This pathway is made up of five military service branches, each with their own active-duty and part-time components (i.e., Guard and Reserve). Together, they offer a broad variety of ways to serve. Each varies in service commitment, location and how its members contribute to the overall mission of protecting our country, though all are on the same rank-based pay scale.
How to Pursue This Pathway
Choosing a military career requires careful consideration and planning. To start your research, consider your skill set and interests.
Explore Military Branches
The largest military branch in the United States. The Army is a powerful fighting force defending and serving our nation by land, sea and air. Elite groups within the Army, such as the Army Rangers and Special Forces, receive specialized training for advanced combat situations.
Offers the opportunity to work in a civilian career or attend college full time while serving near home.
Army National Guard
Community-based and reports to the governor of its respective state unless called to protect U.S. domestic interests in times of conflict or natural disaster. Members hold civilian jobs or attend school while conducting their military training part time.
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It plays a major role as the first force on the ground in most conflicts. Today, 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.
Marine Corps Reserve
It is critical to the Marine Corps' ability to provide a balanced, ready force. Many Marines come to the Reserve after serving on Active Duty.
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Operates with a three-part vision: global vigilance, reach and power. This vision empowers a technologically advanced force that is focused on air, space and cyberspace superiority.
Air Force Reserve
An integral part of presence in air, space and cyberspace. With readiness as its primary charge, the Air Force Reserve is actively involved in operations around the world.
Air National Guard
Comprised of citizen Airmen who train part-time, close to home, until called upon for duty. These professionals serve both federal and state governments — assisting their communities and helping the Air Force to guard the skies.
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Handles operations on and under the sea, in the air and on the ground. Elite groups within the Navy, such as the SEALs and Navy Divers, receive specialized training for advanced warfare situations. A Navy Sailor generally serves a term of four years aboard a Navy ship, though options for shorter time commitments exist.
Offers citizens the chance to serve on a part-time basis, training near home until called to Active Duty. A reservist can pursue a full-time civilian education or career, or obtain special military training while serving.
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The Coast Guard is responsible for an array of maritime duties, from ensuring safe and lawful commerce to performing rescue missions in severe conditions.
Coast Guard Reserve
Offers citizens the opportunity to serve on a part-time basis. Reservists take part in maritime safety, mobility, security, national defense and the protection of natural resources. Reservists spend an average of one weekend a month and two weeks a year performing duties vital to national security.
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What are the requirements necessary to join the military?
Each of the five military branches have specific requirements. Here are some requirements that may be asked of applicants:
- Citizenship - U.S. citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident
- Age - Enlist at 17 with parental consent, or 18 or older without. Each service branch has a different enlistment age limit.
- Education - High school diploma or GED.
- Testing - Everyone must take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. It determines which branches and jobs you can pursue.
- Health and fitness - Pass a physical exam and meet weight limits. Each service has different fitness standards.
What is ASVAB?
The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is required to enlist in all five military branches. It is a series of tests developed by the Department of Defense to determine whether you have the mental aptitude to enlist. It also helps determine the Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) for which you qualify.
ASVAB Test Areas
- General Science - measures knowledge of life science, earth and space science, and physical science
- Arithmetic Reasoning - measures ability to solve basic arithmetic word problems
- Word Knowledge - measures ability to understand the meaning of words through synonyms
- Paragraph Comprehension - measures ability to obtain information from written material
- Mathematics Knowledge - measures knowledge of mathematical concepts and applications
- Electronics Information - measures knowledge of electrical current, circuits, devices and electronic systems
- Auto and Shop Information - measures knowledge of automotive maintenance and repair, and wood and metal shop practices
- Mechanical Comprehension - measures knowledge of the principles of mechanical devices, structural support and properties of materials
- Assembling Objects - measures ability with spatial relationships
Can students attend college and enlist in the military at the same time? If so, do they offer any kind of financial assistance?
The military offers many educational benefits that service members can take advantage of during or after service. From financial aid and college funds to loan repayment programs, there are a number of ways for service members to afford and further their education.
How can I turn the military experience into a career or have it contribute to future goals?
The ASVAB determines what jobs you qualify for in the military, and you get to pick what you want to do from there. When answering this question, consider the branch that is of interest to you and the rank and career options that might be available if you start after high school or after college.
What kind of preparations will I have to make after I’m accepted into the military?
The recruiters for the branch that is of most interest to you will guide you through the next steps and will ensure that you are prepared for entry in the military.
If military is a postsecondary option that interests you, consider taking the next steps:
- Research military branches. Learn about the five military branches, full-time and part-time options, benefits, and basic requirements and steps for joining the U.S. military as an enlisted member. It’s a big decision, and you’ll have important choices to make.
