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How to Win an Army ROTC Scholarship

How to Win an Army ROTC Scholarship

LTC Robert Kirkland

16 minute read

Last Updated on May 11, 2023

Do you or your child have hopes of serving as an Army officer? If you aspire to serve your local community and the nation as an Army officer after college, the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship may be the opportunity you’re looking for. The scholarship provides substantial financial support—either covering all tuition and fees or room and meals up to $10,000 a year—in return for future service as an Army officer.

If we could sum up how to win an Army ROTC scholarship, it would come down to how well your complete scholarship application is scored by the panel of Army officers that determine whether or not you get the scholarship (also called the board process).

Understanding the board process will help you apply effort to the areas that matter most in your application.

This article provides detailed steps to enhance your application and increase your chances of earning this prestigious and generous scholarship.

Here is an overview of the major sections in this guide:

  • Part 1: Types of Army ROTC Scholarships
  • Part 2: What the Army is Looking For in Future Officers
  • Part 3: How Army ROTC Ranks and Selects Candidates
    • Selection Board Score
    • College Board Scores
    • Civilian Background Experience Form
    • Scholar, Athletics, and Leadership
    • Interview
    • Physical Fitness Test
  • Part 4: Medical Qualification and Starting the Process
  • Part 5: Steps to Enhance Your Application

Our goal is to provide you with insider tips on how to win an Army ROTC scholarship. We’ll cover a few basics on the types of ROTC scholarships below, but we assume that you have a basic understanding of the Army ROTC program. We recommend learning more about the Army ROTC program from their official website.

Many different colleges and universities across the U.S. have Army ROTC programs, developing leaders of tomorrow by preparing students to become officers in the Army.

If your goal is to commission into the U.S. Army, earning a scholarship and a degree through the Army ROTC program is a fantastic opportunity. Especially when you consider the possibility of free room and board, making this scholarship potentially worth up to $80,000 per year.

Part 1: Types of Army ROTC Scholarships

Below are the benefits of the different types of Army ROTC Scholarships. We’ve only given a brief overview, you can find more details at goarmy.com. If selected, you will also receive a $420 monthly stipend and $1200 annual allowance for books and supplies.

Keep in mind this article focuses on scholarships for high school seniors competing for a scholarship after high school. There are other opportunities if you have already graduated from high school. Most of these are for cadets already enrolled in Army ROTC programs who compete for an on-campus scholarship.

High School Scholarship Program

There are a few different programs under the HS scholarship program:

  • 4-year scholarship
  • 3-year AD scholarship
  • Historically Black College or University (HBCU)
  • Nursing scholarship

When you consider the cost of a 4-year degree from a private institution can cost upwards of $50,000-$80,000 per year, this scholarship is incredibly generous and could be worth $150,000-$240,000 over the course of a student’s college education.

In addition to the Army ROTC scholarship, some colleges offer incentives to scholarship winners. If you plan strategically and win a scholarship, you could earn 100% tuition and fees, as well as 100% room and board, all paid by the scholarship and college you’re attending.

We’ve created a complete list of Army ROTC scholarship benefits to help you make that crucial decision of which school is the best fit for you or your student. We’ve compiled a list of Army ROTC scholarship college incentives here.

West Point Qualified Non-Selects

If you apply to West Point and don’t get selected, there is a chance you could be offered an Army ROTC scholarship if you are qualified. We recommend applying to West Point to increase your chances, if you are interested.

Chances of Receiving an Army ROTC High School Scholarship

There are usually about 3000 scholarships awarded each year. 1/3rd of these typically are awarded towards four year scholarships. 2/3rds are usually Advanced Designee scholarships covering full tuition for last three years.

You can read more about your chances of winning an Army ROTC scholarship here.

What happens after college graduation?

This prestigious award provides tuition, fees, books, and a monthly stipend to prepare high school students for leadership roles in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard.

Part of preparation for this scholarship is being fully aware of what you’re committing to, should you accept this scholarship. Students should have an idea of the opportunities in the Army after college graduation/commissioning. We do not recommend applying for this scholarship without general knowledge about the roles, expectations, and career opportunities for Army officers.

Your Army Officer Service Obligation

The service obligation is an agreement between you or your student and Army ROTC. This obligation ranges from three to four years.

