1.0     Introduction

Flag, USMCThis article provides an outline of the recruitment and selection process for individuals wishing to join the US Marine Corps (USMC) as commissioned officers, i.e. not as enlisted personnel.

The US system for the recruitment and selection of USMC 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 USMC 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.

1.1     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 USMC as a:

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

2.0     A General Outline of the Officer Recruitment and Selection Process

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

00,04a - Fig1, USMC R&S Outline

Figure 1: Outline of the USMC 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 US Navy and these vary across the Service branches of the USMC 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 USMC 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 38 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 branch in the USMC

Service Branch

Age Criteria

Regular (Active Duty)

17-28

Reserve

17-28

Guard

N/A

Service Academies

17-22

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 USMC 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 may join the USMC as officers. However, Permanent Resident Aliens (people who have an INS I-151/I-551 ‘Green Card’) may only join the USMC as enlisted personnel. 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 USMC to join if they have more than two dependents under the age of 18.

3.5     Criminal Convictions Criteria

The USMC applies medical, legal and character standards to an individual’s application, including traffic offense history, criminal history, citizen status and more.

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.

The USMC also has a zero tolerance drug/alcohol policy. Early in the officer recruitment and selection process, individuals will take two urinalysis tests. Individuals will also be asked questions about prior drug and alcohol use; obviously answer honestly.

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

USMC RecruitingAfter an individual confirms that they meet the general eligibility for service with the USMC 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 USMC has three options as outlined in Figure 2.

00,04b - Fig2, USMC Method of Entry

Figure 2: Method of entry

5.1     Option 1: College Students

The USMC offers several scholarship programmes that can help individuals pay their way through school and allow them to enjoy a normal college life, and enabling them to focus on their studies before starting a career in the USMC. Through these programmes, an individual will enter the USMC in a leadership position as a commissioned officer. A commissioned officer is a member of the USMC who has a degree from a 4-year college or university and who has gone through officer training. Officers in the USMC have responsibilities that include anything from low-level management to the highest levels of command.

USMC Recruiting (1)There are currently three methods for 4-year college students to join the USMC and attend college at the same time, and include:

  1. Platoon Leaders Class;
  2. Officer Candidate Course; and
  3. Marine Officer Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps Programme

5.1.1  Platoon Leaders Class

The Platoon Leaders Class (PLC) is for college students (freshmen, sophomores & juniors) attending any accredited 4-year college or university. Criteria for each year of college are outlined in Table 2 below.

  • PLC Aviation: To qualify, an individual must be no more than 28 years old when commissioned. Individuals must pass the Navy/Marine Corps Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB), be medically qualified for flight training and meet minimum vision requirements.
  • PLC Law: Individuals must complete their bachelor’s degree before attending OCS. Individuals may complete OCS after their senior year of college or during their first or second law school summer, and must pass the bar exam before reporting to The Basic School. Individuals will be paid for their time in training and will be eligible for a paid internship while they are waiting for the results of the bar exam. Individuals must achieve an LSAT score of 150 or higher. Please view PLC Law Pathway for further information.

USMC Recruiting (2)5.1.2  Officer Candidate Course

The Officer Candidate Course (OCC) and Officer Candidate Course – Reserve (OCC-R) has been designed specifically for college students (seniors and graduates) attending any accredited 4-year college or university who have ambitions to become a USMC officer.

Individuals in this programme attend a 10-week course at Officer Candidates School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia. Those who successfully graduate from OCS receive a commission as a USMC Officer and are immediately assigned to active service and begin attending The Basic School. Criteria are outlined in Table 2 below.

Individuals must complete 1 of the 4 following pathways (Table 2) through OCS to begin their journey to becoming a USMC officer.

Table 2: Criteria for college students

College Year

Courses to Complete Chances to Complete

Programme

Freshman

Two 6-Week Courses One Freshman and One Junior Summer

PLC

Sophomore

One Sophomore and One Junior Summer

Junior

One 10-Week Course Junior Summer
Senior After Graduation

OCC or

OCC-R

Graduate

5.1.3  Entry Requirements and Process Outline

There are a number of entry requirements that individuals must fulfil in order to eligible to apply for the college student option (PLC, OCC and OCC-R), and include:

  • US citizen;
  • Full-time student at a 2- or 4-year college or university (students in 2-year colleges can sign a letter of intent to later transfer to a 4-year college/university); and
  • 18-28 years old (exceptions are considered on an individual basis);

For those individuals who fulfil the entry requirements there are three phases in the recruitment and selection process as outlined below, which take place at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).

