Career Development

Marine Corps Promotions: How Enlisted USMC Promotions Work

January 3, 2021

The Marine Corps promotion structure is comprised of a highly-organized multi-rank system for enlisted 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 makes it easy to determine exactly what you need to do to move up through the ranks as an enlisted Marine. In this article, we'll discuss how Marine promotions work, the criteria for promotions and what you need to do to get one.

How Marine promotions work

When you enter the Marines, you begin as a Private, also known as the E-1 level. Each time you are promoted, you move up a rank, from E-1 to E-2, E-2 to E-3, etc., all the way up to E-9, or a Sergeant Major. For the first few levels, promotions happen almost automatically. Once you meet the standard requirements, you are automatically moved up from an E-1 to an E-2, and then from an E-2 to an E-3.

After that, promotions happen based on need and suitability. A Marine at an E-3 level cannot get promoted to an E-4 level unless there is an opening within the Marine Corps, and the same goes for all the levels above E-4. For example, if someone at the E-7 rank decides to retire, that would clear a spot for someone at the E-6 rank to move up. This would then have a ripple effect down through the ranks, allowing an E-5 to become an E-6, an E-4 to become an E-5, and finally an E-3 to become an E-4.

However, these promotions don't happen as soon as one person leaves. They 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 to move up. Here is the average amount of time it takes to achieve each rank:

Level Average Time
E-2. 6 months
E-3. 14 months.
E-4. 26 months.
E-5. 4.8 years.
E-6. 10.4 years.
E-7. 14.8 years.
E-8. 18.8 years.
E-9. 22.1 years.

Related: Veteran Job Search Guide

What are the Marine promotion criteria?

To get promoted in the Marine Corps, you need to meet a few requirements. First, you need to have served a certain amount of time based on the level you're trying to reach. These are known as 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 requirements to move up to a certain level are as follows:

Level TIS. TIG.
E-2. 6 months 6 months
E-3. 9 months. 8 months
E-4. 12 months. 8 months
E-5. 24 months 12 months
E-6. 4 years. 24 months
E-7. 6 years. 3 years.
E-8. 8 years. 4 years.
E-9. 10 years. 3 years.

In addition to time, there are a few other requirements you'll need to reach to get promoted beyond the E-3 level. The Marine Corps uses a point system to determine which members are best suited for a promotion. Having the highest score among your grade-level will give you the best chance of getting a promotion.

The Marines award points in the following categories:

  • Rifle marksmanship score
  • Average duty performance rating
  • Physical fitness score
  • Average conduct rating
  • Self-education
  • Recruitment referrals

Related: How to Show a Promotion on Your Resume

How can I get promoted?

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

  • Be patient.
  • Perform well at your duties.
  • Recruit others.
  • Meritorious promotions.

Be patient

In most cases, you can't get promoted without meeting the minimum requirements for both time-in-service and time-in-grade. You won't even be considered for a Marines Corp 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. Each month you serve gives you points, so anyone who has been around longer than you will have an advantage.

Related: Veteran Career Advice: Making a Transition to Civilian Life

Perform well at your duties

You should aim to always do your best. When you finally meet the time requirements for a promotion, you'll want to have as many points as possible. Use your time in the Marines to take additional classes, such as the Marine Non-Commissioned Officer course, the Senior NCO Career Distance Education Program, or attend the 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. So, 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 Marine Corps recruitment office and they end up becoming a Marine, you will receive bonus points. However, you can only get these points if you are at the E-3 or E-4 level. Each recruit you bring in will grant you 20 bonus points. If you know anyone interested in joining the 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 Marine can handle the duties of a higher rank, not as any special kind of reward. To be eligible for a meritorious promotion you will still need to meet some TIS requirements.