1.0     Introduction

Flag, US Coast GuardThis article provides an outline of the recruitment and selection process for individuals wishing to join the US Coast Guard (USCG) as commissioned officers, i.e. not as enlisted personnel.

The US system for the recruitment and selection of USCG Officers is highly diverse and flexible enough to meets the needs of the diverse population that is encountered in America. Although the recruitment and selection an individual goes through varies depending on their method of entry, the underlying principles of recruiting and selecting high quality candidates to be the officers of the USCG remains constant.

For background information on the US military recruitment and selection process as a whole look here. For individuals wishing to join the US military as enlisted personnel look here.

USCG Recruiting1.1     Who Does This Recruitment and Selection Process Apply To?

The recruitment and selection process described in this article applies to individuals who are interested in a career as a commissioned officer in the following US military services:

  1. USCG Regular (Active Duty) officer; or
  2. USCG Reserve officer.

2.0     A General Outline of the Officer Recruitment and Selection Process

Figure 1 provides an outline of the current USCG recruitment and selection process for officer aspirants. Each stage of the enlisted recruitment and selection process is detailed in the following sections.


Figure 1: Outline of the USCG Officer Recruitment and Selection Process

3.0     Stage 1: General Eligibility

There are a number of eligibility criteria that must be considered before making an application to join the USCG and these vary across the Service branches due to the nature of the job/role an individual may wish to undertake. The general principles are outlined below.

3.1     Age Criteria

Every job/role in the USCG has a minimum and maximum age limit (Table 1). The minimum age can differ between jobs/roles and is specified within each job description. However, the earliest application is at least 18 years old (17 years old with parental consent) when an individual applies, and under 35 years old when beginning basic training (although the maximum age is typically around 27 years of age). However, keep in mind that almost all male US Citizens and Permanent Resident Aliens living in the US, who are 18-25, are required to register with the Selective Service.

Table 1: Age criteria by service



Regular (Active Duty)






Service Academies


3.2     Physical Criteria

Due to the varying physical demands on service personnel in each Service branch, the physical criteria vary greatly. These differences can vary even within each branch of the Service. Generally speaking, potential service personnel should be in good physical condition, of appropriate weight and able to pass a standard physical screening prior to entry. For more specific information speak to a recruiter.

3.3     Educational Criteria

To become an officer in the USCG individuals must have received a 4-year BS or BA degree from an accredited university and have strong grades.

3.4     Nationality & Residency Criteria

Individuals who are US citizens or Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 ‘Green Card’) may join the US Military. Properly documented non-citizens may enlist. However, opportunities may be limited.

For enlistment purposes, the US includes Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and Palau.

Documents required include passport, Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license and educational qualifications.

Individuals can join the USCG to join if they have more than two dependents under the age of 18.

3.5     Criminal Convictions Criteria

Some kinds of offences and sentences can bar recruits from joining or re-joining; typically 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanours and/or felony convictions are disqualifying. For more specific information speak to a recruiter.

3.6     Tattoos & Piercings Criteria

These are dependent on location and nature and will usually need to be declared and shown during a medical examination or to a recruiter. During the selection process individuals should remove piercings and not wear clothing with obscene images.

4.0     Stage 2: Meet with an Officer Selection Officer

USCG ReruitmentAfter an individual confirms that they meet the general eligibility for service with the USCG they will be able to meet with an Officer Selection Officer (OSO).

When an individual meets with an OSO, the OSO will be able help the individual fill out their application and conduct an initial screening. Individuals will need to provide their OSO with the following if they are applying as an officer candidate:

  • Medical records;
  • Birth certificate;
  • Social Security card;
  • Citizenship certificate (if applicable);
  • High school diploma;
  • Complete list of places the individual has worked;
  • Four character references;
  • List of all the places the individual has visited outside of the US;
  • List of all the places the individual has lived; and/or
  • Any information involving the police and drug use.

5.0     Stage 3: Decide on Method of Entry

An individual interested in serving as a commissioned officer in the USCG has four options as outlined in Figure 2.

00,06b - Fig2

Figure 2: Method of entry

5.1     Option 1: College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative

The College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI), also known as the scholarship programme, is for students (sophomore and junior) currently enrolled or accepted for enrolment in a degree programme at a pre-designated college or university who desire a career in the USCG as a commissioned officer.

This means that students currently pursuing an AA/AS degree at a junior college or community college who plan to continue with their education and obtain a degree may be eligible for CSPI if they are accepted for enrolment at a qualifying college.

Students who are accepted into the CSPI programme will be enlisted into the USCG, complete basic (Phase 1 initial) training during the summer, and receive full funding for up to 2-years of college. Funding includes payment of tuition, books and fees; and also provides a full salary, housing allowance and medical benefits.

During the school year, students participate in monthly USCG activities under the supervision of the RIC at their recruiting office (a minimum of 16 hours). This includes wearing a USCG uniform once a week while on campus and during the 4-weekly hours of USCG duties. During school breaks, CSPI students receive training and exposure to USCG missions and units where they learn about the daily life and duties of USCG officers and enlisted personnel. Students may be able to work at an Air Station, Small Boat Station or Sector. Students may also be able to participate in a cruise on a USCG Cutter depending on the opportunities available at the time. Often students are able to complete watch-stander qualifications at their unit, which will substantially help them when they become an officer.

