University campuses are important training grounds for the next generation of professionals in virtually every industry, and the armed forces are no exception. As with employers from any other field, military recruiters are interested in pursuing the best and brightest, and the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) is a critical and historically deep talent pool. ROTC is a college-based program designed to prepare students to become military officers upon graduation, and it offers financial awards to help them pay for their educational costs.
Training students for combat as part of academia dates back to 1862 with the passage of the Morrill Land-Grant Colleges Act [source: U.S. Department of Agriculture]. This Civil War-era legislation granted land to the Union states to establish colleges that would teach agriculture, mechanics and military strategy. When the war ended, the grants were extended to every state and territory.
The requirement that military tactics be part of the curriculum planted the seed that would eventually grow into today's ROTC. The first formal ROTC program was created at Norwich University in Vermont, the oldest private military college in the United States [source: Norwich University].
Today, ROTC programs can be found on more than 1,300 college campuses around the country, regardless of the school's civilian or military affiliation, and are offered by the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps [source: College Board]. ROTC is generally elective for students at civilian colleges and universities but is required of students attending most military colleges.
ROTC isn't limited to postsecondary education. JROTC, or Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, is a high-school based program designed to educate students about the opportunities that exist in the armed forces and potentially steer them toward military careers.
Students that participate in these programs span the educational and socioeconomic spectrum, from those looking to become career soldiers to students interested in post-graduate careers outside the military in fields such as medicine and law. Although it's sometimes thought that military service draws mainly minorities and men and women from disadvantaged backgrounds, research has shown that 40 percent of Army ROTC participants come from the wealthiest neighborhoods [source: Watkins].
Regardless of a student's financial background, the ROTC scholarships are a major draw for many enrollees. And because the scholarships are based on merit rather than need, all students are eligible. In this article, we'll discuss how students can use ROTC as a means to pay for higher education. Up first, let's look at qualifications and how to apply for ROTC scholarships.