Your Questions About Joining the Marine Corps Answered

Marine recruits training San Diego
Recruits from Company C, 2nd Recruit Training Battalion, listen and apply what their instructor tells them to do with their gear March 30, 2012, aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego. (Lance Cpl. Crystal Druery/Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego)

Interested in joining the Marines? We give you the straight answers to the most asked questions about what it takes to be a Marine, how to join and what to expect after you sign on the dotted line.

What Is the US Marine Corps?

The Marine Corps is one of the most elite fighting forces in the world. The Marines are a part of the Department of the Navy and operate in close cooperation with U.S. naval forces at sea. The Marines' mission is unique among the services. Marines serve on U.S. Navy ships, protect naval bases, guard U.S. embassies and provide an ever-ready quick strike force to protect U.S. interests anywhere in the world.

To perform the many duties of the Marine Corps, approximately 182,000 officers and enlisted Marines fly planes and helicopters; operate radar equipment; drive armored vehicles; gather intelligence; survey and map territory; maintain and repair radios, computers, jeeps, trucks, tanks and aircraft; and perform hundreds of other challenging jobs.

How Are the Marines different from the Army?

The Marine Corps is the nation's 911 force. Thousands of Marines are deployed aboard naval amphibious ships ready to respond to an international crisis. This ability to mobilize quickly has allowed the Marines to become the United States' ready-reaction force.

The Army is a much larger force and is used in larger and longer conflicts. At times, the Army will relieve the Marines after a period of time, much like what happened in Somalia.

The Marines also consider themselves to be a self-sustaining force, bringing with it to battle its own airpower, artillery and logistics support. Of course, Marines have to travel on Navy vessels in order to get to its destination.

Marines also are proud to say that "every Marine is a rifleman.'' In other words, regardless if you are in the infantry, the air wing or a computer technician, you will be given the proper training so that, if needed, you can perform as an infantryman. It is fair to say that this mentality does not exist in all of the Army's support units.

What Are the Qualifications to Join the Marine Corps?

The following are the basic requirements for joining. You must:

  • To enlist, you must be a U.S. citizen or a resident alien.
  • Meet exacting physical, mental and moral standards.
  • Be between the ages of 17-28. Seventeen-year-olds need parental consent.
  • Have a high school diploma.
  • Take and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.
  • Pass a Military Entrance Processing Station medical exam.
  • Women are eligible to enlist in all occupational fields, with the exception of combat arms specialties: infantry, artillery, and tank and amphibian tractor crew members.

What's the ASVAB?

The ASVAB is a test that measures your aptitudes. It consists of 10 short individual tests covering word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning, mathematics knowledge, general science, auto and shop information, mechanical comprehension, electronics information, numerical operations and coding speed. When you take the ASVAB before enlisting, not only do you receive scores on each of these individual tests, but several individual test results are combined to yield three academic composite scores: verbal, math and academic ability.

Officer candidates who did not receive a minimum score on the SAT or the ACT must take the ASVAB and score a minimum of 115 on the Electronics Repair composite.

What Are Some Benefits of Joining?

  • Steady income: You are paid twice a month, on the first and 15th, every month, based on your pay grade and service requirements.
  • Advancement: You are promoted based on job knowledge, your performance, time in pay grade and service requirements.
  • Paid vacation: You earn 2.5 days of paid vacation per month for a total of 30 days each year up to 60 days.
  • Training: You choose your career path based on your aptitude, physical abilities, security clearance, motivation and determination.
  • Health care: While on active duty, you will receive complete medical and dental care at no cost.
  • Life insurance: Active duty members select up to $400,000 in term life insurance for a low price.
  • Allowances: You also may receive additional tax-free money for the basic allowance for housing (BAH) if government housing is not available; the basic allowance for subsistence (BAS), if government food facilities are not available in the area you are stationed; and a uniform allowance (for enlisted personnel only) to help maintain your uniform.
  • Tax advantage: Only your basic monthly pay is subject to federal or state income tax.
  • GI Bill: The GI Bill will help pay for college education or vocational training.
  • Tuition assistance: While on active duty, you may continue your education and may be helped in defraying the cost of college-accredited courses.
  • Additional benefits: There are exchange and commissary privileges, moving allowances, temporary lodging expenses, travel, survivor benefits, Veterans Administration home loans and more.

Is Infantry the Only Job in the Marine Corps?

Although the Marine Corps says that "every Marine is a rifleman," infantry units comprise no more than 15% of the service's total force. You will be able to work in one of 35 career fields that offer more than 300 different jobs.

