How to Join the Military

Many people consider an enlistment in the military every year, and with the economy’s current state, it has become an option for many who may have never considered it before. The pay and benefits are among the best for recent high school and college graduates, as well as those who may initially lack the in-demand skills needed to be highly competitive in a growing job market. 

At some point, you have probably heard stories about the military from someone you know, and more often than not, the stories tend to have quite a bit of embellishment. As a former military recruiter, I can tell you that there is a lot of misinformation passed around about the process and qualifications for enlisting. Let me give you the real scoop on how to go about enlisting in the military. 

Shop the Services

Each branch of the military can actually have very different options, job opportunities and qualification requirements when it comes to enlisting. Check out each branch and see what they are offering. Don’t get hung up on perceptions from others about which service to join. The pay rates are the same for every branch and are based on rank and time of service. Quality of life is also very comparable with each branch offering excellent housing, recreation and support programs. One major difference between the services is their method for job selection. Make sure you understand what is guaranteed and what is not. Also, it is very important to note that any transaction that happens in a local recruiting office is non-binding. All contractual obligations take place at what is known as the Military Entrance Processing Station or MEPS for short. 

Determine Your Qualifications to Join

Each service may vary slightly with their enlistment criteria, but the general requirements are very similar. The qualification categories fall into Moral (law violations), Physical (medical issues), Dependency (number of family members financially supported), Financial (debt) and Mental (HS diploma graduate and ability to pass entrance exam). 

Generally, if a person has several major law violations such as two or more misdemeanors, or a felony charge, it can be difficult to join the military. It would require a waiver or exception to policy in that case, and is a long, drawn out series of statements and interviews to determine suitability. The days of “go to wear or go to jail” are a thing of the past as each military branch focuses on being a professional organization and not a rehabilitative one. 

Medical issues are another major obstacle that causes many to fail at joining the military. An applicant must meet the stringent height and weight requirements for their age. This criterion is non-negotiable. Also, any major illness, surgery or injury requires medical documentation to be submitted by the applicant PRIOR to processing to determine medical suitability, followed by a full military physical. Applicants are also screened several times before enlistment for drug usage which is a disqualifier. 

All applicants must meet the dependency eligibility criterion before being allowed to process for enlistment. This can vary between services, but four or more financially dependent family members are a disqualifier. Also, with the exception of the Reserves, a single parent with custody of any children is a disqualifier. 

Finally, all applicants must take and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery or ASVAB test in order to be eligible for enlistment. The minimum score varies from service to service, but most incentives such as bonuses and college money are available for scores of 50 and higher. A score below 31 on the ASVAB is currently disqualifying. Also, military applicants should have a high school diploma as a minimum education level. It is very popular for GED graduates to attempt to join the military, but GED’s are not accepted all of the time. Each service is only allowed a very small percentage of enlistments each year to fall into the GED category and the requirements on the entrance exam are also higher than that of a high school graduate. 

There honestly is not a much better opportunity for young people today to gain financial stability, development of responsibility and valuable experience and knowledge, all while accruing better than average pay and benefits. Researching each service can be overwhelming at first with all of the programs available, but understanding the enlistment process and requirements can get you off on the right foot!