- Contact a recruiter. Get in touch with a recruiter for each branch you’re interested in. They can answer branch specific questions.
- Understand options for Delayed Entry Program (DEP). DEP, also called the Delayed Enlistment Program, is a program whereby individuals going into active duty enlist first in the DEP before they ship out to Basic Training, or "boot camp."
- Report to MEPS and take the ASVAB test. If you decide to enlist, you'll spend a day at a military entrance processing station (MEPS). You'll take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test, go through a physical exam, and meet with a career counselor. If you're accepted, you'll take the oath of enlistment.
- Examine Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) options. The U.S. Army categorizes the jobs performed by enlisted personnel under what is called the Military Occupational Specialty, or MOS, system. Every MOS is known by its code. In fact, most military members will use this code to describe their jobs to people who ask what they do in the military.
- Await orders for basic training. You'll receive orders for basic training within a few weeks after reporting to MEPS. If you enrolled in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), you’ll get orders within a year.
Sources of Information
In general, information published by these sources is both current and reliable.
- Military Checklist
- Army - Official site of the Army.
- Army College Access Program - Address and support the ongoing needs of the Rangers and families beyond what the government can offer. Ranger Assistance Programs work directly with the U.S. Special Operations Care Coalition to assist U.S. Army Rangers.
- Marine Corps - Official site of the Marine Corps.
- Air Force - Official site of the Air Force.
- Navy - Official site of the Navy.
- Coast Guard - Official site of the Coast Guard.
- Today’s Military - The Today’s Military website is produced by the United States Department of Defense as a resource for young adults, parents and educators curious about military service. TodaysMilitary.com is not intended to promote any one branch of the U.S. Military.
- Federal Aid for Military Families - Both the federal government and nonprofit organizations offer money for college to veterans, future military personnel, active duty personnel, or those related to veterans or active duty personnel.
- Federal Student Aid (FSA) - A part of the U.S. Department of Education, FSA is the largest provider of student financial aid in the nation.
- Federal Financial Aid Programs for Military and Veterans - Sources of financial aid recommended by Federal Student Aid (an Office of the US Department of Education) that you might want to consider. You also might explore todaysmilitary.com’s list of education benefits for service members.
- Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) - This form is used to apply for federal financial aid for college, career schools, or grad school.
- FSA ID - A username and password that gives you access to Federal Student Aid’s online systems and can serve as your legal signature. Only create an FSA ID using your own personal information and for your own exclusive use.
- FSA Pubs - The office of Federal Student Aid provides publications, fact sheets, online tools, and other resources to help you prepare and pay for college or career school. Resources are grouped by topics.
- Illinois Postsecondary Handbook - A reference source produced by the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) to provide general admission and financial aid information about Illinois postsecondary institutions. Please check with each institution for exact costs.
- Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) - The state’s college access and financial aid agency.
- Illinois Veteran Grant - Link to application. Important information regarding this program including the eligibility requirements, may be accessed by selecting from among the options that appear in the menu.
- Illinois National Guard Grant - Link to application. Important information regarding this program including the eligibility requirements, may be accessed by selecting from among the options that appear in the menu.
- Insignias - Military rank is a badge of leadership. Responsibility for personnel, equipment and mission grows with each advancement.
- Military.com - This site connects service members, military families and veterans to benefits of service — government benefits, scholarships, discounts, lifelong friends, mentors, great stories of military life or missions, and much more.
- Naviance for CPS - A tool that enables students in grades 6 through 12 to conduct comprehensive college and career planning. Use your CPS username and password to login.
- Alternate Application for Illinois Financial Aid (for qualifying undocumented and transgender students) - Effective January 2020, the IL RISE Act permits state aid to be awarded to persons who are not otherwise eligible for federal financial aid, including, but not limited to transgender students and noncitizen students who have not obtained lawful US permanent residence.
- ROTC Colleges - Many universities and colleges in the country offer an Army ROTC curriculum. Search for colleges with ROTC programs and contact that school's Military Science department for more information on their particular program.
- SAT - Find out tests dates and information on what kinds of questions you’ll see and what the test measures.
- Chicagoland Career Pathways - A free and open website where young adults and their guides (parents, teachers, counselors, mentors) across Chicagoland can learn about free or low-cost training and certification programs that can lead to rewarding employment. The directory is searchable by career field, eligibility requirements, certification/credential, location, and more. The directory is a resource for adults finishing GED programs as well.
- CPS Academic Works - Complete the General Application to begin reviewing scholarship applications.
- CPS Scholarship Alert Workbook - Search for scholarships.