The Delayed Entry Program (DEP) is in place to give incoming servicemen and women the ability to join the military without necessarily shipping out to basic training immediately. DEP is a common solution for those who decided in advance what military occupation they wanted to pursue, but happened to be competitive to get into. DEP allows a recruit to sign up in advance, waiting up to a full year. 

It’s not entirely unlike an insanely hotel or resort booking a year or two in advance. There’s so much demand, that there’s simply no room for anyone else, and those who want to book a room (or get a particular job) get in line and wait their turn. This may contradict what you might expect, as the media makes it seem like joining the military is an overnight process. It’s really not. Especially when you decide in advance the direction you want your military career to go – there may be some waiting involved.

That said, there are a few benefits to this program, even though you may be graduating and are eager to leave home, are ready to have that steady military paycheck coming in, or are just motivated to serve your country. Here’s a few things you may consider doing in the meantime while you’re waiting:

Get in shape. These days, basic training is not as physically taxing as it used to be. For the most part, you’re going to be sleeping at least 6 hours a night for the couple of months you’re in BMT (basic military training) and depending on the branch you’re joining, your physical requirements may or may not be particularly demanding. Personally, I liked being prepared, and had a 9 month wait, so I started running and eating better. It made boot camp PT (physical training) quite a bit smoother than if I hadn’t.

Go to school. A fun fact about most branches is that recruits who have accumulated college credits can be instantly promoted once they’re out of boot camp; being promoted one rank for each full year completed, determined by credit hours. This means if you can find yourself a quicker way to get some college courses under your belt, the better off you are.

You won’t be advanced beyond E-3 for your college credits, but hey, the sooner you get to E-3, the sooner you get to E-4, etc. And that’s money you’d otherwise not have earned if you simply waited around for your ship date. As a lot of college students are learning, that’s some of the quickest ROI (return on investment) you can hope to get out of only a year or two of college. To put it into perspective according to the 2013 military pay chart:

An E-1 makes $1,516 per month, which is what you’ll be ranked and paid as the whole time you’re in boot camp, regardless. But if you completed one year’s worth of college credits, you’ll be reimbursed for the two or three months you were in basic training when you should have been considered an E-2.

The thing is, if you choose not to find a way to advance before joining, you end up having to wait for those promotions, and that’s money out of your pocket.

If you go in as an E-1, you’ll have to wait 9 months to be promoted to E-2 (unless you do something really badass to get yourself an early promotion, but that’s rare). Between E-1 and E-3, promotions are automatic promotions, a.k.a “time-in-rate” or “time in grade”. Between E-1 and E-2, as well as E-2 to E-3, you have to wait 9 months. Going from E-3 to E-4 eligibility (you have to test and receive performance reviews to cross over to E-4), you only have to wait 6 months. This applies to all branches:

E-1 for 9 months= $13,644

But if you finish one year college, here’s what you’ll walk away with from the get-go:

E-2 for 9 months = $15,291

That’s a difference of $1,647. 

E-3 for 6 months = $10,722 (but extended to 9, and it’s $16,083 – a difference of $2,439!!)

If this doesn’t make sense, don’t sweat it. It will all become clear soon enough once you’re on the other side. But really, economically speaking, school actually (and ironically) pays in the military.

Get mentally prepared. Times have changed in terms of information availability. If you want to join the military, you can fairly easily contact and ask questions to people who are living it by accessing forums online and track them down via Twitter and Facebook. 99 times out of 100, you’re going to get some of the most honest information you could hope for. This gives you ample time to research and get acquainted with your chosen field (as much as is feasible – it’s not likely that you’re going to be allowed to practice working maintenance on artillery as a civilian).

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