Becoming an armed forces officer without a degree
You don’t have to go to university to get a leadership role in the armed forces. The recruitment process for officers is generally open to school leavers with two good A levels, regardless of the subjects studied. Your personal qualities are regarded as at least as important as your qualifications and promotion is on merit; if you join as an officer you will have the same opportunities to develop your career whether you are a graduate or not.
However, the majority of successful candidates have degrees, so you may need to work extra hard to prove yourself in the recruitment process if you’re applying at 18. You can find out about the fitness tests and the academic requirements and assessments for officer training in the Army, Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force from our advice on how to get into the armed forces.
If you are committed to a career in the armed forces but decide that becoming an officer is not the right path for you or are unsuccessful in your application, there are plenty of other roles for you to consider, whether in warfare or in other areas such as logistics or support. You’ll have access to relevant training and qualifications whatever your role, and will be able to progress up the ranks and increase your salary.
Alternatively, if you do not get through the officer selection process at 18, you could consider reapplying at a later date. Try to get feedback on why you were unsuccessful so that you can work on any weaknesses. You may also be advised on how long an interval you should leave before reapplying. You could potentially go to university and then reapply as a graduate. Our advice on the university route into a career in the armed forces gives some more information about your options.
Take care to be clear about the commitment you are making when you join, as you are usually expected to serve for at least four years after training for any armed forces job.
Should I go to university before applying for officer training?
Not sure whether you want to start a career in the armed forces as a school leaver or as a graduate? A discussion with an advisor at an Armed Forces Careers Office should help you weigh up your options. Here are some points for you to consider:
Do you want to carry on with academic study? Is there a particular subject that you are keen to study in depth, which you would have a good chance of doing well at? Alternatively, you might prefer to get stuck into training for your armed forces career. This is likely to involve more travel, time spent outdoors and physical exercise than lectures and libraries. One of the arguments in favour of going to uni is that it helps you to mature and learn how to get along with people from all walks of life; joining the armed forces will give you all that and more.
How keen are you to start earning? Would you prefer to start working and being paid a salary now rather than after university? Are you willing to invest in a degree given that you can apply for officer training without one?
Is the cost of university study an issue? If you would ideally like to go to university but are worried about the cost, make sure you are aware of the full range of funding support available. If you are committed to a career in the armed forces there are bursaries available to support you through higher education as well as special funding arrangements for future medics and engineers, and you can find out about these from our advice on the university route into the armed forces.
What might you want to do when you leave the armed forces? Potentially, having a degree could give you more options in a civilian career later in life, particularly if you wish to turn your hand to a profession with well-established graduate entry routes such as law. However, your experience of the armed forces and any qualifications you have gained will be valued by employers whether you are a graduate or not.
Many employers, including Jaguar Land Rover and Network Rail, actively seek applications from former armed forces personnel. Another option is teaching, which is traditionally a graduate profession. The government has established the Troops to Teachers programme for non-graduates leaving the armed forces. If you are interested in teaching secondary maths, biology, chemistry, physics, computing or modern foreign languages, this scheme enables you to earn a salary as an unqualified teacher while working towards qualified teacher status and a degree qualification.
Our advice on jobs and employers in the armed forces gives some examples of different officer roles. You can explore the full range of employment options in the armed forces via the relevant websites: