Civilians and currently enlisted noncommissioned officers with at least a four-year degree are eligible to earn their commission by participating in Officer Candidate or Officer Training School. Upon commissioning, participants will be assigned the lowest of the commissioned ranks. Individuals with even more specialized education, such as doctors, lawyers, chaplains, and aviators may be eligible for direct commissions. Those who direct commission are still required to complete branch-specific training, but the rank of someone who direct commissions will be commensurate with their experience. Requirements, age limits, and service commitments may differ among branches and specialties.


Officer Candidate and Officer Training School

Officer Candidate School and Officer Training School offer opportunities for anyone with a bachelor’s degree. This goes for active duty, enlisted members of the military and reservists who have completed a four-year degree, as well as civilians with a bachelor’s degree (who are not eligible for direct commissioning). These schools last between 9 and 17 weeks, depending on which branch of the military you choose. The experience is intended to develop your leadership and management abilities while preparing you to deal with the mental, emotional, and physical stress that comes with being an officer. At the end of the course, you will commission as an officer and accept an active duty service commitment.

Individuals who complete Officer Candidate or Officer Training School will commission as second lieutenants (Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps) or ensigns (Coast Guard and Navy). These are the lowest commissioned ranks in each branch of the military. Promotions are given as officers gain more experience and time in service. The initial service commitment for someone who has completed Officer Candidate or Officer Training School is at least three years.

The requirements for Officer Candidate and Officer Training School do differ among the branches. More information is available at each of the links below.

Direct Commission

Direct commissioning is available for individuals who have already completed their higher education and are interested in joining the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, or Navy as officers. Direct commissions are available for those hoping to serve on active duty and those who are interested in serving in the Reserves or National Guard. Not all fields of study are eligible for direct commissions. Accepted fields differ among the branches of the military.

Air Force Direct Commissioning

Direct commissions are available to individuals with medical, legal, or chaplaincy backgrounds. Applicants must complete a five-week training program to prepare for becoming an officer in the Air Force.

  • Within medicine, direct commissions are available in the following medical fields: doctors, nurses, dentists, allied health specialists, and health administrators.
  • Individuals with legal backgrounds who commission as JAG Officers incur a four-year active service commitment. Positions are available for those who want to serve on active duty full-time and those who would prefer to work part-time and serve with a Reserve or National Guard unit.
  • Chaplains will be commissioned at no higher a rank than captain, depending on their experience and qualifications.
    • The Chaplain Candidate Program is an option for people who want to join the military while concurrently completing their studies. Applicants will be commissioned as second lieutenants upon entry into the program. Following graduation, chaplains must obtain an ecclesiastical endorsement to be reappointed to active duty or to the Reserves or National Guard.

Army Direct Commissioning

Direct commissions are available to individuals with medical, legal, or chaplaincy backgrounds.

  • Within medicine, direct commissions are available for physiciansnursesdentistsallied health specialists, and veterinarians. Individuals with medical degrees commission as captains, but the service commitment differs among specialties.
  • Individuals with legal backgrounds can commission as Judge Advocate General (JAG) officers. JAG officers accept their commission as a first lieutenant and go on to serve at least four years on active duty and four years in the Individual Ready Reserve. Within the first year of their service, JAG officers will receive a promotion.
  • Chaplaincy, in which you are the spiritual guide and pastor (of any denomination) for a group of soldiers, requires at least a three-year active commitment and five years in the Individual Ready Reserve. Chaplains commission as captains. Those who elect to serve on active duty will minister to and travel with a particular unit, even if the unit gets deployed. Those who elect to serve in the Army Reserve do not have to move with a unit, but instead minister to local Reserve and National Guard soldiers.
    • The Chaplain Candidate Program is an option for individuals who want to join the military while concurrently completing their studies. Applicants will be commissioned in the Reserves while finishing their education.

Coast Guard Direct Commissioning

Coast Guard direct commissions are available for prospective officers coming from a wide variety of backgrounds:

Navy Direct Commissioning

Direct commissions are available for prospective officers with a wide variety of degrees and backgrounds. Applicants will incur two- to five-year active duty service commitments depending on their field. Each newly commissioned officer will have to attend a five-week Officer Development School.

Page last updated: 08/2017