#091 How ROTC Programs Train Future Officers & Help Pay For College with Lisa Rielage Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins  00:41

The Reserve Officers Training Corps or ROTC, college programs offer an option that combines higher education with leadership development and service to our country. For those interested in the many benefits, including discipline and structure, camaraderie, and physical fitness, this option can be an additional pathway to helping fund college. My guest, Lisa, relax, is a Naval Academy graduate, military spouse and an expert advisor on all things service academies, including being up to speed on ROTC scholarships in recent changes. I’m Lisa Mark Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Welcome back, Lisa, because we had you on earlier this year to just really give us a super solid overview is complicated, um, the military service academies and I was like, Okay, we need to have you back on.


Lisa Rielage  01:55

Well, I really hope that was helpful to the folks who had a chance to listen to it. And if they didn’t listen to it, go back and check that episode out. You know, my background. I’m a Naval Academy graduate, but I’m also married to a ROTC alum and the mom of two ROTC trained officers. And I’ve always been the representative in the corner saying, oh, yeah, but do you also know about ROTC? Have you applied to that? Because it’s such a powerful pathway to becoming an officer in the military. And lots of kids don’t consider it because they don’t really know what it is.


Lisa Marker Robbins  02:29

They’re just focused probably on military service academies. And it’s so competitive to get in. And it can also,


Lisa Rielage  02:37

so yeah, and we’ll talk about the competitive level for ROTC. Yeah, on one end, it’s open door on another end, it is just as competitive. I think the issue with ROTC and we’re gonna say it different ways, because there’s two ways of saying it and none is really the right way. So ROTC or ROTC. Students are often unaware of what the college option is for ROTC because they think it’s just like their high school ROTC program. And if they decided that wasn’t an option they wanted then they’re writing off our college ROTC entirely. And it’s just not as visible because college ROTC programs are smaller. They’re 30 people to maybe 1000 people at a senior military college like Texas a&m. They don’t have a big Army Navy football team between ROTC units, that gets played on national television. It’s much more diluted, and it’s easier to overlook when you’re in this college search and application process.


Lisa Marker Robbins  03:39

Or I mean, as you said, that piece about high school ROTC programs, my kids high school didn’t have any high school or purchase the program. So this really could be completely off the radar to some families. So let’s just start with what are college ROTC programs? And really, like, who are they for? Who are they a good fit for?


Lisa Rielage  04:06

Yeah, so they are a really good fit for students who would like to become military officers after they complete college, but don’t want to attend an academy or weren’t admitted to an academy, but they still have that desire for service. They look at the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Space Force. Yes, I got all five. As I say, Yes, this is something I’m really interested in doing. But I still want to wear civilian clothes to class in a dorm, not have someone yelling at me at six o’clock in the morning. So they’re merging a training program and their civilian college experience


Lisa Marker Robbins  04:50

or have that typical. That’s where Mike if somebody’s listening to this episode right now, and they didn’t listen to your first episode with us a military service academies I think what we talked about at the beginning of that one, which really dove into how the military service academy is different, how it is regimented, how it is very disciplined, how you have to grow and your levels of freedom, that would be a good heart to go back into again, say we’re going to link to that in the show notes. But listen to that episode, because that can help you differentiate like what you just shared right now, as far as, hey, you still want to serve. But you just want to different experience in that Military Academy experience.


Lisa Rielage  05:38

Exactly. Right. So an academy is immersive. You are 24/7 in the military, and 24/7 college students. So the ROTC programs, you are a college student. You’re enrolled in that college you are no kidding. A college student at University of Maryland, Purdue, MIT are some really great schools North Carolina a&t. You are also enrolled in the ROTC unit, one of your classes, every semester is going to be a military science class, you will have military lab about once a semester to maybe once a month, you’ll have a training on the weekend that you do. That could be a one day training or a weekend training. And so you are also getting trained in the skills you need to have four years later when you become a junior officer in the military. But it’s not an everyday thing. Okay, I


Lisa Marker Robbins  06:40

was going to ask you that there’s so it’s not going to be a seven day a week like you have to go no, not


Lisa Rielage  06:45

at all. It’s typically classes would be two days a week, Tuesday, Thursday is really common. If you attend a school that has students from several colleges coming together for their military training through a Crosstown agreement, then maybe you meet only one day a week for a longer period of time to accommodate people’s commuting requirements. So let’s


Lisa Marker Robbins  07:10

talk about before we talk about this scholarship possibility with this. Let’s talk about can anybody do ROTC? At what point in your college experience do you have to decide that this might be something you want? Is it something you have to know going in as a freshman?


