How To Become a Navy Officer: Step-By-Step Career Guide

Updated June 7, 2023

Three illustrations show a Navy seal running and doing push-ups and pull-ups.

Naval officers are United States Navy personnel who hold a rank within the three grade levels: junior officers, senior officers and flag officers. They have a wide variety of duties and becoming a Navy officer takes about four years to complete. Understanding what the role of an officer entails and the qualifications required to pursue it can help you determine if it's the right career path for you.

In this article, we discuss what Navy officers do, describe how to become one and answer several frequently asked questions about this role.

How to become a Navy officer

There are several requirements to meet before you can become an officer in the United States Navy or Navy Reserve. Your education can be a determining factor in the position you receive in the Navy.

Here are the steps you can take to become a Navy officer:

1. Talk to a recruiter

When you're deciding whether you want to enlist, consider speaking with a local Navy recruiter in your area. They can answer any questions you have and help you to determine which educational path or career is right for you.

Recruiters can also provide you with details about the responsibilities of each job title. You may also discuss your education and career goals with a recruiter virtually via video chat, telephone or online chats.

Related: 8 Benefits of Joining the US Navy (Plus How To Join)

2. Submit an application

You may decide to submit an application to pursue an officer position or an enlisted position. You can join the Navy and delay serving until you have completed your education so that the Navy assists you with it, or you can join right away and advance through the ranks in the Navy. Your recruiter can assist you with the application submission process.

Related: Military Headhunters vs. Military Recruiters: What's the Difference?

3. Take aptitude tests

The Navy has aptitude tests to determine candidates' eligibility for the specific Navy careers or specialties that interest them. These tests include:

Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery

This test determines eligibility for specific enlisted careers for those who wish to join the Navy. This test examines a wide range of knowledge, skills and topics. Developed by the Department of Defense, it analyzes an individual's potential for success in the U.S. military.

Officer Aptitude Rating and Aviation Selection Test Battery

This test is for candidates who are interested in officer specialties. The OAR is required for most officer positions and includes math, English and mechanical comprehension sections. Those who are interested in becoming Pilot and Naval flight officers also take the ASTB, which includes aerodynamics, spatial recognition and aviation history.

Related: 37 Common Military Terms You Should Know

4. Enroll in college

It's important to select an accredited institution that's reputable and has a Navy ROTC training program. Several state schools offer this program to students. You may want to check which colleges offer the NROTC program in your state. To enter this program, you have a requirement to be at least 17 years old and younger than the age of 27 by your graduation date. NROTC programs also require candidates to have a high school diploma and meet medical, physical fitness and moral requirements.

Academic requirements vary based on the college you attend, but you meet regular course requirements and take courses such as calculus, physics, National Security Policy/American Military Affairs and Naval sciences. This program typically takes about four years and students also have a bachelor's degree upon its completion.

5. Enlist in the Navy

If you choose to enlist in the Navy instead of attending college or university, you must go through the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) to complete the enlistment process. At the MEPS, your physical, academic and moral standards are assessed to make sure you meet the Navy's requirements. This includes aptitude testing, background screening, medical screening, job selection and an enlistment oath.

After you enlist, the Navy sends you to basic training. Once you complete this and earn extensive service experience, you can apply for the commissioned officer training program.

6. Attend the United States Naval Academy

The U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) is where officers can earn a bachelor's degree. After attending the USNA, serve members earn a commission as an ensign where they serve at least five years.

Related: 25 Career Options for Former Military Members

Eligibility criteria for becoming a Navy officer

Below are some of the criteria for becoming an officer in the U.S. Navy:

Age, citizenship and physical requirements

To join the Navy, you meet the requirements as outlined below:

  • Be a U.S. citizen or an enlisted legal permanent resident

  • Be between the ages of 17 and 41

  • Pass the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) medical exam

  • Meet the physical, mental and moral standards of the Navy

Read more: Guide To Navy Basic Training Requirements

Educational requirements

To become part of the U.S. Navy, you also have a requirement to meet educational standards, including:

  • A four-year degree to become a Navy officer

  • A qualifying score from the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) for enlisted members or Officer Aptitude Rating (OAR) and Aviation Selection Test Battery (ASTB) for officers

Salary and benefits of being a Navy officer

The pay for a Navy Officer varies depending on what rank you achieve and how long you're enlisted as an officer. Neither the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics nor Indeed Salaries have a listing for the amount these service members earn.

