy - Annapolis, Maryland
As the undergraduate college of our country’s naval service, the Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become professional officers of competence, character, and compassion in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. Naval Academy students are midshipmen on active duty in the U.S. Navy.
They attend the academy for four years, graduating with bachelor of science degrees and commissions as ensigns in the Navy or second lieutenants in the Marine Corps. Naval Academy graduates serve at least five years in the Navy or Marine Corps.
Tuition is fully paid in return for an active-duty service obligation and students receive a monthly pay as at predetermined percentage of that of a commissioned officer. Learn more about the Naval Academy.
US Air Force Academy - Colorado Springs, Colorado
The Air Force Academy is both a military organization and a university. Much of the Academy is set up like most other Air Force bases, particularly the 10th Air Base Wing, but the superintendent, commandant, dean of faculty and cadet wing are set up in a manner resembling a civilian university.
Tuition is fully paid in return for an active-duty service obligation and students receive a monthly pay as at predetermined percentage of that of a commissioned officer. Learn more about the Air Force Academy.
US Merchant Marine Academy - Kings Point, New York
The United States Merchant Marine Academy is a federal service academy that educates and graduates leaders of exemplary character who are committed to serve the national security, marine transportation, and economic needs of the United States as licensed Merchant Marine Officers and commissioned officers in the Armed Forces. With 95 percent of the world's products transported over water, these leaders are vital to the effective operation of our merchant fleet for both commercial and military transport in peace and war. Academy graduates abide by the motto: “Acta Non Verba," or "Deeds Not Words," and are leaders that exemplify the concept of service-above-self.
Midshipmen have a service obligation upon graduation in return for tuition, room and board paid by the school. Students DO NOT receive a monthly stipend like other academies, though they do receive a stipend during their term at seas. Midshipment are responsible for all other costs associated with the program and financial aid is available. Learn more about the Merchant Marine.
US Coast Guard Academy - New London, Connecticut
The United States Coast Guard Academy is a top military college granting Bachelor of Science degrees in one of nine engineering or professional majors. Graduates earn a commission as an Ensign in the Coast Guard to serve their nation. Cadets at the Coast Guard Academy have an engineering-focused college experience. Unlike other service academies, admission is merit-based only, and does not require a congressional nomination.
Tuition is fully paid in return for an active-duty service obligation and students receive a monthly pay as at predetermined percentage of that of a commissioned officer. Learn more about the Coast Guard Academy.