Lisa Rielage  07:30

So students often enroll from high school. So they are going in freshman year and they’re they know that they want to do ROTC, they’re enrolling in the unit. Some units have a week or so of summer training before the school year starts up. So if you know this is something you want to do, get ahead of that and make sure that you are communicating with the unit at the college that you’re attending. And there are not ROTC units at every college. That’s also important. If this is something you want, at least to be part of your college search process. Navy ROTC is at roughly 100 colleges around the US Air Force and Army are available at more of them. But still not every college. So maybe you want to make sure you’re attending a college that has the program you have as your goal. If you get to college and you think, Wow, this ROTC thing looks really cool. I didn’t know that was an option, you can still join, you might have to double up on your classes and take a freshman and a sophomore military science class at the same time, or there might be some other way of catching up. Typically, students have to have made the commitment to join ROTC by sophomore year because there is a process of being accepted for advanced standing, which is the junior and senior year level. At that point, the student is absolutely committed to military service. And there is also a bit of a selection process. Not everyone who started in ROTC will make that advanced standing level.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:02

If they don’t make the advanced standing level, do they, they’re still in ROTC, but they’re not. Now you


Lisa Rielage  09:08

have to have been entered in standing junior or senior year or you’re done. Okay. Yeah.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:13

Okay. Okay, that makes it can. So if you’re going to a college that has ROTC, not all of them, have them. And you’re interested in this. Is there an application process? Or is it open enrollment?


Lisa Rielage  09:29

There is an application but if you meet the basic requirements, you can enroll in the unit.


Lisa Marker Robbins  09:34

Okay, so you you have to so there is


Lisa Rielage  09:37

a form out, you don’t just fill up and sit out in the classroom. So think of it maybe as a club sport that takes all covers, as long as ya know the basics of the sport. At that would maybe be an analogy that Yeah, it’s pretty open in terms of joining the unit. But the scholarship requirements that is quite competitive. That’s the A


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:00

service requirement is so you’ve made it to advanced standing junior senior year. And now you’re graduating and you’re going and for your service requirement, is it the same length of time as a military academies?


Lisa Rielage  10:15

Students should think of it as being roughly the same. There are some variations within ROTC that don’t exist from an academy, like commissioning into the National Guard through Army ROTC that might have a smaller, shorter service requirement. But roughly five years active duty three years reserves 10 If you’re going into aviation, that’s a good rule of thumb. Read the fine print before you sign.


Lisa Marker Robbins  10:44

Yes, as you should always do, I’m friend. Okay, so now, let’s talk about the scholarship. Peace out. Okay. Just you lead us I’ll ask a question. So I don’t know enough to start us out.


Lisa Rielage  10:59

Let me start by saying I’m not sure I’m a specific enough about this. Each branch of the military has their own ROTC program. Navy has a ROTC program. Army has a ROTC program. Air Force has a ROTC program, the applications, the units are distinct. If you’re in a Navy ROTC unit, you’re going into either the Navy or the Marine Corps. If you’re in an Army ROTC unit, you’re going army Army Reserves or National Guard. They each have a scholarship program, that scholarship can pay, depending on the service up to full tuition and fees for four years. That’s a really good job. Yeah, the scholarships are competitive. The criteria for those scholarships vary according to the service. So Navy is going to prioritize people who are going in to be engineers, and STEM majors. Army doesn’t have that same requirement. So they’re looking at, yes, academics matter. But leadership, athleticism, your fitness level, also really significant. They don’t care if you’re an engineer or not. You can be a business major Navy for scholarship purposes, is not going to offer very many, if any scholarships, business majors. That scholarship process for the Navy opens up in spring of junior year for the Army and the Air Force. It’s summer before senior year, that review boards tend to open up in October of senior year. And there are multiple review boards for the scholarship. I think it’s good for a student to get in. on the early side, you definitely don’t want to be late because a late past the deadline, application is not going to get considered at all. There’s no oopsies


