Enlist in the US military: Requirements to start your journey as an active service member

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No matter what branch of the military you are interested in joining, you’re essentially going to follow the same process. Before sending in your application, you’ll have to decide what branch you want to join.

You can choose to join the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard or the newest addition, Space Force. You can also decide to enlist in the National Guard.

You need to have a high school or general equivalency diploma (GED) to join the military. You can also decide to apply for one of the five military academies if you want to earn a college degree.

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A Navy recruitment booth

The first step in joining the military is talking with a recruiter. (Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Here are the basic steps you’ll need to take in order to enlist in the military and further information on military academies. 

  1. Apply and speak with a recruiter
  2. Take a placement exam
  3. Take a physical exam
  4. Enter basic training
  5. Taking the military academy route

1. Apply and speak with a recruiter

The first step of the process is to send in your application through the military branch’s website that you wish to join. You’ll get connected with a recruiter who will help you get the process started. During these initial steps, you’ll gain more information on the branch you are interested in, talk about your goals and make sure that you meet all the eligibility requirements needed to join, which may slightly differ depending on the branch.

2. Take a placement exam

The next step in joining the military is taking the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). This is a test that the military uses to help determine the right job for you.

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Marine boot camp

Basic training is an intense program to get recruits ready to serve. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

3. Take a physical exam

There is also a physical exam needed to join the military, which includes both a medical evaluation and a physical evaluation. The fitness test differs slightly depending on the branch of the military you are joining. They typically include a variety of exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, planks and a run.

If you are joining the Navy or the Coast Guard, you’ll also need to do a swim test as part of the fitness exam.

4. Enter basic training

Once you’ve completed your exams, all recruits will have to complete basic training before beginning their job in the service.

Military basic training lasts between seven and 13 weeks, depending on the branch, and includes rigorous training for recruits.

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Naval Academy induction ceremony

All five military academies are competitive programs. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

5. Taking the military academy route 

For those who want to earn a college degree, possibly play a sport, become an officer and gain the core values of the military, applying to one of the five military academies in the country may be a good option.

The five are: the U.S. Military Academy (USMA) or West Point in West Point, New York; the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) in Annapolis, Maryland; the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA) in Colorado Springs, Colorado; the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA) in New London, Connecticut; and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) in Kings Point, New York.

Getting into a military school is a highly competitive process. The United States Naval Academy has the most competitive program with just around an 8% acceptance rate. West Point is also extremely competitive with a 10.7% acceptance rate. The Air Force Academy has a 12.4% acceptance rate, Coast Guard Academy has a 19.3% and Merchant Marine Academy has 25.2%, making all of these colleges very selective.



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