Ask Stew: What's the Right Path to Become a Military Officer?

Plebes lift modified telephone poles during the log PT station Sea Trials at the U.S. Naval Academy.
Plebes assigned to the Tigers of Company 11 lift modified telephone poles during the log PT station Sea Trials at the U.S. Naval Academy, May 18, 2010. (Todd Cichonowicz/U.S. Navy photo)

Young men and women are seeking to serve in the military as an alternative option to career choices in the civilian world. I find emails like these give us all hope that there are still people willing to serve our country, get educated and be a productive member of society. 

Here is an email from a young man seeking to serve in the Navy as an officer and still pursue athletics and potentially a SEAL billet. His questions are as follows:

Stew, I am a high school senior and looking at a few options to begin preparing for a military career. What I humbly would like to ask you is if you have any advice on which approach you think would be best:

1. Go through college for four years and then try to attend OCS (Officer Candidate School) and BUD/S after graduation.

2. Attend a year or two of college, then try to apply to the Naval Academy as a transfer student.

I also noticed that you played rugby as well. I was wondering how the workload was, having been in such an intense academic environment while also partaking in a very grueling sport that I would like to do in college. However, my ultimate goal has always been to pursue a career in the military, regardless of how my next four years of rugby pans out. Thank you for any advice and help you could offer.

A U.S. Marine Corps officer candidate attending Officer Candidate School (OCS) listens during a brief before conducting a field training exercise.
A U.S. Marine Corps officer candidate attending Officer Candidate School (OCS) listens during a brief before conducting a field training exercise at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, Oct. 19, 2017. (Lance Cpl. Tyler Pender/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

I like to tell people who are serious about serving in the military as an officer to try to get into a service academy. Apply and see what happens, whether it is during high school or during your first few years of college. Regardless of your options, your path will lead you to SEAL Officer Assessment and Selection, or SOAS. All U.S. Naval Academy, ROTC and OCS candidates who apply go through a screening process to get selected for this selection program, which will determine whether you can come back the following year as an officer BUD/S student. 

For USNA and ROTC, you attend SOAS during the summer before your senior year. For the OCS student, you will apply after college and attend the following summer after you have been selected. You usually will find out by March or April before attending.

SOAS works like this. You will go through the same BUD/S compound that the current students attend and be tested for three weeks in everything from physical screening test (PST) scores to leadership qualities and teamwork. From here, the BUD/S instructors decide who will be eligible as a student the following year.

So, regardless of your option to attend OCS or USNA, you have to prepare yourself to get to and through SOAS first. Then, you focus on getting through BUD/S if you get selected, and you will have as much as 6-12 months to prepare specifically for BUD/S once you find out the outcome of SOAS.

As a college student, specifically at USNA, you are busy with many hours of classes and follow-on studying, but everyone is required to do some type of sport (varsity, club, intramural) so you have time to work out and train each day. It is part of the schedule, and you get it done. It is actually a great stress reliever for any college student, regardless of which school you attend.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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