Navy Officers can experience many benefits from the Navy including:

  • Travel reimbursement

  • Medical, dental and vision insurance

  • Paid education

  • Consistent advancement and training

  • Steady retirement income based on years of service

Related: Job Search Guide for Former Military Members

Types of Navy officers

Navy officers are highly educated military leaders who the U.S. government commissions for specific officer roles throughout several specializations within the Navy. Their duties may depend on their officer designator. These designators and their responsibilities include:

Restricted line officer

These officers may work in the regular Navy or the Navy Reserves, although they're unable to command at sea and pursue unrestricted line officer positions. Some of their responsibilities may include:

  • Maintaining aviation fleets

  • Overseeing and directing the work of cryptologic technicians

  • Acquiring and developing advanced defense systems

  • Analyzing, processing and reporting signal intelligence

  • Using advanced technology and innovation to optimize the Naval organization

  • Overseeing and directing the work of information systems technicians

Related: Navy Officer Jobs Explained

Unrestricted line officer

These officers command submarines, ships, fleets, aircraft squadrons and shores bases at sea. Their role doesn't involve restrictions on the positions they're allowed to be commissioned for in the Naval Reserve and the Navy. Some of their responsibilities may include:

  • Coordinating overall tactical missions

  • Directing, operating and maintaining ships crews ships and ship systems

  • Leading units during combat operations

  • Operating, radar, sonar and weapons systems onboard a submarine

Related: 10 Careers You Can Have With a Military Science Degree

Limited duty officer

The U.S. government doesn't require these officers to have formal education or a bachelor's degree to be commissioned Navy officers. Instead of their academic credentials, the Navy selects them based on their years of service and specialized knowledge. These officers make up around 8% of the active duty officer inventory.

Limited duty officers have restrictions in their career progression but not in their authority. These officers may have the same or similar responsibilities as restricted and unrestricted line officers.

Related: The Marines vs. The Navy: Everything You Need to Know

Staff corp officer

These officers have roles in specific occupations within the Navy. Some of these officers are physicians, nurses, lawyers, civil engineers and chaplains. Their responsibilities may include:

  • Overseeing the planning, testing and execution of repairing and modernizing ships and their systems

  • Instructing and overseeing nurses and implementing healthcare policy in the Navy

  • Providing spiritual and pastoral counseling to those enlisted in the Navy

  • Handling and directing transport personnel, equipment and supplies

Frequently asked questions

How long am I required to serve as a Navy officer?

Your obligation to serve as a Navy officer may depend on a variety of factors. For example, if you choose to enter the Navy through an officer position, the Navy may require you to serve for three to five years. However, positions that require longer training may require longer service commitments.

Are there scholarships available for the NROTC program?

There are several scholarship programs available to help you pay for school, which can help you focus on your coursework rather than worrying about paying for your program. There are also financial reimbursement opportunities, salary advances and sign-on bonuses that you can receive. It may be helpful to review this information in detail with your recruiter.

Related: Guide to Scholarships: How They Work and Ways To Earn Them

What should I ask my recruiter?

Here are some examples of useful questions to ask your recruiter:

  • What are the details and qualifications for each specialty?

  • What are the current enlistment bonuses?

  • Do I get special enlistment if I've completed Junior ROTC or Navy Cadet training?

  • What is the possibility of overseas assignments?

  • What are the standards for grooming and attire?

  • Are there any educational benefits or off-duty education?

Please note that the company mentioned in this article is not affiliated with Indeed.

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