00,04 - USMC R&S Table 3

5.1.4  Marine Officer Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps Programme

The Marine Officer Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) Programme is for individuals who choose to complete a 4-year college degree and commence a career in the USMC at the same time.

Individuals are enrolled as Marine-Option Midshipmen for the duration of the programme and the NROTC scholarship covers a number of expenses, including: tuition; books; fees, uniforms; and living expenses. As a student on the NROTC programme, individuals will complete courses that cover subjects such as naval science, ethics, management and the history of warfare.

00,04 - USMC R&S Table 4

5.1.5  Entry Requirements

There are a number of entry requirements that individuals must fulfil in order to eligible to apply for the NROTC college student option, and include:

  • US citizen;
  • At least 17 years old and no older than 23;
  • Physically qualified to meet USMC standards;
  • Obtain a basic SAT combined score of 1000 or an ACT composite score of 22;
  • Apply to one of the approved NROTC colleges and universities.

5.2     Option 2: US Naval Academy

The US Naval Academy prepares young men and women to become USMC officers. US Naval Academy students are midshipmen who train to be commissioned Officers on Active Duty in the USMC while they are still in school. Tuition, housing, and medical and dental care are paid for by the US Navy.

Training begins with Plebe Summer, 7-weeks of physical training, naval education, and moral and ethical development. The curriculum offers courses within 22 majors in addition to military training. Students attend the Academy for 4-years, graduate with Bachelor of Science (BSc) degrees and receive a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the USMC. At this point individuals will attend The Basic School in Quantico, VA.

There are a number of steps for admission to the US Naval Academy which prospective students should be aware of and also some basic eligibility requirements:

  • US citizen;
  • Good moral character;
  • Receive a nomination from a member of Congress, the President of the United States or the Vice President;
  • At least 17 and not past 23rd birthday on 01 July of the year the individual would enter the academy;
  • Unmarried;
  • Not pregnant; and
  • No dependents.

Each year approximately 12,000 people apply to the US Naval Academy with only 1,400 offered appointments.

Prospective students are advised to view the academy’s website.

5.2.1  US Naval Academy Preparatory School

The Naval Academy Preparatory School (NAPS) is located on Naval Station Newport in historic Newport, Rhode Island. The mission of NAPS is to enhance midshipman candidates’ moral, mental, and physical foundations to prepare them for success at the US Naval Academy. The 10-month course of instruction at NAPS, lasting from August through May, emphasises preparation in English Composition, Mathematics, Chemistry, Physics, and Information Technology.

Demanding military, physical and character development programs complement the academic preparation to fully prepare students for the challenges of life at a service academy. As part of the physical development programme, NAPS offers a varsity athletic programme that competes against other preparatory schools, junior colleges and college junior varsity teams.

Prospective students are advised to view the academy’s website.

5.2.2  Senior Military Colleges

Like the academies, the Senior Military Colleges (SMCs) offer a combination of higher education with military instruction (i.e. ROTC). SMCs are specifically recognised under US Law 10 USC 2111a(f) and US regulations. In addition to SMCs, ROTC programmes are also delivered at local colleges and Junior Military Colleges (JMC). SMCs include:

  • Texas A&M University;
  • Norwich University;
  • The Virginia Military Institute;
  • The Citadel, Charleston, Carolina;
  • 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, US Marine Corps and US Air Force) or as Ensigns (US Navy).

5.2.3  Junior Military Colleges

A Junior Military College (JMC) enables individuals to become commissioned officers in the US Army through the Early Commissioning Programme (ECP), and is completed in two years instead of the usual four. However, individuals must still go on to complete a bachelor’s degree before serving as regular officers on Active Duty.

