How do I get into the armed forces?
All recruits to the armed forces need to pass a combination of assessments such as a fitness test, aptitude tests and an interview. If you want to join as an officer, which is the armed forces equivalent of a management role, the assessments are more stringent and you typically need at least two good A levels or equivalent, though requirements vary depending on the role you apply for.
You do not need a degree to join the armed forces as an officer. You can find out more about the criteria and assessments from our advice on careers in the armed forces without a degree. However, if you want to go to university and join the armed forces as a graduate, you may be eligible for support with the costs of university study, and there are special arrangements for students of medicine and engineering. You can find out more about armed forces funding for higher education from our advice on the university route into the armed forces.
The Army runs a special training programme for those with professional qualifications, such as vets, lawyers and chaplains, who join the Army as officers – the Professionally Qualified Officer (PQO) route. It also runs the Lead First scheme, a one-year programme for graduates who want to go on to serve as officers in the Army Reserve while pursuing a civilian career, and the Joint Graduate Training Scheme, which allows graduates to undertake Army Reserve officer training as part of a graduate training scheme with a commercial organisation. You can find out more about funding for university study from our advice on the university route into the armed forces.
How fit do you need to be to join the armed forces?
There is plenty of advice available on the websites of the various forces on how to prepare for the fitness tests, which vary depending on the role you’re applying for. For example, if you are applying to the Army, you’ll need to be able to run 1.5 miles on good level ground in at least 12 minutes 45 seconds to join the infantry.
You’ll want to start training in advance to be sure that you can meet the required standards. The Royal Navy suggests starting at least eight weeks before you take the fitness test.
- Fitness tips and standards to join the Army
- Fitness tips and standards to join the Royal Navy and Royal Marines
- Fitness tips and standards to join the Royal Air Force
What kind of extracurricular activities will help you join the armed forces?
Depending on the role you apply for, involvement in team sports or outdoor or community activities might help you to succeed. Extracurricular activities that can help school leavers present themselves as strong candidates include experience as a scout or guide, of the Duke of Edinburgh’s award scheme or of the cadet forces. You can find out more about becoming a cadet in our advice on whether a career in the armed forces would suit you.
University students can improve their chances of passing the officer selection process by getting involved in the University Officer Training Corps, University Royal Naval Units or University Air Squadrons. These organisations offer the chance to get involved in adventurous training and sporting events, with no commitment to an armed forces career.
Generally speaking, activities that develop fitness, resilience and leadership abilities will make you a stronger candidate. The officer recruitment process typically involves some elements of public speaking; for example, for the Royal Marines you have to give a three-minute presentation on a topic of your own choice without visual aids, while for the Army you have to give a five-minute talk on one of a choice of five topics taken from your CV. Look for opportunities to develop these skills, for example as a student representative speaking to parents or prospective students at school or university.
As part of the officer recruitment process you are likely to be tested on your knowledge of current affairs and of the service you’re applying to, so make sure you do your research and keep up with defence-related issues in the news.
What qualifications do you need to join the armed forces as an officer?
You can apply for officer training from any degree background (if you choose to go to university before applying) and having studied any combination of subjects at A level, as long as you meet the minimum grade criteria.
- Qualification requirements to join the Army as an officer
- Qualification requirements for all roles in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines
- Qualification requirements for all roles in the RAF
You can find out more about the requirements for receiving financial support to study medicine, engineering or other subjects at university before serving in the armed forces as a graduate from our advice on the university route into the armed forces.
What do you have to do to become an officer in the armed forces?
To succeed in the officer selection process you’ll need a combination of physical and mental stamina, practical problem-solving skills, decision-making under pressure and leadership.
The Army Officer Selection Board involves a 24-hour briefing involving physical and practical exercises followed three and a half days of further physical and mental assessments.
The Admiralty Interview Board for potential Royal Navy officers lasts two days and is taken after passing preliminary tests. You’ll be given 45 minutes to write an essay and you’ll also take a practical leadership task and a planning exercise as well as being given a competency-based interview. There will be online ability tests to assess your reasoning skills, your use of language and your numeracy, and an outdoor timed run.
The Potential Officers Course for the Royal Marines is a two-day course involving gym and endurance tests and obstacle courses as well as writing an essay and taking part in a discussion session.
The Officers and Aircrew Selection Centre is typically part of the application process for officer positions in the RAF, depending on the role you apply for, and lasts for two days. You can find out more about the application process for all RAF roles from the RAF website.