Keep in mind that selection for Active Duty happens during Army ROTC and is quite competitive. If you aren’t selected for Active Duty, you may be required to serve up to eight years in the Guard or Reserve.

Part 2: What the Army is Looking For in Future Officers

The Army ROTC program aims to develop future officers who can lead effectively in the U.S. Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard.

The Army Cadet Command looks for candidates who embody the Scholar, Athlete, Leader (SAL) criteria, with a particular emphasis on leadership. It’s not just about personal achievements; servant leadership and a dedication to serving others are critical attributes they seek in prospective officers.

Scholar

The ‘Scholar’ aspect of SAL underscores the Army’s emphasis on education. Future Army officers should have a solid academic foundation, as demonstrated by high grades and test scores. However, being a scholar in the Army’s eyes extends beyond good grades. It also encompasses a willingness to learn, an ability to think critically, and a commitment to continually improving oneself and one’s skills. It’s about applying your knowledge to solve problems and make informed decisions.

Let’s take a look at recent scholarship winners – 95% of scholarship recipients ranked in the top 50% of their classes, and 71% ranked in the top 25%. The average GPA was 3.7, and the average combined SAT score is between 1290-1320.

Athlete

The ‘Athlete’ component reflects the physical demands of military service. Army officers need to be in top physical condition to meet the challenges of their roles. However, being an athlete isn’t just about physical strength or endurance. It’s also about teamwork, discipline, resilience, and a dedication to maintaining one’s health and fitness. The Army values applicants who participate in sports not just for their physical abilities, but also for the skills and traits they develop as part of a team.

Of all Army ROTC scholarship recipients, 79% of the awardees earned varsity sports letters, and 63% were varsity team sports captains. To enhance this part of your application, engage in regular physical activity, participate in school or community sports, and aim for leadership roles within your teams.

Leader

The ‘Leader’ segment is arguably the most critical part of the SAL criteria.

There are plenty of academically excellent students, however if leadership potential is lacking, a student’s chances of earning this scholarship decrease significantly. At the end of the day, you will one day serve as an Army officer and leader, and must be leadership-oriented.

Leadership in the Army is not just about taking charge or directing others. It’s about servant leadership—a commitment to putting the needs of others before your own and working to serve rather than to be served.

Future Army officers should demonstrate their ability to lead others, but equally important is their willingness to serve. This could be through volunteering in their communities, supporting their peers, or stepping up when they see a need. The Army is looking for individuals who understand that leadership is about more than personal accomplishments—it’s about making a difference in the lives of others.

The Army values leaders who:

  1. Inspire and Influence: Inspiring others through personal actions and influencing them to achieve common goals is an essential leadership trait.
  2. Lead by Example: Demonstrating commitment, integrity, and ethical behavior, leaders set the example for others to follow.
  3. Empower and Develop Others: Great leaders empower team members and help them grow by offering support, mentorship, and opportunities for development.
  4. Demonstrate Resilience and Adaptability: The ability to adapt to changing circumstances, overcome challenges, and bounce back from setbacks is crucial for military leaders.
  5. Promote Diversity and Inclusion: Recognizing and valuing diversity, and fostering an inclusive environment where everyone feels valued and respected, is a hallmark of effective leadership.

Among the recent Army ROTC scholarship recipients, 26% were class officers, 25% participated in Junior ROTC (JROTC), and 19% served as club presidents. To strengthen your application in this area, take on leadership roles wherever possible. This could be in school clubs, community organizations, or even in your sports teams. Participating in JROTC can also significantly improve your application.

Remember, the Army is looking for well-rounded individuals who excel academically, athletically, and as leaders. But above all, they’re looking for servant leaders who are dedicated to serving others and making a positive difference. As you prepare your Army ROTC scholarship application, consider how you can highlight not just your achievements, but also your commitment to servant leadership and service to others.

To learn more about expectations, listen to our recent podcast on the military ethos.

Now that we’ve addressed what the Army is looking for, let’s break down the specific score you’ll receive when you’re competing for this scholarship.

Part 3: How Army ROTC Ranks and Selects Candidates

Some areas of your application are more important than others. Army ROTC ranks scholarship applicants out of 1400 points.

