So, You Want to Be an Officer?

Army OCS

Colonel insignia, eagle military pin
Colonel insignia, eagle military pin. PhotoAlto/Alix Minde/Getty Images

Army Officer Candidate School (OCS) is a 14-week program which graduates commissioned officers in the United States Army.

Army OCS was established in 1941 to provide Infantry officers for World War II. Through all of the years OCS has remained an important commissioning source for the Army. Officer Candidate School (OCS) is located at Fort Benning, GA and is the Army's only active duty Officer Candidate School, commissioning over 800 lieutenants annually.

An additional 650 National Guard candidates train there each summer.

Basically, there are three categories of OCS candidates: College Graduates (civilians), current military (enlisted) and direct commission (doctors, lawyers, chaplains, etc.) In this feature, we will concentrate on college graduates, and current military (enlisted) procedures. All OCS graduates must serve a minimum of three years on active duty following graduation from OCS.

The OCS selection process is very selective. Only about 60 percent of all those who apply are accepted for attendance at OCS (Note: Enlisted [current military]selection rates are relatively higher. About 70 percent of enlisted applicants make it through the screening process). It should be noted that College Graduate (Civilians) and Current Military (enlisted) do not compete with each other for available OCS slots. College Graduate (civilian) applicants are selected by a selection board convened by the Army Recruiting Command, and Current Military (enlisted) are selected by a board convened by the Army Personnel Command (PERSCOM).

Once selected, the graduation rate for OCS is over 90 percent.

College Graduates (Civilian Applicants)

Eligibility

  • At least 19 and no older than 29 at time of enlistment (applicants ages 30-34 may request a waiver)
  • United States citizen
  • At least a 4-year college degree prior to entering the Army
  • Earn a minimum 110 GT score on the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
  • Meet the minimum height and weight standard (male & female)
  • Pass a complete physical at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)
  • Able to obtain a security clearance
  • No more than 10 years’ active Federal Service at time of commission
  • Be able to meet the normal requirements of enlistment (Note: Criminal History requirements for commission are much more strict than the requirements listed in the "requirements of enlistment" article. In general, an applicant for commission must have no convictions by civil or military courts. (This does not apply to minor traffic violations with a fine or forfeiture of $250.00 or less). An applicant must not have been judged to be a juvenile offender. This applies even if the court sentence, or any part of it, was suspended or withheld, or such conviction was in any way removed from court records by satisfactory completion of a period of probation. This also applies to adverse juvenile adjudication. (Note: Some convictions can be waived).

Application Process

The application process begins by talking to an Army Recruiter.

In the Army, OCS candidates must enlist for the purpose of attending Army Basic Training. Individuals who enlist in the Army for the purpose of attending OCS, enlist under enlistment program 9D of Army Regulation 601-210. Below is a brief description of the process:

The application process begins by completing a DA Form 61, Application for Appointment (Note: This, and other official forms in this article are PDF forms. In order to view them, you will need to download and install a PDF file viewer, such as the free Acrobat Viewer, available at http://www.adobe.com). You will also complete an SF Form 86 (Security Questionnaire), and DD Form 1966 (Record of Processing for the Armed Forces.

The Recruiter will schedule you for a medical examination, and to take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). There is no longer any special "officer test" for Army OCS. Candidates complete the ASVAB, and must score a minimum of 110 in the "GT" area to qualify. You must meet the medical standards of Army Regulation 40-501, chapter 2, and the vision requirements listed in 40-501 for Combat Arms, or Combat Support.

Once you pass the above criteria, and it has been reviewed for correctness by the Recruiting Battalion, you will be scheduled to appear before the Recruiting Battalion OCS Board. The board is composed of at least three commissioned officers. The board will question you on personal history, training, and experience. It will decide whether or not you appear to possess the desire, determination, and motivation necessary to complete training and to develop into a satisfactory commissioned officer. On this basis, each board member will make an independent appraisal of your overall qualification for a commission. For an example of what the board may ask you, see DA Form 6285, Structured Interview, Army Precommissioning Selection.

If the board recommends rejection, you will be so informed. The processing ends at that point. If the board recommends acceptance, the results are sent to the Army Recruiting Command OCS Review Board, who does the final approval, and determines OCS class date. Once the review board approves the application, you will be enlisted in the Delayed Enlistment Program (DEP), and given a basic training class date (Note: Prior Service Army personnel who have been out of the Army for less than five years usually do not have to re-attend Army Basic Training).

