With very few exceptions, becoming a non-commissioned officer (NCO) or petty officer in the U.S. Armed Forces is accomplished by progression through the lower enlisted ranks. However, unlike promotion through the lower enlisted tier, promotion to NCO is generally competitive. NCO ranks begin at E-4 or E-5, depending upon service and are generally attained between three and six years of service. Junior NCOs function as first-line supervisors and squad leaders, training the junior enlisted in their duties and guiding their career advancement.
Prospective service members are often recruited from high school or college, the target age ranges being 18–35 in the Army, 18–28 in the Marine Corps, 18–34 in the Navy, 18–39 in the Air Force and 18–27 (up to age 32 if qualified for attending guaranteed "A" school) in the Coast Guard. With the permission of a parent or guardian, applicants can enlist at age 17 and participate in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), in which the applicant is given the opportunity to participate in locally sponsored military activities, which can range from sports to competitions led by recruiters or other military liaisons (each recruiting station's DEP varies).
The Student ASVAB is the most flexible of the exams. It is typically provided to high school students to help them assess their skills, job prospects, potential military positions, or college majors. The ASVAB for students is essentially the same as the MET ASVAB exam, only students are not necessarily testing for positions within the military. The students’ school counselors examine their scores and help them decide on what to do after graduating from high school. This test is still an important component of a student’s education because it can help them identify their strengths and weaknesses and help set them on the right track for their future career goals.
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After enlistment, new recruits undergo basic training (also known as "boot camp" in the Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard), followed by schooling in their primary Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), rating and Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) at any of the numerous training facilities around the United States. Each branch conducts basic training differently. The Marine Corps send all non-infantry MOS's to an infantry skills course known as Marine Combat Training prior to their technical schools. Air Force Basic Military Training graduates attend Technical Training and are awarded their Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) at the apprentice (3) skill level. All Army recruits undergo Basic Combat Training (BCT), followed by Advanced Individual Training (AIT), with the exceptions of cavalry scouts, infantry, armor, combat engineers and military police recruits who go to One Station Unit Training (OSUT), which combines BCT and AIT. The Navy sends its recruits to Recruit Training and then to "A" schools to earn a rating. The Coast Guard's recruits attend basic training and follow with an "A" school to earn a rating.
The military offers boundless opportunities for people looking for a career in serving their country. The five branches of the military (Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard) all have active, reserve, and guard units with jobs unique to each branch and level of commitment. Examples of different jobs include military police, telephone technician, psychological operations specialist, journalist, dental specialist, and oboe player. Each job allows for different levels of advancement depending on factors such as job performance and length of service.
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Initially, recruits without higher education or college degrees will hold the pay grade of E-1 and will be elevated to E-2 usually soon after basic training. Different services have different incentive programs for enlistees, such as higher initial ranks for college credit, being an Eagle Scout and referring friends who go on to enlist as well. Participation in DEP is one way recruits can achieve rank before their departure to basic training.

SOC is a consortium of more than 1550 colleges and universities that provide educational opportunities for servicemembers and their families. It is co-sponsored by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU) and the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) and managed for the DoD by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES). Course work can be done on campus, at military installations and armories, and at a distance by computer or correspondence. Associate, bachelor, and graduate-level degree programs are available. Special curriculum areas include SOCAD (Army), SOCNAV (Navy), SOCMAR (Marines), and SOCGuard (Army National Guard). In addition, SOC operates ConAP (Concurrent Admissions Program) to increase college enrollment of Army enlistees (Army and Army Reserves). ConAP allows you to enlist in the Army at the same time as you apply for college. DANTES also operates its own Distance Learning Program. For more information, contact:

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The Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) is used by all of the Services to determine if an applicant is eligible for the military. Four of the ASVAB subtests are combined to form the AFQT. It measures general cognitive ability and is composed of verbal and mathematics subtests. AFQT scores are grouped into categories for reporting purposes. The table below shows the AFQT categories and the percentile score ranges corresponding to the categories. Applicants that score in AFQT category IIIA or higher may qualify for enlistment incentives.
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