After completing their junior year of college, CSPI students attend Officer Candidate Indoctrination, a 3-week leadership training course in New London, Connecticut, during the summer. Following college graduation, CSPI students attend the 17-week Officer Candidate School (OCS) also in New London, upon successful completion of which graduates receive a commission as an ensign (OF-1) and their first assignment. Assignments may include (but not limited to): marine safety and prevention; contingency planning; law enforcement and incident management; vessel navigation and safety; icebreaking; and search and rescue coordination.

5.1.1  Wilks Flight Initiative

Students who are already enrolled in the CSPI programme are eligible to apply for a guaranteed flight training assignment through the Wilks Flight Initiative (WIFI), which originated in 2012.

Those who are selected pursue rigorous training to become a USCG pilot – applicants must pass the Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) and successfully complete a flight physical. Following graduation from college and successful completion of Officer Candidate School aspirants earn a guaranteed appointment to flight school in Pensacola, Florida.

5.2     Option 2: Officer Candidate School

USCG Reruitment (1)After completing a 4-year degree, graduates may enrol in Officer Candidate School (OCS) which is a 17-week course or instruction in leadership, management, navigation, law enforcement, and military subjects. OCS classes are convened periodically throughout the year, depending on the needs of the USCG.

There are currently two OCS programmes; one for civilians and two for current USCG personnel:

  • OCS Temporary Commission (OCS-T): is only for current USCG personnel who meet the eligibility criteria for the programme.
  • OCS Reserve (OCS-R): is for civilians and current USCG personnel who meet the eligibility criteria for the programme.

Eligibility criteria for both programmes can be found here.

Normally aspirants must be no older than 35 as of 30 September of the fiscal year in which the selection panel convenes, however, Regular USCG Chief Warrant Officers are eligible until they reach their 40th birthday and may be commissioned as OF-2 rather than OF-1.

On commissioning, which occurs upon graduation from OCS, OCS-T aspirants will be discharged from their enlisted status and commissioned as a USCG officer with an initial 3-year active duty obligation (OCS-R aspirants serve an initial 3-year Active Duty obligation in the USCG Reserve).

5.3     Option 3: Direct Commission Officers Programmes

Direct Commission Officers (DCOs), known as Professionally Qualified Officers in the UK, are civilians who have special skills needed for military operations. These are usually individuals who have earned professional degrees in fields such as medicine, law, religious studies, engineering or intelligence. Groups such as law, medical and aviation frequently employ DCOs.

DCOs are required to attend Officer Indoctrination School (OIS), Officer Development School (ODS) or Direct Commission Officer School (DCO School), depending on which Service they join. Regular age limits and requirements may be waived for some of these positions. Since the Services’ needs change rapidly, it is best to speak with a recruiter for up-to-date information about direct commission. DCO programmes include:

  • Direct Commission Aviator (DCA);
  • Direct Commission Physician Assistant (DCPA) Programme;
  • Direct Commission Engineer (DCE);
  • Direct Commission Intelligence Officer (DCIO);
  • Direct Commission Lawyer (DCL);
  • Direct Commission Selected School (DCSS) Programme: college graduates and college seniors who have proven their character and leadership through a reserve officer training corps (ROTC) programme, corps of cadets membership, or attendance at one of the federal military academies may apply to receive a direct commission as an officer in the USCG.
  • Prior Trained Military Officer (PTMO): current or former military officers with training or degrees in critically needed areas have the opportunity to apply for a direct commission in the USCG.

5.3.1  Health Professions Programmes

Officer aspirants wishing to serve in the USCG in a health professions capacity are employed by the US Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps but detailed to the USCG. Health professions include:

  • Clinical and Rehabilitation Therapist;
  • Dental Officer;
  • Environmental Health;
  • Health Services;
  • Pharmacist; and
  • Physician.

Detailed information can be found here.

5.3.2  Maritime Academy Graduate

USCG ReserveMaritime Academy Graduates have education and training that enhances the USCGs ability to carry out its operational missions. As a result graduates of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point and the six state sponsored maritime academies (Massachusetts, Maine, New York, Great Lakes, Texas A&M and California) are ideal candidates for the USCG due to their focused training in maritime industry affairs, marine transportation business acumen, vessel management and engineering operations, licenses as US Merchant Marine Officers (deck and engine), as well as environmental stewardship expertise and emergency management certification.

The Maritime Academy Graduate (MARGRAD) programme seeks to commission maritime academy graduates into critical service need specialties appropriate to their training and experience. Traditionally, the service needs most commonly filled by maritime academy graduates have been assignments in the prevention mission community. Prevention officers execute the USCGs Prevention Programme, consisting of maritime safety, security, waterways management and mobility, and environmental stewardship. Specific responsibilities included within this mission set  are the inspection of commercial vessels, ports and facilities, foreign flag vessel examinations (port state control), oversight of uninspected commercial vessels, marine casualty investigation, waterways management, navigation and boating safety. MARGRAD officers have also been assigned to, and successful in, the broad spectrum of USCG mission communities, both afloat and ashore.

