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Do You Have What It Takes To Join The Military? United States Military Enlistment Standards


Man in Air Force Uniform Holding "We Want You!" Sign

Enlisting in the United States military is very different than applying for any other job. Not everyone will qualify, and there are strict rules which would never apply to civilian employment. Congress and the courts have held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ensures all individuals are treated equally before the law with respect to civilian employment, does not apply to the military profession.

The military doesn’t accept just anyone who wants to join. To enlist, you must be qualified under current federal laws and regulations or have an appropriate waiver. There are age, citizenship, physical, education, height/weight, criminal record, medical, and drug history standards that can exclude you from joining the military. Statistically, this past decade, a majority of recruits fail to meet the height/weight standards of the military as the number one reason why people cannot immediately sign up for service.

Here is a look at some of the basic qualifications to enlist in the military.


Minimum Age Requirement

Across the armed forces, the minimum age allowed for enlistment is 17 (with parental consent) and 18 (without parental consent). The maximum age for enlistment for someone who has never served in the military before varies by branch: for the Army, it’s 35, for the Navy, it’s 34, for the Air Force it’s 39, and for the Marines, it’s 28. These often can be waived if the recruit has the education, skills, experience that the military needs to fill its ranks. Often these are professional jobs (legal, medical, dental, religious). The rules for reserves and those with prior military service vary.


Military Service Citizenship Requirement

To enlist in any branch of the U.S. military, you must either be a U.S. citizen, or a legal permanent resident with a green card physically living in the United States. For enlistment purposes, citizens of the United States include citizens of Guam, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Marianas Islands, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, as well as the 50 states.


​Credit and Finances

If you have unpaid loans which are significantly overdue or have a history of bad credit, this could affect your security clearance eligibility, which in turn could make many military jobs unavailable to you. And some recruits will have to show that they’re able to meet their current financial obligations upon enlistment. Having credit/debt issues can make you susceptible to bribery from foreign agents is the main reason for making credit issues a factor in recruitment.


Serving as a Single Parent

For the most part, single parents cannot enlist in the active military unless they relinquish custody of their child, or receive a waiver. The Navy requires a waiver for any applicant with more than one dependent, including a spouse. Marines require a waiver for applicants with any dependent under 18, and the Air Force will conduct a financial eligibility determination for applicants with any dependents. The Army requires a waiver when an applicant has two or more dependents in addition to a spouse.


Applicants Married to Active Military Members

As long as there are no children in the household, spouses of active military members are eligible to enlist. But applicants should understand that there is no guarantee that spouses will be stationed in the same place.

But if there are children in the household, this will disqualify most military spouses from enlisting. The active duty services rarely waive this, while the reserve forces (Reserves and National Guard), often approve waivers, as long as the applicant can show a workable family care plan.


Education Requirements for Military Service

To enlist, you must be a high school graduate, have earned a GED (with additional college credits) or have met other high school equivalency requirements. Officers will need a four-year bachelor’s degree, with a strong academic record.


Drug or Alcohol Use 

Dependency on illegal drugs is disqualifying, any history of drug use is potentially disqualifying, and any history of dependency on alcohol is disqualifying. There are cases where waivers may be granted, but many sensitive military jobs will be closed to anyone who has any past association with illegal drug or alcohol use.


Criminal History

Although a criminal record is not an automatically disqualifying, there are some situations where the armed services will not grant waivers. If a person has a felony conviction as an adult, or a juvenile felony conviction that involved violence, chances of a waiver to enlist are slim. Likewise, for offenses involving the sale of illegal drugs, and most sex offenses are disqualifying.

Anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor is barred from carrying a firearm, which would disqualify the person from serving in the military.


Height and Weight Standards

For most of the military, male applicants need to be between 60 inches and 80 inches tall. For female applicants, the range is between 58 inches and 80 inches. The Marines have separate standards: Male applicants should be between 58 and 78 inches tall, and female applicants between 58 and 72 inches tall.

The services have body fat standards, which are only partly based on weight. During an initial screening, applicants are measured on a body fat chart. Those who weigh more than the limits on the chart are measured to ensure they fall within the service’s body-fat standards. Often physically fit and muscular/low body fat recruits can be over the height/weight standards but meet the body fat requirements.


Medical Conditions

There are some medical conditions which will disqualify applicants from enlisting in the military. In general, you won’t be eligible to enlist if you have a medical condition that falls into one of these categories.

  • Applicants must be free of contagious diseases that would likely endanger the health of other personnel.
  • Applicants must be free of medical conditions or physical defects that would require excessive time lost from duty for necessary treatment or hospitalization.
  • Applicants must be medically capable of satisfactorily completing required training, and medically adaptable to the military environment without geographical area limitations.
  • Applicants need to be medically capable of performing duties without the aggravation of existing physical defects or medical conditions.
  • If you have a specific medical condition and are not sure whether it disqualifies you from enlisting, or have questions about any of the other requirements to join the armed services, seek guidance from your recruiting officer. A military medical professional will answer your questions at MEPS.

Service in the military is a competitive job environment. The U.S. military is not a profession of last resorts for those with no other option.