The Best ROTC Schools and Programs in the US

Many students choose to enroll in their school’s Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program for the financial, educational, and career benefits. The ROTC program goes back to 1819 and has supported over 600,000 commissions since. Through joining the leadership course, students are given the opportunity to become Air Force, Army, or Naval officers while completing a degree of their choosing. 

ROTC cadets take military science courses alongside their regular college classes with an expectation to enlist as an officer after graduation. Outside of ROTC training, students are encouraged to participate in the community through student organizations, competitions, and university events. Along with a guaranteed post-college career, students gain management and leadership skills useful in any field. Graduates can pursue a wide range of jobs within their field of service that match their interests. 

Joining the ROTC is an excellent choice for many students as an affordable way to attend college. These programs assist students through scholarships and loan repayment plans in exchange for military service after graduation. As a member of the military, graduates earn an average starting salary of $35,000 per year with exclusive benefits and sponsored housing.

With over 274 renowned academies to choose from, it can be challenging to decide which ROTC program is right for you. These eight schools won the 2021 General Douglas MacArthur Foundation Awards and were recognized as the top programs in the country. The MacArthur awards are granted to academies that accomplish the mission of training and commissioning skilled lieutenants who exemplify leadership excellence, hard work, and dedication. Here is the unranked list of the best ROTC schools and programs in the US.

Norwich University (Northfield, VT)

Norwich University is renowned as the birthplace of America’s Reserve Officers Training Corps. In 2016, the school celebrated 100 years of commissioned officer development. Students in any lifestyle, including Corps or civilian, can learn about leadership in the military profession. The school’s overall mission is to produce leaders for the nation’s Army, Navy, and Air Force.

The Army ROTC program at Norwich University is the oldest nationwide, whose rigorous curriculum has created many officers of distinction and character. The department also boasts the highest rate of active duty commissions in the state. Cadets learn from a team of professional officers, contractors, and civilians dedicated to their success. Outside of the classroom, cadets can participate in extracurricular activities such as the Mountain Cold Weather Company and study abroad opportunities.

Norwich University’s Air Force ROTC Detachment 867 is also nationally renowned. The program has commissioned more lieutenants than any other AFROTC Detachment in the northeast. Freshmen cadets are involved from their first semester, taking aerospace studies classes and a leadership laboratory. The program’s mission is to help cadets jumpstart their careers through academic funding, specialized training, professional development, and team-driven exercises.

University of New Hampshire (Durham, NH)

University of New Hampshire
Kylejtod, Congreve Across T Hall, CC BY-SA 2.5

At the University of New Hampshire, there are many benefits to joining the ROTC program. Members of the Air Force ROTC program can visit Air Force bases in the United States or overseas and participate in ROTC summer adventures. Upper-level cadets attend the Advanced Camp to solve a series of problems while leading a team of peers.

The Army ROTC is one of the largest providers of merit-based scholarships in the country, with thousands of awards every year. These awards can cover full tuition, room, and board, or a stipend. At UNH, ROTC cadets can have their college tuition fully paid for while taking ROTC classes that complement their academic major.

The ROTC program provides management experience useful as an officer or any future role, making UNH graduates highly sought-after candidates. In addition, they develop hands-on leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving abilities by running the cadet corps and other training exercises. Graduates can choose from various management-level positions in over 150 officer career paths that best suit their interests. In addition, cadets graduate with a network of ROTC and UNH alumni dedicated to their success.

Saint John’s University (Collegeville, MN)

The Fighting Saints Army ROTC Battalion draws in cadets from Saint John’s University, the College of Saint Benedict, and Saint Cloud State University. The program has commissioned approximately 2,600 officers who show a dedication to leadership and service.

One of Saint John’s ROTC program benefits is the high-quality faculty and staff dedicated to training cadets. The cadre includes many professors of military science, executive officers, and supply technicians that have first-hand experience in the field. Lieutenant Colonel Steve Beard has 15 years of experience as an officer and is a dedicated professor in the school’s military science program. He has won numerous awards for his service, including the Bronze Star Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, and the Navy Commendation Medal.

Outside of their classroom education, there are many student clubs that cadets can participate in, such as leadership organizations and athletic events. The Ranger Challenge is a varsity sport that requires yearlong training that challenges cadets’ mental and physical toughness. The team competes in various events and has found success due to the program’s rigor. In 2021, Saint John’s University Army ROTC won first place in both the Task Force and Brigade Ranger Challenges.

Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, CA)

Santa Clara University
Cristiano Tomás, St. Joseph’s Hall, CC BY-SA 4.0

The distinguished Bronco Battalion Army ROTC at Santa Clara University provides cadets with a solid foundation of training. Students learn how to be successful officers and how to remain calm under professors. As a result, many graduates hold top positions in the armed forces, including Secretary of Defense, Lieutenant General, Major General, and Captain.

