1. Your recruiter is going to lie to you
Whether it is intentional or not, I can guarantee that you will be misinformed about OCS as you make your way through the long application process.
Officer Candidate School is a large program, and there is a wealth of misinformation out there. You need to do your own research.Trust nobody’s words at face value. Double check every “fact” you are given.
For example, the Army OCS recruiter told me “if you don’t get accepted to Army OCS you automatically enlist.” The next time I came in, another recruiter told me the opposite. “Of course you’re not stuck enlisting. Why would we do that? Now sign here on the dotted line.”
I actually asked a guy who did OCS, and he said that he wasn’t sure about the forced enlistment clause. He said he “thinks you might be able to get out of that enlistment thing.”
Needless to say, that informational mishap was a deal-breaker between Army OCS and me. I didn’t want to gamble with my future.
Most likely, the first wave of misinformation you will encounter will be in the form of your first recruiter—and it isn’t entirely his fault. Your recruiter—99% of the time—will be a non-commissioned officer (a higher-ranking enlisted who is the middle man between the low-ranking enlisted and the officer), and will have little-to-no actual knowledge about Officer Candidate School.
The typical recruiter spends all his time dealing with enlistees. There are specialized OCS recruiters, but my experience was that there are fewer of them, and it is harder to get in touch with them. If you walk into a recruiter station, you will likely be met with a typical, NCO recruiter.
This guy’s job is dependent on signing people to contracts. He will likely bullshit you to keep you interested, rather than openly admit he doesn’t know anything about OCS and send you to the Marines recruiter down the hall. Know this going in.
2. What you want to do is secondary to what the military wants
Let’s say, for example, that you want to do Military Intelligence, and all they need for that application board is Infantry Officers—guess what you’ll be doing? (Hint: it’s not Military Intelligence.)
If you desperately want to be a pilot, I recommend getting in touch with an OCS recruiter for your region, and tell him your situation. Tell him how it’s your childhood dream to fly an FA-18. It might help.
While it’s impossible to know for certain what the Navy (or any branch) will want at any given time, the recruiters will typically have an idea of which specialties the upcoming 2-3 boards will have a shortage. Some boards will inevitably need more of one Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) than others.
For example, there might be fifty pilot spots in your region for the April board and only fifteen in October. Maybe after the April board the Navy realized they suddenly needed more Intelligence Officers. Timing your application can be crucial to maximizing your chances.
If you start early, a good recruiter can help guide you to an application timeline that will put you in an advantageous position. My recruiter, LT Kalen Hickey was fantastic. He helped maximize my chances of getting accepted to OCS, and it was ultimately successful—despite a less-than-stellar academic record in a non-technical major. (Suck it Aerospace Engineers with bad eyesight!)
3. Contract lengths are longer than they seem
For example, an 8-year contract for a pilot is really a 10 year commitment. It is two years of flight school plus eight years (minimum) of actually flying.
Same thing goes for any branch that requires extensive training. The more time is invested in you, the more is expected in return. If the military offers to pay for you to get a Master’s degree in Russian Language, you can bet your bottom dollar that they will expect some additional years of service in return.
There is no such thing as a free lunch—especially in the U.S. Armed Forces.
4. Your entire education (probably) won’t be paid for by the military
As college tuitions have shot up, our nation’s G.I. Bill has struggled to keep up.
While it is true that tuition and fees for public Universities are—in theory—covered, the G.I. Bill does not account for the cost of living, textbooks, or other expenses associated with higher education.
I will say that the military does provide ways to pay for your education—National Guard, ROTC scholarships, etc.—but those usually come with strings attached—like an extension on your contract length.
Simply being a veteran isn’t enough to cover your education expenses anymore—especially if you plan on going to private school. Sorry if I have to be the one to break it to you.
5. Military Pay is confusing
The military pay chart is confusing as fuck. It is a jumble of numbers that go up as you move up, and to the right along the chart—up for rank, and right for cumulative years of service.
The chart itself is just a skeleton of the pay, however. It doesn’t include how much you will lose to taxes, and it doesn’t factor in the varying pay for active duty vs. reserve, or additional special incentive pay, like “hazardous duty” pay, for example. There is also additional money for dependents, and for cost of living overseas, and higher educational degrees, and hours in flight (if you are an Aviator/NFO), etc.
Basically, you will have no idea what you will be making. And nobody will give you a straight answer, because they likely won’t know either. But understand that Officers get paid significantly more than enlisted. An O-1, the lowest-ranking Officer, makes more money starting out than an E-6—a high-ranking NCO—will earn after 4 years (at that rank). Over time, a low-ranking officer will make more than an enlisted can ever expect to make—even with many more years of service.
I’m not sure what the average enlisted makes any more than I know what the Officers make. But know that the quality of living, and pay is (roughly) halved.