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The Steps to Becoming an Enlisted Armed Forces Member and Taking the ASVAB

So, you’re thinking about a career as an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces.

Well, that’s awesome!

You are in good company. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, the total number of enlisted personnel in the U.S. Armed Forces is 1,085, 286, as of February 2017.

And don’t worry, there is plenty of room for you to find a steady job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, all Armed Forces services have needs to fill entry-level and professional positions as current members of the Armed Forces move up through the ranks, leave the service, or retire.

Let us cover the initial steps on this exciting career path together so you can get a better understanding of what you’re getting into.

We are talking here about your career for possibly the next 10 years, at the very least, and even the rest of your life. That is exciting and nerve-racking at the same time.

Let’s get to it then.

How do you become an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces?

To join the military, applicants must meet age, education, aptitude, physical, and character requirements. These requirements vary by branch of service and for officers and enlisted members.

Although entry requirements for each service vary, certain qualifications for enlistment are common to all branches:

  • Minimum of 17 years of age
  • U.S. citizenship or permanent resident status
  • Have a high school diploma or equivalent
  • Never convicted of a felony
  • Able to pass a medical exam

Applicants who are 17 years old must have the consent of a parent or legal guardian before entering the military.

Age limits for entering active-duty service are as follows:

  • In the Army, the maximum age is 34.
  • In the Navy, the maximum age is 34.
  • In the Marine Corps, the maximum age is 29.
  • In the Air Force, the maximum age is 39.
  • In the Coast Guard, the maximum age is 27.

All applicants must meet certain physical requirements for height, weight, vision, and overall health. Officers must be U.S. citizens. Officers and some enlisted members must be able to obtain a security clearance. Candidates interested in becoming officers through training in the federal service academies must be unmarried and without dependents.

Service members are assigned an occupational specialty based on their aptitude, previous training, and the needs of their branch of service. All members must sign a contract and commit to a minimum term of service.

A recruiter can help a prospective service member determine whether he or she qualifies for enlistment or as an officer. A recruiter can also explain the various enlistment options and describe the military occupational specialties.

Women are now eligible to enter all military specialties.

For more information, read How to Become an Enlisted Member of the US Armed Forces.

Become an enlisted member

Prospective recruits who wish to enlist must take a placement exam called the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is used to determine an applicant’s suitability for military occupational specialties.

A recruiter can schedule applicants to take the ASVAB without any obligation to join the military. Many high schools offer the exam as a way for students to explore the possibility of a military career. The selection for a certain job specialty is based on ASVAB test results, the physical requirements for the job, and the needs of the service.

Applicants who decide to join the military must pass the physical examination before signing an enlistment contract. The contract involves a number of enlistment options, such as the length of active-duty or reserve-duty time, the length and kind of job training, and the amount of bonuses that may be earned, if any. Most active-duty programs have first-term enlistments of 4 years, although there are some 2-, 3-, and 6-year programs.

All branches of the Armed Services offer a delayed-entry program allowing candidates to postpone entry to active duty for up to one year after enlisting. High school students can enlist during their senior year and enter service after graduation. Others may delay entry because their desired job training is not immediately available or because they need time to arrange their personal affairs.

What type of schooling does an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces need?

All branches of the Armed Forces require their members to be high school graduates or have equivalent credentials.

What type of training do enlisted members of the U.S. Armed Forces undergo?

Newly enlisted members of the Armed Forces undergo initial-entry training, better known as basic training or boot camp. Basic training includes courses in military skills and protocols and lasts 7 to 13 weeks, including a week of orientation and introduction to military life. Basic training also includes weapons training, team building, and rigorous physical exercise designed to improve strength and endurance.

Following basic training, enlisted members attend technical schools for additional training that prepares them for a particular military occupational specialty. This formal training period generally lasts from 10 to 20 weeks. Training for certain occupations—nuclear power plant operator, for example—may take as long as a year. In addition to getting technical instruction, military members receive on-the-job training at their first duty assignment.

What are the types of certifications and requirements needed to become an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces?

Prospective recruits who wish to enlist must take a placement exam called the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), which is used to determine an applicant’s suitability for military occupational specialties.

Depending on the occupational specialty, members of the military may need to have and maintain other civilian licenses or certifications.

