Enlisting After High School

Many students matriculate to college right after graduation, but increasingly, American students are choosing to delay enrollment — or forgo college altogether. What if you aren’t headed to college, but you aren’t quite sure about what kind of work you want to do, either? 

One option is to join the armed services. Enlisting has a lot of benefits, but of course there are risks involved, too. Chris Marsden, a 2020 graduate of Escambia High School in Pensacola, weighed his options for a year before making the decision to sign up. Ultimately, it was the combination of benefits and work experience that sealed the deal for him. “You’re handed a full education, hands-on experience, and unmatched job security — with no prerequisites,” Marsden says. “Plus, you get full benefits and the GI Bill [to help pay for college].”

After his high school put him in contact with a recruiter, Marsden decided to join the Navy. Choosing which branch of the service is right for you depends heavily on your interests and priorities, and Marsden reports that the job selection varies greatly. “I envision myself working in the technology industry, and I knew that the Navy could provide me with a role in advanced electronics.”

The enlistment process is designed to be clear and simple. Like Marsden, all Florida students should be able to connect with a recruiter, either online or through a school guidance counselor. From there, you take a job placement test, known as the ASVAB (or, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). This can also be done at school in most cases, or you can also take it at a local Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). You’ll also get a physical exam at MEPS. All of this can be done in as few as two days, so it’s best to be clear about your decision before you begin. After the physical, you’ll be shown which jobs you qualify for, and you’ll be asked to enlist at that time. You can leave for boot camp soon after or participate in the Delayed Entry Program, if you need more time before shipping out.

One major benefit to military service is that your time is limited by short-term contracts. Most initial terms are for four years, although the Navy occasionally allows for two-year stints. Some branches offer extra enlistment incentives, like higher pay or early promotion, for a six-year commitment. It’s a common misconception that once you’re in the military, you have to stay there.

Still, the training can be both mentally and physically taxing — and of course, it’s not all free education and camaraderie. Even once your contract is up, you’ll have to serve in the Reserve for an average of six years, which means that you can be recalled to active duty at any time.

That’s why Marsden says, “Joining the service after high school is very much a leap of faith. You won’t ever be prepared for it — but that’s what makes it worthwhile.”

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