What Rank Do You Start Out in the Military With a College Degree?

What Rank Do You Start Out in the Military With a College Degree?

Do college graduates get credit for their education and maturity when they enter the United States military? For both officers and enlisted personnel, the answer is yes.

The various services reward college graduates with different ranks, but all of them recognize educational achievement for enlistees. More important, every service requires college degrees for those who would become commissioned officers.


The Army offers enlisting college graduates the rank of specialist, which is pay grade E4. It’s the highest enlisted rank before the non-commissioned officer (NCO) ranks.

As with other services, the Army also offers increased rank for those who achieve the rank of Eagle Scout or who recruit other people to enlist with them. Although educated recruits get paid at a higher level as soon as they start their training, they usually are not allowed to wear their rank insignia until after they complete basic training.

Air Force

The Air Force starts college graduates out at E3–Airman First Class. That’s two steps away from the first NCO rank, Staff Sergeant.

The Navy also assigns the pay grade of E3; what a sailor is called depends on what he or she does in the Navy. Starting at E-4, a sailor is a Naval NCO, or petty officer. The Marines give college graduates the starting rank of Private First Class, at pay grade E2.

Every Branch

Every service branch offers the chance to become commissioned officers to those who qualify, and college is the first step.

The service academies offer direct college and commissioning programs for people who can meet their tough academic and athletic standards.

Graduates are commissioned as second lieutenants in the Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps and as ensigns in the Navy. Those are the O1 ranks.

The Navy and Marine Corps both get officers out of the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. Officer hopefuls can also take Army, Air Force, or Navy/Marine ROTC in college and enter the services at the O1 level, or apply to an officer training program after college graduation.

High school students can prepare for any of these programs by taking the high school version of ROTC, and can receive credit for them if they enlist before going to college.

Specialty Programs

Specialty programs such as JAG (military attorneys) and physicians, grant beginning officer commissions at first lieutenant or higher.

The exception is the Marine Corps, which starts out JAG officers at second lieutenant after a full-scale OCS (Officer Candidate School) program, but does offer faster than usual promotion to first lieutenant.

The four services offer internship program for law students who are interested in becoming JAG officers. Applicants for medical and JAG programs must be licensed by their state medical or legal board before beginning their time in service.

Officers from other specialties within the services can apply to medical or law school and enter those specialized fields. Military officer recruiters can offer details on the specific requirements of each program.

For more information, contact your local recruiter or go to www.todaysmilitary.com.

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