It should be noted here, that unlike enlisted (current military) applicants, you will not know what officer branch you will be selected for at the time of approval. However, you will normally be informed of your branch selection prior to attendance at OCS (not necessarily prior to attending basic training, however). The preferences you make on the DA Form 61 are just that -- preferences. There is no guarantee that you will go into the officer branch of your choice.

Current Military

Eligibility:

  • Be a citizen of the United States.
  • Have a GT score of 110 or higher.
  • Pass the Army Physical Fitness Test score 180 (APFT). (Note: Must score at least a 60 in each area).
  • Pass the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), min 850 or American College Test (ACT), min 19 (Note: Not required if the soldier already possesses a bachelor or higher degree).
  • Have at least 90 semester hours of college study towards a degree and be able to complete your bachelors within one year.
  • Achieve a score of 80 or higher on the English Comprehension Level Test (ECLT), if primary language is not English.
  • Be at least 18 years old and less than 34 (can waiver age up to 39). Have a complete physical exam six months prior to date of application.
  • No more than 10 years' active Federal Service at time of commission (can be waived).
  • Have no convictions by civil or military courts. (This does not apply to minor traffic violations with a fine or forfeiture of $250.00 or less). An applicant must not have been judged to be a juvenile offender. This applies even if the court sentence, or any part of it, was suspended or withheld, or such conviction was in any way removed from court records by satisfactory completion of a period of probation. This also applies to adverse juvenile adjudication. (Note: Some convictions can be waived).
  • Have completed advanced individual training (AIT)
  • Have had a type "A" medical examination within 9 months of the date of the application. Applicants must meet procurement medical fitness standards prescribed in AR 40-501, paragraph 8-14, and possess a physical profile serial of at least 222221.
  • Have not been previously disenrolled from officer candidate training.

Who May Apply:

  • Active Army warrant officers or enlisted members who have completed AIT and reported to their first permanent duty station may apply.
  • Soldiers assigned to overseas commands may apply at any time, but may not normally be permitted to return to the continental United States (CONUS) for OCS attendance before completing five-sixths of the prescribed overseas tour ( AR 614-30).
  • Former commissioned officers may apply if their only commissioned service was performed in one of the Armed Force's early commissioning programs for students in the health professions.
  • Commissioned warrant officers may apply.
  • Warrant officers and enlisted personnel of the USAR not on active duty may apply (see AR 140-50).
  • Warrant officers and enlisted personnel of the Army National Guard of the United States (ARNGUS) may apply as prescribed by the Chief, National Guard Bureau. Guidance in National Guard Regulation (NGR) 351-5 will be followed.

Who May Not Apply:

  • They are presently conscientious objectors (Note: Previous conscientious objectors Applicants who previously were conscientious objectors will attach an affidavit stating abandonment of such beliefs and principles. This statement will show that the applicant is willing to bear arms and give full and unqualified service to the United States. If the applicant has demonstrated a change of views by later military service, the affidavit should so state. (See DA Form 61 (Application for Appointment), item 24.) 1-9.
  • Their selection would clearly not be in the interests of national security.
  • They have been separated from any of the Armed Forces under conditions of a nonwaivable disqualification for enlistment (AR 601-210).
  • They are, or have been, commissioned officers (except commissioned warrant officers) in any component of the Armed Forces. (See above for exception.)
  • They have been alerted or are on orders for overseas movement, unless the application was submitted to the unit commander before alert or receipt of assignment instructions at the installation.
  • They are under suspension of favorable personnel actions for military personnel (AR 600-8-2).
  • They are attending, alerted for, or on orders to the Defense Language Institute, Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) as a student. Graduates of DLIFLC must complete a minimum 1-year language utilization assignment before they are eligible to attend OCS.
  • They are warrant officer flight training candidates or warrant officers attending a rotary wing aviator course. They are not eligible to attend OCS until they have completed a 1-year utilization tour.
  • They are Physician Assistant (PA) warrant officers attending Phase II, PA training. They are not eligible to attend OCS until they have completed 2 years of utilization.
  • They are enrolled in AIT.
  • They are in a temporary duty (TDY) status.
  • They are in Basic Combat Training (BCT).
  • They would be over 34 years of age when appointed as a commissioned officer.
  • They have been scheduled to attend or are attending Drill Instructors School. Graduates of Drill Instructor School must serve a minimum of 2 years as a Drill Sergeant prior to applying for OCS.
  • They are a nonselect from any Department of the Army Board.
  • They have not successfully completed an officer's commissioning program.
  • They are attending Warrant Office Candidate School or a Warrant Officer MOS-producing school.