Some specialty fields available to you:

  • Aircraft defense
  • Aircraft maintenance
  • Armor
  • Broadcasting
  • Combat engineer
  • Communications
  • Computer operator/technician
  • Electronics
  • Intelligence
  • Supply

Use our job matcher to explore careers that match your interest.

Can Certain Training Schools or Duty Stations Be Guaranteed to Me Upon Enlistment?

Yes. It will depend on your term of commitment or specialty. Ask your recruiter for details.

Does the Marine Corps Take People with Prior Service?

Yes. The Marine Corps accepts prior-service people.

What if I Am Not a US Citizen?

Only U.S. citizens or foreign nationals legally residing in the United States with an Immigration and Naturalization Service Alien Registration Card ("Green Card" -- INS Form I-151/551) may apply. Applicants must speak, write and read English fluently.

Can the Marine Corps Help Me Obtain US citizenship?

No. The U.S. military cannot assist foreign nationals in obtaining admittance into the United States.

What if I Live Overseas?

Regulations prohibit the forwarding of recruiting information through international mail, even to U.S. citizens living in foreign countries. Use our online form to reach a recruiter electronically.

How Long Is Boot Camp?

Boot camp is 13 weeks, followed by three weeks of either the School of the Infantry or Marine Combat Training.

Where Is Boot Camp?

Boot camp is located at Parris Island Recruit Depot, SC on the east coast and San Diego Recruit Depot for those on the west coast. All women will attend recruit training at Parris Island.

What Is Boot Camp Like?

Recruit training is rigorous, demanding and challenging. The overall goal of recruit training is to instill in the recruits the military skills, knowledge, discipline, pride and self-confidence necessary to be a Marine.

In the first several days at the recruit depot, a recruit is assigned to a platoon, receives a basic issue of uniforms and equipment, is given an additional physical and takes further assignment classification tests. Each platoon is led by a team of three Marine drill instructors. A typical training day for recruits begins with reveille at 0500 (5 a.m.), continues with drill, physical training, and several classes in weapons and conduct, and ends with taps at 2100 (9 p.m.).

Should I Do Anything Before I Go to Boot Camp?

Yes. Ask your recruiter whether you can get a copy of "Recruit Regulations.'' During recruit training, you will use the book when told to "study your knowledge." Pay particular attention to the list of items you cannot bring to boot camp, the 11 General Orders and the Position of Attention.

We cannot stress enough how important it is for you to prepare yourself for running and physical fitness training. It is recommended that you enter recruit training with the ability to run three miles in less than 24 minutes.

For tips on how to get yourself into shape for Boot Camp, see military fitness guru Stew Smith's articles.

How Do I Become an Officer?

There are a number of ways you can become an officer in the Marine Corps. In almost all cases, you will need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university.

Sources of commissioning:

  • Service Academy
  • ROTC
  • OCS
  • Enlisted Commissioning Program

All Marine officers will complete The Basic School (TBS) upon receiving their commission. TBS is six months and will cover leadership, land navigation, weapons qualifications, small unit tactics and communications.

What if I Want to Go to a Service Academy?

A portion of Naval Academy graduates go into the Marine Corps. While at Annapolis, midshipmen have the opportunity to see firsthand the various fields open to them.

How Do I Apply to the Naval Academy?

To apply, you should have competitive Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) scores and cannot have reached your 22nd birthday. Visit our service academy info page for more info.

What Is Officer Candidate School?

Officer Candidate School is offered to college graduates or those in the process of receiving their baccalaureate degree who want to become commissioned officers in the Marine Corps.

The Marines offer two programs for those who qualify -- the Platoon Leaders Course (PLC) and Officer Candidates Class (OCC). Training at both programs is at Quantico, Virginia.

PLC -- For freshmen, sophomores or juniors in college. Candidates will complete either two six-week courses or the 10-week course before receiving their baccalaureate degree.

OCC -- Seniors or those who already have received their baccalaureate degree will attend a 10-week course.

Both programs occur in the summer and do not interfere with your academic studies.

The 10 or 12 weeks of officer training is intended to measure your leadership potential; you must prove yourself. Upon graduation, you decide whether to accept an appointment as a Marine Corps officer.

How Do I Apply for OCS?

We suggest you contact an officer selection officer (OSO). The application process includes receiving a minimum combined score of 1000 on the SAT, a 45 on the ACT or a 115 on the Electronics Repair composite of the ASVAB. You also must pass your physical given at a MEPS. Your application package also will include an essay written by you and written statements of your references. The completed package will be submitted to a board, who will select the top candidates from the packages they receive. Please visit the OCS Home Page.

What About ROTC?

