It’s important to distinguish between what it means to be a military officer and joining the military by enlistment. Both directions have a few shared qualifications, but the differences between the two aside from these few differences is enormous. Military officer basic training, technical training, schooling, advancement, time commitment, and of course, officer pay are all elements that barely resemble that of the enlisted side. Though there are many programs allowing individuals to enter the military to become officers, we’ll focus on a few of the basic qualifications and a few of the duties and responsibilities of the military officer.


The biggest difference between officer candidacy and enlistment is found in the preliminary qualifications. In order to join the military as an enlistee, you must simply acquire a high school diploma, GED, and pass the ASVAB. These factors determine what jobs you may get as an enlisted individual, and so forth.

As a military officer, you must not only have acquired a high school diploma and pass the ASVAB, but also must have successfully completed a four year college degree. This one major qualification has a tendency to rule out many people who would otherwise make excellent officers. The theory is that the raised education bar filters out many would be candidates, allowing only a special, select few to take on the important duties of the military officer.


In most cases, the “basic training” that a military officer will undergo will be more extensive, more intensive, and more competitive than that of the enlisted person. Again, the theory behind this is that the more grueling the training process, the more likely that sub-par candidates will wash out, leaving Uncle Sam with only the best of the best. Sometimes, this is the case, other times not. You’re likely to come across sub par people no matter what filters are in place, regardless of whether or not you’re in the military. ┬áThe point is that when it comes to getting rid of officer candidates who aren’t a good fit for the military, the intensified training does a good job at finding out which ones should stay and which ones should go.

Schooling/Advanced Training

As another generalization, officer schooling is frequently more involved and more competitive than that of the enlisted person. Officer candidates will spend months being trained how to perform a certain job, whereas an enlistee may spend only a few weeks learning how to do his job before being assigned to his final duty station. On the other hand, there are many enlisted jobs that demand schooling last 18 months or more. In most circumstances, however, the officer training protocol is considerably more in depth.

Duties and Pay

The biggest differences between officer and enlistees, of course, comes down to what each does from day to day, and what compensation is provided at the end of each pay period. In the vast majority of circumstances, you can safely call officers the managers of the military. They will very frequently be assigned supervisory roles-making sure that what needs to be done gets done. As such, accountability from the top of the hierarchy falls on their shoulders, should something go wrong, whereas enlisted personnel will be the ones “in the trenches”, staying more focused on the doing, instead of the supervising.

It can be argued that this accountability is what justifies the drastically compelling difference in pay for officers. Of course, couple this increased accountability with a higher measure of basic qualifications, it comes as no surprise that officer pay should be the more desirable. Ultimately, however, it comes down to what the individual prefers. If you consider yourself to be more hands-on and crave the experience of performing a specific job, enlisted may be the better way to go. If you prefer to serve in more a hands-off way, and are not intimidated by the burden of accountability and considerable responsibility, then perhaps officer candidacy is the way for you.

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