Lisa Marker Robbins  12:54

I’m going to I’m going to interrupt and say like this, again, takes me back to that previous episode that we did, where you just really emphasize the application process for military service academies period. They’re going to start before your peers are doing college applications and essays. So whether you’re looking at service academy, and now I’m hearing you again, or ROTC scholarship interest, not ROTC itself, but if you’re interested in ROTC paying for your college, then hey, people that you’re going to shoot need to be aware of the timeline and be ready to go much before your peers who are just going to college. Yeah,


Lisa Rielage  13:37

this is a really good task to work on and complete over the summer, before senior year starts. Because that first review board for the scholarships they tend to be reading in October. So if you have in your mind, for example, oh, I’m going to do my early decision early action applications. Then I’m gonna see what happens. And then I’ll work on my my ROTC scholarship. Okay, now you’re talking about December, it’s the holidays. Maybe you get distracted with travel over the holidays. Now it’s January of it, the new semester has started up. Now you’re down to like a week or two before the application closes. And you don’t really have time to complete all of the requirements, the fitness tests, asking your teachers for letters of recommendation, writing the required essays for the scholarship program. So procrastination is not your friend and anything related to college admissions, but it’s definitely not your friend here.


Lisa Marker Robbins  14:34

Yet well, and procrastination in the military just like don’t belong in the same sentence. Anyway.


Lisa Rielage  14:41

So this is a good process to work on consistently through the summer. Folks who listen to the program on the academies, they heard us talk about the need for leadership, that leadership is something that you develop over time that it’s demonstrated by taking initiative to do things that need to be done. That’s not something you’re going to suddenly produce in October of senior year. There is a fitness requirement, you’re not going to suddenly a week before the fitness test, get good at running a mile, mile and a half or doing pull ups. So you need to look at what the fitness test requirements are for the scholarship program and be ordained. distantly, they also have a fitness test and Okay, so to make it more complicated, the ROTC fitness tests are not only different from their academy fitness test, they’re different from each other. Oh, great. So, you know, that’s another thing where the procrastination is not going to help you. If you’re trying to apply to an academy and multiple ROTC programs. You’re looking at several distinct fitness tests that you need to do, you’re not gonna crank them all out with a good score on the same afternoon.


Lisa Marker Robbins  15:58

Right. So and I want to go back to what you were saying earlier, like you on the the different ROTC programs, just because a university has an Army ROTC program does not mean that they’re going to have the Navy program, right? That’s


Lisa Rielage  16:15

correct. So there are some colleges typically a flagship public university that might have all three, Penn State, Texas a&m, Virginia Tech, a Cal Berkeley, for example. But it’s much more common that they only have one. And you might have colleges that are near each other that are in a consortium or that have a Crosstown agreement. So I’ll give, for example, called a tag Holy Cross. Holy Cross is the host unit for Navy ROTC students at Wooster, polytech, who want to be a Navy ROTC, they drive Crosstown and do their navy classes, a Holy Cross students who want to be an Air Force ROTC, they have that reverse commute. from Holy Cross to Wooster at some schools, you just don’t have the option of doing an ROTC program. Oberlin has no association with ROTC at all. So if you go to Oberlin this isn’t a pathway to commission that you’re going to be able to pursue.


Lisa Marker Robbins  17:20

Okay, thanks, says, you know, when we are when you and I are both advising families that we work with students that we work with sophomore, really junior year about college visits, and, you know, okay, sign up for your college visits, if you want to get on Batum first online, you know, get on campus, you know, do that info session and the campus tour and I with my college major and career obsession and all the work I do in my launch Career Clarity course. You know, I always encourage them like do the college major close up, go to the pickier college visit day on a day that the School of Business is having their special session, right? Get to know, how would you tell high school sophomore, junior, to vet to learn more about ROTC programs like do they have open houses and


Lisa Rielage  18:15

so things are here. They’re less likely to have a really big open house day, although I have seen ROTC units that have a table out during like an admitted students day. So that’s a thing, okay. But what I would tell students is, don’t be afraid of the ROTC unit staff. Yeah, their lieutenants and colonels and captains. Don’t be scared of them because they’re not only to train, the college cadets and midshipmen that are in the unit, but also to talk to interested students. I have never called or dropped in on a ROTC unit that I’ve not found someone who’s willing to talk to me. Sometimes I sent I talk to them for 90 minutes, sometimes longer. They want to communicate what their program is like they want to answer questions, because they know the message isn’t out there.