You also can receive a commission in the Marine Corps by joining Naval ROTC. The Naval Reserve Officers' Training Corps (NROTC) program offers tuition and other financial benefits at more than 60 of the country's leading colleges and universities. Two- and four-year subsidized scholarships are offered. Participants receive a monthly cash allowance. Two- and four-year nonsubsidized NROTC programs also are offered. These are referred to as college programs and provide for monthly cash allowances during the junior and senior years.

Are There Promotions to Officer Rank?

Yes. The Marine Corps has a number of opportunities to become a "Mustang" -- someone who is commissioned from the enlisted ranks.

The Enlisted Commissioning Program

This program provides the opportunity for enlisted Marines with two years of college to apply for assignment to the Officer Candidates School and subsequent appointment as unrestricted commissioned officers.

Enlisted Commissioning Education Program

The Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program provides to selected enlisted Marines (who have had no college experience) the opportunity to earn bachelor's degrees by attending a college or university as full-time students. Marines in this program who obtain their bachelor's degrees and subsequently complete officer candidate training are commissioned as second lieutenants.

The Warrant Officer Program

Warrant officers are technical specialists who are assigned to duties only in their area of expertise. All other officers are said to be "unrestricted" and are assigned to a wide variety of assignments during their career. The Warrant Officer Program allows for those qualified applicants who are in the grade of sergeant or above at the time of application to be selected and appointed to permanent warrant officer.

Are There Medical Opportunities in the Marines?

The Marine Corps actually receives their medical support (doctors, corpsman, nurses) from the Navy.

What Reserve Opportunities Are in the Marine Corps?

Yes. The Marine Corps Reserve is a part-time force of specially trained people who serve with the Marine Corps one weekend a month and two weeks every year.

You will have to complete the 12 weeks of boot camp, but you will have the opportunity to train for one of more than 300 different jobs.

What Are the Qualifications to Join the Reserve?

The qualifications to join the Reserve are the same as joining the active duty. You must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or a resident alien.
  • Meet exacting physical, mental and moral standards.
  • Be between the ages of 17-29. Seventeen-year-olds need parental consent.
  • Have a high school diploma.
  • Take and pass the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.
  • Pass a Military Entrance Processing Station medical exam.
  • Women are eligible to enlist in all occupational fields, with the exception of combat arms specialties: infantry, artillery, and tank and amphibian tractor crew members.

What Training Will I Receive?

Depending on the program, you will attend boot camp and training for your military occupational specialty (MOS). Weekend or weekday drills are considered training. Active duty for training (ADT) is 12 days of active duty is required annually.

What if I Have a Problem Getting Time Off from My Employer to Fulfill My Military Service Obligations?

By law, as a member of the Reserve, you must be granted, upon request, a leave of absence to satisfy a requirement for military training. The Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act requires employers to provide reservists with time away from their jobs to perform military duty. However, you must notify your employer that you intend to take military leave. You must be reemployed after completion of your military duty and return to your job within a reasonable time. You must be treated as though you had never left employment, including scheduled pay raises, promotions or credit for longevity or vacation. Your employer only has to hold a job open for 60 months if you accept voluntary orders.

Are There Pilots in the Marine Corps?

Yes. Aviation is a key component in the Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF).


Flight school candidates are officers who must pass a naval flight physical. Dental exam will check for cavities and other problems that may be affected by changes in air pressure during flight.

Vision requirements are also very stringent. Eyesight should be 20/20 or correctable to 20/20, no exceptions. Uncorrected visual acuity must be better than 20/200 in either eye. There are other limitations imposed based on the type and strength of the lens prescription. In addition, normal color perception, depth perception and field of vision are required.

What Do Marine Pilots Fly?

Marines fly jet fighters, helicopters and other support aircraft. These include:

How Do I Become a Pilot?

When applying for a commission in the Marine Corps, you can opt for a guaranteed aviation slot. This means if you complete OCS and pass your flight physical, you will be guaranteed a seat at Naval Flight School after you complete The Basic School.

Flight school will last from 18-24 months, depending on the type of aircraft you are assigned. After flight school, you then will spend time qualifying on your assigned aircraft before being assigned to your squadron. Becoming a pilot takes a lot of work and dedication. Do not go down this career path unless you are serious about becoming an aviator.

What Should I Ask My Recruiter?

Marine recruiters must present an accurate picture of basic training. You should be aware of all aspects of the military lifestyle. Be sure you fully understand the enlistment contract. You should ask about:

  • Details and qualifications for each specialty.
  • The current enlistment bonuses.
  • Films or videos about training and duties.
  • Boot camp.
  • Special enlistment programs if you have completed Junior ROTC or Navy cadet training.
  • Overseas assignments, remote and long duty.
  • Haircut and grooming standards.
  • Off-duty education and educational benefits.
  • Guaranteed training programs.

Interested in Joining the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

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