Application Process

For current military, the very first thing you want to do is to check with your chain-of-command (Platoon Sergeant, First Sergeant, Commander) about applying for OCS. If your chain-of-command won't support you, your application is "dead on arrival." As with civilian applications, the process begins with completing a DA Form 61, Application for Appointment. On the DA Form 61, in item 6, applicants will indicate at least 10 branch preferences in order of preference.

Required preferences

(1) Male applicants. 2-combat arms, 2-combat support arms, and 2-combat service support arms. One combat arms branch must be among the first three choices. The remaining four branch choices will be at the applicant's discretion.

(2) Female applicants. 1-combat arms (excluding IN and AR), 2-combat support arms, 2-combat service support arms. The remaining five choices will be at the applicant's discretion.

(3) Warrant Officer Aviators. Warrant Officer aviators who wish to be commissioned aviators will list AV as their only branch choice.

The DA Form 61, along with supporting documentation (college transcripts, waiver requests, letters of recommendation) is sent to the unit commander who reviews and approves the application. The unit commander then passes the application package through the intermediate commander (for review/approval) to the Installation Commander. The Installation Commander convenes an "OCS Structured Interview:"

(1) The structured interview identifies the degree to which the applicant has developed attributes that show potential for a successful career as a professional Army commissioned officer. The applicant’s past behavior in a variety of situations is evaluated to predict future performance.

(2) A panel of three interviewers will conduct the interview. All panel members must be commissioned officers; the panel president must hold the grade of major or above, and the other two panel members must hold the grade of captain or above.

(3) Immediately before the structured interview, the panel members will require the applicant to submit a handwritten narrative on standard 8 1/2 by 11–inch paper stating “Why I Want to be an Army Officer.” This narrative gives interviewers a chance to evaluate the applicant’s writing and ability to express a desire to serve as a commissioned officer.

  • (a) The applicant will be allowed a maximum of 1 hour to complete the narrative.

    (b) The narrative will not exceed two pages.

    (c) No assistance except use of a dictionary and an explanation of the question will be permitted.

    The Installation Commander reviews the board recommendation and approves/disapproves the package. If approved, the Installation Commander passes the application through the MACOM commander (who can also approve/disapprove), who forwards the package to Army PERSCOM (Personnel Command), where the package is reviewed by an OCS selection board, who makes the final selections. The PERSCOM board selects the branch at the same time the OCS package is approved.

    OCS Tidbits

    For detailed information about Army OCS, visit the Army OCS Foundation Website.

    Relocation of Family Members. In general, the Army allows the movement of dependents at government expense if the length of training (at a single location) is greater than 180 days. For OCS, this means that if you attend OCS, branched for Infantry, the Army will pay to relocate your dependents to Fort Benning, as Army Officer Infantry Training is also conducted here, and the length of OCS plus the length of Officer Infantry Training exceeds 180 days. If you attend OCS for any other branch, the Army will not pay to relocate your dependents to Fort Benning. You may, however, pay to relocate them on your own. If you have dependents, you do receive BAH (housing allowance) during your time at OCS. The BAH rate you receive depends upon the location of your dependents. If you elect to relocate your dependents, don't count on getting to live with them, however, during your time at OCS. With the exception of church on Sunday, you indeed will have no access to your family members for at least the first seven weeks or so of OCS. After that weekend passes are conditional until you enter senior phase (week 11 through week 14) when restrictions are relaxed a bit.

    Basic Officer Leadership Course. At the time of this article, BOLC is still being tested. Not all graduates of OCS will attend this following graduation. Right now, a majority of those selected are officers with no prior military experience. The Army plans to make BOLC mandatory for all newly commissioned officers (including prior service) at some time in the future.

    Swapping Branches. If you wind up with a branch you don't like, it is possible to arrange to swap your branch with another's during OCS. If you are lucky to find someone in OCS to switch branches with you, you will be given the opportunity to fill out a DA Form 4187, Personnel Action Form. You and the person you are switching will verify the listed information, personnel data on both parties, and sign off on the request to switch branches. From that point on, it is in the hands of the gods of PERSCOM once they get it.

    Accommodations. Most rooms are two-man rooms, although if you have a large class, some can hold three. Showers are stalls with doors (4 per latrine).

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