The ECP began in 1966 and is a major component in the officer recruitment and training pipelines. ECP is a major financial incentive for individuals who receive their commissions early and serve as officers while still attending college and gaining service time for promotions and retirement. The JMCs are:

  • Wentworth Military Academy (Lexington, Missouri): Wentworth Military Academy and College, founded in 1880, is a JMC and private 4-year college preparatory high school and is the oldest military academy west of the Mississippi River. The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places.
  • Valley Forge Military Academy (Wayne, Pennsylvania): founded in 1928, it is a boarding school for young men, grades seven through twelve, and additionally offers a coeducational 2-year junior college programme.
  • Marion Military Institute (Marion, Alabama): is the state military college of Alabama; it was founded in 1842 as Howard English and Classical School by the Alabama Baptist Convention. In 1887, when Howard College’s operations (now Samford University) were moved to Birmingham, local leaders and school faculty reorganised the school as Marion Military Institute.
  • New Mexico Military Institute (Roswell, New Mexico): Founded in 1891 by Colonel Robert S. Goss as the Goss Military Institute and inspired by Virginia Military Institute, NMMI includes a 4-year high school and a 2-year junior college.
  • Georgia Military College (Milledgeville, Georgia): founded in 1879, it includes a liberal arts junior college, a high school, and a middle school.

USMC Recruiting (3)

5.3     Option 3: Enlisted to Officer

The USMC currently provides four programmes for aspirational enlisted Marines who wish to become commissioned officers, and include:

  • Enlisted Commissioning Programme;
  • Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Educational Programme;
  • Reserve Enlisted Commissioning Programme; and
  • Meritorious Commissioning Programme Reserve

5.3.1  Enlisted Commissioning Programme

The Enlisted Commissioning Programme (ECP) enables qualified enlisted Marines in the Regular USMC and the USMC Active Reserve (AR) Programme to apply for OCS and subsequent appointment as a commissioned officer in the rank of Second Lieutenant.

The ECP is for enlisted Marines who have earned a 4-year degree from a regionally or nationally accredited college or university before joining the USMC or during Active Duty. Reserve Officer opportunities are available through the Reserve ECP (discussed below).

Qualified enlisted Marines need to meet a number of eligibility requirements, which include:

  • Minimum one year active Marine Corps service and at least one year remaining on current enlistment or extension on date of application;
  • Must have a 4-year baccalaureate degree;
  • US citizen;
  • Be of officer calibre;
  • Be of good moral character and integrity;
  • Not previously failed any officer programmes;
  • Minimum AFQT of 74;
  • Minimum SAT of 1000 (math and critical reading only);
  • Minimum ACT composite score of 22;
  • At least 21 years of age but less than 30; and
  • AR Marines must be approved for augmentation into the regular Marine Corps.

5.3.2  Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Educational Programme

The Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Educational Programme (MECEP) is one of the most common methods for enlisted Marines to use to transition from enlisted to officer status.

MECEP offers qualified Marines the chance to go to a 4-year college full-time, while maintaining Active Duty status and pay, and is open to all Active Duty Marines and Marines in the AR programme who meet the eligibility requirements.

Selection is based on an individual’s potential for commissioned service as demonstrated by their service record, previous academic record, and evidence of career and academic self-improvement. MECEP is for exceptional Marines who have not yet completed their bachelor’s degree.

Selected Marines will attend the 10-week OCS training programme and upon successful completion will attend a college/university offering an NROTC programme. Once the individual has completed their degree, they will be commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the USMC.

Qualified enlisted Marines need to meet a number of eligibility requirements, which include:

  • US citizen or naturalised;
  • Rank of Corporal or above;
  • At least 21 years of age but less than 30 years of age at time of commissioning;
  • 1000 SAT score (math and critical writing only);
  • 22 ACT composite score;
  • 74 AFQT combined score;
  • 12 minimum college credits with the following breakdown: 3 math or science; 3 English and 6 any elective;
  • College Level Examination Program (CLEP) and Sailor/Marine American Council on Education Registry Transcript (SMART) credits and credits earned in high school do not count towards this requirement;
  • Minimum 225 PFT/270 CFT score;
  • Minimum three years active service;
  • No previous failure of any officer programme;
  • Be of good moral character and integrity;
  • AR Marines must be approved for augmentation into the Regular USMC; and
  • Requirements are not waiverable except for ages up to 35.