Upon graduation from the Army ROTC program, cadets become Second Lieutenants and are commissioned into the Active Army, Army Reserve, or Army National Guard to become leaders for life. At Santa Clara University, fourth-year students are given the tools necessary for managerial success. Senior cadets are taught how to train, lead, and develop their younger peers through the military science program.

Cadets can gain further hands-on experience through Army training schools. One popular option is the Basic Airborne School, a three-week training program teaching students how to properly exit a plane and use a parachute, earning them the Parachutist Badge. Alternatively, cadets can participate in the Jungle Operations Training Course located in Hawaii. The program focuses on jungle mobility, waterborne operations, and survival training. Along with training schools, cadets can participate in funded immersion trips to dozens of countries.

Bowie State University (Bowie, MD)

Bowie State University
Acutair1, Bowie State University Science Building, CC BY-SA 4.0

The ROTC program at Bowie State University has unique training opportunities to enrich each cadet’s experience. These include instruction in rappelling, land navigation, swim, and clinical training. One popular activity is the BSU Army ROTC Color Guard and Drill Team which is one of the most honorable military traditions. The group provides ceremonial support to various campus events, community functions, sporting games, and formal events.

Current sophomores have the opportunity to attend the Army ROTC Cadet Basic Camp at Fort Knox. Cadets who choose to enroll accept the mission to lead the finest soldiers in the world. As an additional incentive, BSU awards a $5,000 signing bonus to students who successfully complete the program and further their military education.

The ROTC program is continuously seeking ways to improve their education even further. In February of 2020, the Bowie State University Army ROTC Leaders’ Forum was held to gain insights into cadet, cadre, and staff opinions to benefit the program. This leadership panel was led and organized by BSU ROTC alumni. The panel provided personal and professional insights from ROTC, BSU, Army, and civilian lives that will be used to make the program even more effective.

University of Tennessee (Knoxville, TN)

University of Tennessee
Jake Sumner, Creative Communications, University of Tennessee., College Exterior, CC BY 3.0

The AFROTC at the University of Tennessee produces leaders for the Air Force while allowing students to complete their degree. The weekly time commitment for the program is typically 3-6 hours but can reach up to 8 hours for those in leadership roles. Outside of AFROTC responsibilities, cadets are encouraged to be involved in campus life through sports, fraternities or sororities, marching band, or employment.

The Lead Lab is a leadership laboratory planned and run by junior and senior cadets at UT. The entire cadet corps in uniform attend the course to learn from their peers. Cadets learn the basics of Air Force drill and ceremony, customs, and hands-on skills necessary for leaders in the field.

At the University of Tennessee, the Army ROTC program was the first out of all the state universities nationwide whose hands-on experiences give graduates an edge in meeting their professional goals. The robust curriculum includes classes in leadership, fitness, and military history. Graduates from the ROTC program can choose from a wide range of 120 careers in the Army Reserve and 150 in the active Army. These opportunities include law enforcement, engineering, law, and medicine.

University of South Florida (Tampa, FL)

University of South Florida
James E. Scholz, USF Library, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of South Florida is one of the 50 campuses nationwide that hosts ROTC programs from all of the armed services, including Army, Naval, and Air Force. The NROTC’s mission is to educate and train students for leadership roles in an increasingly technical Navy and Marine Corps. The curriculum develops cadets mentally, morally, and physically while teaching them the highest ideals of duty. Graduates from the program serve in highly regarded teams such as the Marine Corps, naval aviation, submarines upon commission from the Naval ROTC program.

To best serve the three branches of service, USF houses the Joint Military Leadership Center to prepare future commissioned officers to lead in diverse environments. The unique state-of-the-art training facility sponsors joint activities and inter-service cooperation. One popular activity is the Commanders’ Cup, a long series of competitive events between the ROTC units to determine who will win bragging rights and the Cup. These events promote friendly inter-service competition, service pride, and camaraderie. In addition, cadets appreciate the capabilities, limitations, and culture of each branch of military service.

University of Oklahoma (Norman, OK)

University of Oklahoma
Andrew Goidell, Holmberg Hall, CC BY 2.5

At the University of Oklahoma, the Air Force, Army, and Naval ROTC programs open the door to many exciting opportunities. Each student is given the chance to grow individually while gaining a sense of camaraderie with fellow cadets who share similar values. ROTC cadets can explore their passions freely, knowing that they will graduate with a job lined up in one of the most high-tech organizations in the world. In addition, they have the opportunity to participate in many real-world activities such as base visits, paintball, expeditionary days, and guess lectures from past and present leaders.

Naval ROTC Midshipmen have access to facilities that support their moral, mental, and physical development. Practically every cadet from the University of Oklahoma will join one of the department’s teams, such as the Color Guard, the Close Order Drill Team, or the Endurance Team. 

In addition, students are offered specialized advising sessions unmatched by any other department in the university. Cadets are matched with an active-duty commissioned Naval Officer whose mission is to mold aspiring Naval Officers. They provide academic advice, tutoring, and assistance in daily ROTC life to see their cadets succeed.