  • Selection Board Score – 25%
  • College Board Scores – 18%
  • Civilian Background Experience Form – 18%
  • Scholar, Athletics, and Leadership – 14%
  • Interview – 14%
  • Physical Fitness Test – 10%

The Army ROTC Selection Board

After you complete your scholarship application, your package will be sent to a panel of Army officers for review. The ROTC Selection Board is worth 25% of your overall chances of receiving a ROTC scholarship. Professors of Military Science meet three times each year and rank candidates based on the following factors:

  • Interview sheet
  • College board scores
  • High school transcripts
  • Extracurricular activities

Civilian Background Experience Form

The Civilian Background Experience Form, or CBEF for short, is an integral part of the Army ROTC scholarship application process. The CBEF is used to assess an applicant’s leadership potential and physical aptitude, both crucial factors for future Army officers.

The CBEF evaluates candidates across several areas, including leadership, physical fitness, communication skills, adaptability, and potential for future growth. Each category is ranked on a scale, and the scores are combined to create an overall rating.

As a candidate, you should take this test seriously. This portion is worth 18% of your overall score. The form is designed to determine the following qualities in an applicant:

  • Persistence
  • Enjoys physical challenges
  • Leadership aptitude
  • Moderation
  • Loyalty
  • Diligence
  • Calmness
  • Attraction to Army life
  • Strength
  • Honesty
  • Optimism
  • Kindness
  • Receptibility to criticism
  • Independence / motivation

The Army ROTC Interview

The interview is worth 14% of your overall score. You’ll be scheduled for an interview if you are selected as a scholarship finalist.

The interview is scored in five areas. Here are some tips on acing these sections:

  • Scholar – take AP/Honors classes, score well on your college tests, and rank in the top 10% of your high school class
  • Athlete – competitive participation in sports and receiving varsity letter(s)
  • Leader – participation in student government, captain of a team, leader in volunteer organizations
  • Personal Qualities Subjective Evaluation – whether or not you’re a top applicant based on how the interview goes
  • Potential Subjective Evaluation – how the interviewer feels about your chances of commissioning

We recommend conducting your interview with a Professor of Military Science, if at all possible. This is due to the fact that the board score has other Professors of Military Science, so there is a greater chance that their opinions will be valued and they will understand the process from a higher level perspective.

Bring documents to verify your participation in activities to your interview. You control many of the points here so make sure you get credit for everything you are involved in with your interviewer.

We recommend addressing areas of weakness with the interviewer and make sure they record these and how you are overcoming those weaknesses, specifically for the board.

We also recommend preparing questions to ask in advance. This will give you the opportunity to end the interview on a high note.

Additional Interview Preparation Guidance

For more detailed information on the Army ROTC interview, read our post on Army ROTC Scholarship Interview questions.

We’ve written a book specific to the ROTC interview, to help candidates prepare and learn what to expect from their Army ROTC interviewer. You can purchase that eBook here.

Academics – The Importance of GPA and College Board Scores

To even be eligible for the Army ROTC Scholarship, you must achieve a certain GPA and test scores. You must have a minimum GPA of 2.5. Your SAT score must be at least a 1000, or your ACT composite at least 19. These are the minimums, and we recommend striving for higher.

When students work with us, the two main differentiators between those who win a scholarship and those who don’t are the SAT/ACT and GPA.

When you begin applying for an Army ROTC scholarship, chances are, your GPA is more or less already determined. You’ve been in school for three years, and you may have an additional semester of grades ahead of you before you compete for the scholarship. This leaves the SAT and/or ACT. The SAT/ACT is the single most important factor that you have direct control over, do not waste the opportunity to improve your scores!

College Board Scores – The SAT and ACT

Your SAT/ACT scores are worth 18% of your overall score.

We recommend re-testing to meet the averages for recent selection statistics.

To be competitive for an Army ROTC scholarship, strive for a 1295 on the SAT and 29 on the ACT to meet recent averages for the four year scholarship (average scores are lower for the 3 year advanced designee scholarship).

We recommend that candidates hold off on submitting their completed scholarship application until they have achieved an SAT or ACT score that makes them more competitive. For example, instead of competing on October board, wait until the January board with the opportunity to take the SAT/ACT two more times and potentially improve your score.

Read this post to learn more about SAT and ACT score requirements for the different ROTC scholarships.

Scholar, Athlete, Leader

This portion comprises 14% of your overall score. Your extracurricular participation, athletic activities, and leadership positions held are accounted for. If you worked instead of participating in sports or other activities, you will receive credit based on the number of hours worked per week.