5.3.3  Reserve Enlisted Commissioning Programme

The Reserve Enlisted Commissioning Programme (RECP) enables qualified enlisted Marines in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve (SMCR) Programme to apply for OCS and subsequent appointment as a commissioned officer in the rank of Second Lieutenant in the USMC Reserve.

Qualified enlisted Marines need to meet a number of eligibility requirements, which include:

  • Enrolled in the Selected Marine Corps Reserve Program (SMCR) with a four-year baccalaureate degree;
  • US citizen
  • Be of officer calibre;
  • Be of good moral character & integrity;
  • Not previously failed any officer programmes;
  • Minimum AFQT of 74 or Minimum SAT of 1000;
  • Minimum ACT composite score of 22;
  • At least 21 years of age but less than 30;
  • Qualified to fill an SMCR Officer billet as announced by CMC (Reserve Affairs);
  • Rank of Corporal or above; and
  • 36 months continuous service in SMCR, or served on AD three or more years, and be currently serving in a drilling unit of the SMCR not on active duty.

5.3.4  Meritorious Commissioning Programme Reserve

The Meritorious Commissioning Programme Reserve (MCP-R) allows commanding officers to nominate qualified enlisted Marines in the Corps and in the Marine Corps AR Programme, who have demonstrated exceptional leadership potential, for OCS and subsequent appointment as a commissioned officer in the rank of Second Lieutenant in the USMC Reserve.

Qualified enlisted Marines need to meet a number of eligibility requirements, which include:

  • SMCR with an Associate level degree or 75 credit hours of actual college work;
  • US Citizen;
  • Be of officer calibre;
  • Be of good moral character and integrity;
  • Not previously failed any officer programmes;
  • Minimum AFQT of 74 or Min SAT of 1000;
  • Minimum ACT composite score of 22;
  • At least 21 years of age but less than 30;
  • Must have completed 12 months of reserve service in the Selected Reserve; and
  • At least 12 months remaining on current reserve enlistment or extension on date of application.

5.4     Direct Commission Officers

The USMC does not offer the Direct Commission Officers (DCOs) route, known as Professionally Qualified Officers in the UK, to individuals who wish to serve as officers in the USMC.

The services typically undertaken by DCOs, for example chaplains, are provided by the US Navy.

6.0     Initial Officer Training and Service Commitment

6.1     Initial Officer Training

With the exception of students attending the US Naval Academy, all aspirant USMC officers must attend officer training at the Officer Candidates School (OCS) located in Quantico, VA. Training at OCS lasts for 10-weeks.

Once students have successfully graduated from OCS, all newly commissioned USMC officers (including US Naval Academy stream officers) will attend The Basic School on a 6-month programme.

An outline of the OCS and Basic School training programmes can be found here (TBC).

6.2     Service Commitment

Once an individual has been commissioned as an officer they will typically be obliged to serve an initial service commitment of three to five years (positions involving longer-term training may involve longer service obligations).

7.0     Useful Links

Listed are some links which the reader may find useful:

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2 thoughts on “US Marine Corps Officer Recruitment & Selection Overview

  1. Hello,

    I have graduated about a year ago (last December) and am waiting for naturalization to be completed (i did biometrics and just waiting for an interview + ceremony).

    I am preparing for PFT, but my GPA sucks……… like i barely passed the classes from state university (science degree).

    Is there any way that I can increase my chance to be selected OCC/OCS?
    (other than physical training as well as mental preparation, should I be doing any other things?)
    I search the webs and i’m so discouraged when i see resumes like 3.78 GPA with Football captain with 278 PFT got rejected.

    I have never been in trouble, and i’m what teachers/professors would call a polite sweet nice kid.
    I don’t have any tattoo or piercings, and i’ve never done any drugs (steroids and weeds/LSD/cocaine/methamphetamine).

    I’ll be 28 next year (though my birthday is later in year), so I’d like to apply and be selected for OCS as soon as possible.

    One more thing is that I have abour 1430 SAT scores (out of 1600 for Math and reading portion).
    I do not have to take ASVAB do I? and If so, is that taken before applying to OCS?

    1. Hi Josh,

      That’s a lot of questions. My advice would be to visit your local Recruitment Centre and speak to an Officer Selection Officer who will be able to provide you with tailored and up to date advice specific to your circumstances.

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