U.S. Marine Corps Promotions: How To Advance in Enlisted USMC Ranks

By Indeed Editorial Team

October 12, 2021

The U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) promotion structure is a highly organized multi-rank system for enlisted U.S. Marines. Based upon certain criteria–which include time in service and value of work–you can move up through the ranks to better-paying, higher-responsibility positions.

While similar to the concept of private sector promotions, advancement in the USMC is more specific than most. This precise structure determines exactly what you need to do to move up through the ranks as an enlisted U.S. Marine. In this article, we explain how U.S. Marine promotions work, the criteria for promotions and what you need to do to get one.

Related: What Are the Branches of the U.S. Military?

How U.S. Marine promotions work

When you join the Marines, you begin as a private at the E-1 pay grade. The designation after the title denotes the rank’s pay grade. Pay grades may be the same for several ranks based on time in service. Each time you are promoted, you move up a pay grade, from E-1 to E-2, etc., up to E-9, or a sergeant major. For the first three ranks, promotions happen automatically once you meet the standard requirements.

After that, promotions happen based on need and suitability. Making advanced ranks in the U.S. Marines goes strictly by the numbers needed in the higher ranks. A Marine lance corporal cannot get promoted to corporal unless there is an opening within the U.S. Marine Corps, and the same goes for all the levels above corporal.

For example, if a gunnery sergeant retires, it clears a spot for a staff sergeant to move up. This would then have a ripple effect down through the ranks, affecting ranks from sergeant to lance corporal. Promotions for staff sergeant to sergeant major, with pay grades E-6 through E-9, typically happen once a year. The Commandant of the Marine Corps convenes a promotion board during which time they look at the vacancies and decide who gets promoted.

Promotion criteria

To get promoted in the U.S. Marine Corps, you must meet certain requirements. First, you need Time-in-Service (TIS) (the total amount of time you've been in the Marines) and Time-in-Grade (TIG) (the amount of time you've been at your current level). The higher the rank, the more additional requirements that must be met.

The U.S. Marine Corps uses a point system to determine which members are best suited for a promotion beyond the lance corporal rank. Points are awarded in the following categories:

  • Rifle marksmanship score

  • Average duty performance rating

  • Physical fitness score

  • Average conduct rating

  • Self-education

  • Recruitment referrals

Staff noncommissioned officers must also complete certain educational and training programs.

Marine Corps Enlisted Ranks
Rank Pay Grade Abbreviation Minimum TIS Minimum TIG Average Time for Promotion
Private E-1 Pvt
Private First Class E-2 PFC Six months Six months Six months
Lance Corporal E-3 LCpl Nine months Eight months 14 months
Noncommissioned officers (NCOs)
Corporal E-4 Cpl 12 months Eight months 26 months
Sergeant E-5 Sgt 24 months 12 months 4.8 years
Staff noncommissioned officers (SNCOs)
Staff Sergeant E-6 SSgt Four years Two years 10.4 years
Must complete the Marine Noncommissioned (MCI) Course, Noncommissioned Officer Basic Nonresident Program or the Sergeants Nonresident Program/Sergeants Distance Education Program
Gunnery Sergeant E-7 GySgt Six years Three years 14.8 years
- Gunnery sergeants indicate on their annual evaluations their preferred promotional track: Master sergeant or first sergeant
- Must complete the Senior NCO (SNCO) Career Nonresident Program/SNCO Career Distance Education Program
Master Sergeant E-8 MSgt Eight years Four years 18.8 years
- Must complete the Senior NCO (SNCO) Career Nonresident Program/SNCO Career Distance Education Program and the Warfighting Skills Program
First Sergeant E-8 1Sgt Eight years Four years 18.8 years
-Must complete either the SNCO Career Nonresident Program/SNCO Career Distance Education Program or the SNCO Resident Course, and SNCO Advanced Nonresident Program/SNCO Advanced Distance Education Program, and Warfighting Skills Program, and Staff Noncommissioned Officer Advanced Resident Course
Master Gunnery Sergeant E-9 MSgt 10 years Three years 22.1 years
Sergeant Major E-9 SgtMaj 10 years Three years 22.1 years

Read more: U.S. Marine Corps Ranks Explained

How can I get promoted?

To get promoted within the U.S. Marine Corps, there are a few things you can do:

Be patient

In most cases, you can't get promoted without meeting the TIS and TIG requirements. You won't even be considered for a USMC promotion until you meet these minimum thresholds, so you just have to wait. Also, at the higher levels, you can't get promoted unless there is an opening, and even then, seniority often takes precedent.

Perform well at your duties

You should aim to always do your best. When you TIG and TIS requirements for a promotion, you want as many points as possible. Use your time in the U.S. Marines to take additional classes, such as the U.S. Marine Non-Commissioned Officer course, the Senior NCO Career Distance Education Program or attend drill sergeant school. Many of the upper levels require completion of these courses before you can advance, so spend as much time as you can furthering your education.

Each Marine also has their own job, known as military occupational specialty (MOS). Performing the duties within the job at a high standard will award you more points. Your grade is an average of all your grades given since your last promotion. Even if you start off slow at your new rank, you can improve your average score over time by performing well.

Recruit others

If you refer someone to a U.S. Marine Corps recruitment office and they end up becoming a U.S. Marine, you will receive bonus points. However, you can only get these points if you are a lance corporal or corporal. Each recruit you bring in will grant you 20 bonus points. If you know anyone interested in joining the U.S. Marines, be sure that they mention you when they are going through the recruitment process.

Meritorious promotions

In special circumstances, commanders can promote a Marine meritoriously. Meritorious promotions are given out solely when a commander feels the U.S. Marine can handle the duties of a higher rank, not as any special kind of reward. To be eligible for a meritorious promotion, you must still meet TIS requirements.

Read more: Best Jobs in the Marines

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