MARGRAD DCOs work with a USCG assignment officer following selection, who will review the individual’s education, experience and qualifications, in addition to their expressed assignment interests, and assign orders to a position at a Coast Guard unit that best aligns the selectee’s talents & potential with the needs of the Coast Guard.

New officers will execute permanent change of station (PCS) orders and report directly to their first unit for a brief period, and then immediately attend the USCGs DCO training course held at the Coast Guard Academy (see below) in New London.  MARGRAD DCOs receive initial indoctrination to the traditions and programmes of the USCG, and training on USCG specific administration essentials needed for their success as a commissioned reserve officer in the USCG.

Following completion of DCO training, new officers will return to their unit and will serve as a USCG Reserve officer on full-time Active Duty.

5.4     Option 4: Coast Guard Academy

USCG CGAThe Coast Guard Academy (CGA), one of the five federal service academies (FSA), is located in New London (Connecticut). Nearly 300 high school graduates enrol annually, leaving 4-years later with BSc degree and commission as an Ensign.

The CGA is one of the top ten academic experiences in America, with two-thirds of students typically graduating in technical majors; which include civil engineering, mechanical engineering, naval architecture and marine engineering, electrical engineering, operations research and computer analysis, and marine environmental science. Over 60% compete in division I and III intercollegiate sports.

The CGA is tuition free and cadets also earn a modest stipend. Graduates are obligated to serve for five years upon graduation.

Applications are accepted online with an annual application deadline of 01 February. Unlike the other FSAs there are no congressional nominations.

More detailed information on the admissions process and the curriculum can be found on the website: http://www.cga.edu/

5.4.1  Senior Military Colleges and Service Academies

These highly competitive schools are virtually free of charge for those accepted. The US government pays for each student’s tuition, room and board, uniform and books. Students are sometimes given a living stipend as well to help cover fees, a personal computer and other class supplies. In return, the student commits to serving as an officer in the US military for a set period after graduation, typically five years.

5.4.2  Service Academies

For students who would like to experience a military environment while getting a first-class education, the five Service academies offer an outstanding education and full four-year scholarships. The five academies are:

  • The US Military Academy (US Army) in West Point, New York;
  • The US Naval Academy (USN/USMC) in Annapolis, Md;
  • The US Air Force Academy (USAF) in Colorado Springs, Colorado;
  • The US Coast Guard Academy (USCG) in New London, Connecticut; and
  • The US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York.

Tuition, books, board and medical and dental care are all fully paid for all four years. The competition to get in is fierce and admissions criteria include:

  • High school academic performance;
  • Standardised test scores (SAT or ACT);
  • Athletics and extracurricular activities;
  • Leadership experience and community involvement; and/or
  • A congressional letter of recommendation (not required by the Coast Guard Academy).

Graduates of academies receive a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as officers in their respective Service branch. In all cases, there is a service obligation of a minimum of five years.

5.4.3  Senior Military Colleges

Like the academies, the Senior Military Colleges (SMCs) offer a combination of higher education with military instruction. SMCs include:

  • Texas A&M University;
  • Norwich University;
  • The Virginia Military Institute;
  • The Citadel;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech);
  • University of North Georgia; and
  • The Mary Baldwin Women’s Institute for Leadership.

SMCs are among the most prestigious and famous education institutions in the world and they offer financial aid packages for eligible students. Every cadet must participate in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programme, but only those cadets who receive an ROTC scholarship are required to enter military service following graduation. For example, about half of Virginia Military Institute’s cadets earn commissions as Second Lieutenants (US Army, USMC and USAF) or as Ensigns (USN).

5.5     Transitioning from Enlisted to Officer Status

There are opportunities for certain enlisted personnel to make the transition to commissioned officer. Enlisted personnel, with the right qualifications, may be recommended by their commanding officers for OCS and the USCG, like the other most Services, have transitional programmes designed to aid enlisted personnel make that transition. Enlisted to officer programmes include:

  • Coast Guard Pre-Commissioning Programme for Enlisted Personnel (PPEP).

In addition, there are two other ways that enlisted personnel can progress to officer status:

  • Warrant Officers (WO): are promoted from the enlisted ranks for technical expertise and rank between the highest enlisted and lowest commissioned officers; or
  • Non-commissioned officers (NCOs): are high-ranking enlisted personnel who have been given officer-like authority by their superiors.

Additional training is provided in both cases.

6.0     Useful Links

Listed are some links which the reader may find useful:


2 thoughts on “US Coast Guard Officer Recruitment & Selection Overview

  1. Sir/Ma’am,

    I am a candidate for the MARGRAD program. The selection panel for MARGRAD appointments met on 18 May 2015. Can you tell me, if I am appointed, when I will attend DCO training?


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