What are the advancement opportunities for enlisted members of the U.S. Armed Forces?

Each branch of the military has different criteria for determining the promotion of personnel. Criteria for promotion may include time in service and in grade, job performance, a fitness report, and passing scores on written exams. Enlisted personnel can be promoted to higher ranks, which may include serving in a supervisory position and being in charge of junior enlisted members.

Each military service may have other advancement opportunities for its enlisted personnel. For example, enlisted personnel may become warrant officers if they complete a bachelor’s degree, have several years of experience in higher enlisted positions, and meet age and physical requirements. The Army offers a direct enlistment option to become a warrant officer aviator.

How long does it take to become an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces?

The steps involved in becoming an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces and the corresponding durations are:

Step 1. Taking the ASVAB: 2 to 3 hours

Step 2. Passing the physical examination (MEPS testing): 1 to 2 days

Step 3. Meeting with a counselor and determining a career: 1 day

Step 4. Taking the oath of enlistment: 1 day

Step 5. After the MEPS:

  1. Direct ship – The recruit reports to Basic Training, which lasts for 7 to 13 weeks. This is followed by additional training for the occupational specialty, which lasts for 10 to 20 weeks.
  2. Delayed Entry Program (DEP) – The recruit commits to Basic Training at a time in the future, generally within a year.

How much does it cost to become an enlisted member of the U.S. Armed Forces?

There is no fee for the ASVAB. You might incur costs in traveling to the test center location or during your preparations for the exam.

The Armed Forces pay you a fixed salary during the basic and advanced training periods. These depend on a number of factors like your rank of service and your marital status.

What is the ASVAB?

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is a multiple choice test, administered by the United States Military Entrance Processing Command, used to determine qualification for enlistment in the United States Armed Forces. It is often offered to American high school students when they are in the 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, though anyone eligible for enlistment may take it.

The test is typically administered in a computerized format at Military Entrance Processing Stations, known as MEPS, or at a satellite location called a Military Entrance Test (MET) site. The ASVAB is administered by computer at the MEPS, while a written version is given at most MET sites.

How many questions are on the ASVAB?

The computerized version of the ASVAB (CAT-ASVAB) has 135 multiple-choice questions, not including any tryout questions that each examinee receives across different subjects.

The written version (MET-Site ASVAB) has 225 multiple-choice questions.

What are the Categories on the ASVAB?

  • General Science (GS) – Knowledge of physical and biological sciences
  • Arithmetic Reasoning (AR) – Ability to solve arithmetic word problems
  • Word Knowledge (WK) – Ability to select the correct meaning of words presented in context and to identify the best synonym for a given word
  • Paragraph Comprehension (PC) – Ability to obtain information from written passages
  • Mathematics Knowledge (MK) – Knowledge of high school mathematics principles
  • Electronics Information (EI) – Knowledge of electricity and electronics
  • Automotive Information (AI) – Knowledge of automobile technology
  • Shop Information (SI) – Knowledge of tools and shop terminology and practices
  • Mechanical Comprehension (MC) – Knowledge of mechanical and physical principles
  • Assembling Objects (AO) – Ability to determine how an object will look when its parts are put together

The break-up of questions across these categories differs between the CAT-ASVAB and the MET-Site tests.

How long does the ASVAB typically last?

On average, it takes about 2 hours to complete the CAT-ASVAB. Test scores are available immediately following the testing session.

The total time for the MET-Site ASVAB, including administrative tasks and instructions, is 3 to 4 hours. After the test session, completed answer sheets are sent to the MEPS to be scanned and scored. This process usually takes a few days.

What is the passing grade needed for the ASVAB?

Your scores from four of the ten tests in ASVAB (AR, WK, PC, and MK) are combined to compute your Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) score. The AFQT score is used to determine your eligibility for enlistment into the Armed Forces. Scores on all the tests are used to determine the best job for you in the military.

The AFQT score is reported as a percentile between 1 and 99. The minimum score for qualification for enlistment varies according to the branch of service and whether the candidate has a high school diploma.

How many times can you take the ASVAB?

After you take your initial ASVAB, you must wait one calendar month to retake the test. You must wait an additional calendar month to retest a second time. After that, you must wait six calendar months to retake the ASVAB. Your scores may be used for enlistment for up to two years from the date of testing.