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:08

Unless understood, even me. You know, we’re encouraging visits to colleges, and this is way less understood than the college admission process by the particular families.


Lisa Rielage  19:18

You know, and one thing I would tell students if, you know, I’m looking at doing some visits and some of the dates I want to visit colleges, be admissions tours or reading on those dates. If you’re interested in ROTC call the ROTC unit email the ROTC unit, say, Hey, I’m going to be on campus this date, would there be a cadet or a member of staff who could talk to me and that can be a way that you get some face time a direct interaction with someone who’s on campus, even if that admissions office is not able to support your visit on that day?


Lisa Marker Robbins  19:55

Actually, it’s amazing advice. I mean, truly anytime we can get one on one You know, it’s funny when you said like, don’t be afraid of these people. Even you know, with college admissions officers, kids can feel intimidated. And I’m like, I’m just gonna repeat to everybody, these people like teenagers and young adults, or they wouldn’t be working on college campuses so,


Lisa Rielage  20:18

and their role is to communicate what their college is like what their ROTC program is like to students who might be interested in joining. So you’re just connecting with them and giving them the opportunity to tell you why they like where they are. All of the officers that I talked to who are in ROTC units are serving military officers. So we not only talk about their ROTC unit, but we talk about what they do in the Air Force, what they’ve done in the army, why they chose that career path. But the career path for current cadets and midshipmen to go into a similar career path might be like, it’s their great conversations.


Lisa Marker Robbins  20:59

Until learn all about the military, just ROTC. So parting words of advice to, you know, you’re listening to this parent or teenager and you’re thinking this could be a good option. How can they began to prepare early in high school for this path?


Lisa Rielage  21:17

So academics are going to matter, as they do with most college admissions, but they shouldn’t assume that they have to be the valedictorian salutatorian to be acceptable to a military ROTC program. There’s a wide range of colleges that have ROTC at them. There are students who have all kinds of different majors from nuclear engineering, to communications, so don’t self disqualify. That’s a big thing. Ask a lot of questions so that you have real information, not assumptions, and read everything you can on the official websites related to the ROTC programs, whether that is the page on the college’s website for their ROTC unit, or the broader Army ROTC, Navy ROTC. Click All the links, read all of the stuff, download the instructions, read the instructions. I can’t tell you how important reading the instructions is. And if there’s something you don’t understand, call up the rep and ask say I’m reading on page seven. And it says this, I don’t actually understand what that’s referring to ask the question.


Lisa Marker Robbins  22:34

Great. I love that. I think my favorite part there was don’t self disqualify. I think teenagers are quick, when they’re overwhelmed. They don’t understand something or they’re having a touch of imposter syndrome when they’re looking at their peers, to self disqualify. And you know, it’s interesting, I love studying people’s pathways to get to where they are. And one of them that I just had this week was the Huberman lab podcast, and he’s a professor at Stanford. And he started out at community college. One of my


Lisa Rielage  23:13

favorite astronauts, started out at a community college and I think it was Illinois. Yeah, you know, went from there to Purdue to graduate school and space. Oh, yeah. Don’t self disqualify, let the process play out. That would be a big piece of advice. This is a marathon, not a sprint. It is a process that has many items to complete. And then it’s a bit of a hurry up and wait. While you let the review process and the selection process for the scholarships. Roll out that willingness to endure the process is an important trait for future military folks as well.


Lisa Marker Robbins  23:55

Well, thank you for coming on again. And as we were talking offline, we have other ideas for other future topics. So I absolutely know Lisa, you’ll be back and I’m excited for you to come back. And thank you for your time.


Lisa Rielage  24:08

This was really wonderful to be on the show again, I’m really glad that you made time to interview me.


Lisa Marker Robbins  24:14

You are welcome. Bye bye. Another great episode. After we recorded Lisa sent me the ROTC program locator tool for each program. I’m going to link to this in the show notes as is the best source of information on program availability. According to Lisa, my college bound homework for you this week, is to compare ROTC program availability with your teens current college list. And if you find ROTC is of interest, you may need to revise the list that you have so that you can start adding schools that offer this opportunity for your tea. Something you could say aren’t working on now. If today’s episode was helpful to you please share this with a friend that needs it to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed or confused to motivated, clear and confident about your team’s future.