Holding a leadership position or being team captain for as many years as possible gets you the maximum points. Strive to be active in your community and get involved in activities that interest you the most.

Physical Fitness Test

The Army ROTC Scholarship Fitness Assessment is worth 10% of your score and consists of a 1 minute timed event for both pushups and sit-ups and a 1 mile run.

The test is scored out of a possible 150 points. Each event is equally weighted at 50 points. Below are the minimums and maximums for each event (note, we recommend scoring well above the minimum)

  • 1-mile Run
    • 9:00-6:30 for males
    • 9:48-7:18 for females
  • Push ups
    • 0-50 for males
    • 0-40 for females
  • Sit-ups
    • 0-50 for males
    • 0-50 for females

There is no reason to send in this test until you have performed it to the best of your ability. Take a mock physical fitness assessment today, even if you are years away from applying. The earlier you begin preparation for this fitness test, the better.

Part 4: Medical Qualification and Starting the Process

Medical qualification doesn’t come until after you receive a scholarship offer. You must be medically qualified by 15 December of your freshman year in order to keep your scholarship. You can find out more information about the DoDMERB process at their website.

We recommend scheduling exams as soon as possible in order to keep the process moving along, as it may take some time to get additional testing completed if needed.

Here are some common medical disqualifiers:

  • Asthma (after 13th birthday)
  • Mental health
  • Headaches
  • Joint issues
  • Food allergies
  • Vision
  • Hearing
  • Orthodontics
  • Orthopedics

These are taken from Department of Defense Instruction 6130.03 (DoDI6130.03). You can receive waivers for certain conditions, but this takes additional time so we recommend starting the process as soon as you receive the instructions from DoDMERB.

Read through the complete DoDI6130.03 in order to see if you meet any of the disqualifying criteria before your package goes to the medical folks for review.

You can also learn about what to expect throughout the DoDMERB medical process in our post on passing your DoDMERB physical.

The biggest takeaway with waivers is that your condition must not prevent you from being able to deploy to a combat location.

As a general rule, make it your goal to become medically qualified before you show up to campus in the fall.

Application Timeline

Keep track of all the board dates and deadlines so you stay on track with the application process.

The Army ROTC scholarship opens on June 1, 2023.

Your first opportunity to compete for an Army ROTC scholarship is October. You must have a complete package for your application to be boarded. We recommend preparing early, so you aren’t waiting until the last minute to accomplish the scholarship requirements. Since the scholarship opens in June, you have four months before the first scholarship board meets. Use your time wisely and accomplish the fitness assessment and interview as soon as possible. Students do not need to wait to start SAT/ACT testing in June. Test early and often for a higher chance of success.

Part 5: Steps to Enhance your Army ROTC Application

  1. Prioritize Academics: Focus on your studies and prepare thoroughly for your SATs or ACTs. High grades and test scores increase your chances.
  2. Engage in Sports: Join a sports team and aim to excel physically. Meeting the Army’s height and weight standards is crucial.
  3. Pursue Leadership Roles: Take on leadership positions in school, community, sports teams, or part-time jobs. Each leadership role strengthens your application.
  4. Maintain a Well-rounded Portfolio: While focusing on the SAL (Scholar, Athlete, Leader) criteria, showcase other skills or experiences that make you unique.
  5. Learn about the Army: Learn as much as you can about what life is like as an Army officer. Learn about careers you may be interested in, talk to Army officers in those careers. Consider joining JROTC if available.

Winning an Army ROTC scholarship is a fantastic opportunity for students looking to commission into the U.S. Army. By following the tips outlined in this article, you can increase your chances of being selected for a scholarship. However, it’s important to remember that being an Army officer is a serious commitment, and you should only pursue this path if you are fully committed to serving your country.

We encourage you to learn as much as you can about the Army ROTC program and the opportunities it offers. If you’re looking for more guidance and support in preparing your scholarship application, consider our course on earning an Army ROTC scholarship.

Best of luck to you as you continue your journey to serve the nation as an Army officer!

Want to maximize your potential of earning an Army ROTC Scholarship?

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LTC Robert Kirkland

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Kirkland (USA, Ret.) is an expert on military admissions and leadership. He served for over 25 years in the United States Army, including stints as an instructor at West Point and as a commander of two Army ROTC programs. He has helped students win ROTC scholarships for 8 years.

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