Social Life: ROTC vs. Service Academy

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Social life at ROTC vs Service Academy

In today’s post, I want to offer an overview of what you might expect when it comes to the social scenes at service academies versus traditional colleges. 

Some of you may receive an appointment to a service academy and an ROTC scholarship that you match with a traditional college. 

In this case, you might be wondering what your social life would be like in these two scenarios.

Just to review, once you receive an ROTC scholarship, you then take that scholarship and use it at a “traditional college” that has an ROTC program and that has a spot for you. 

Hopefully, you can match with the college you put as your #1 choice on your ROTC application.


Most of your “social life” as an ROTC student will be dictated by the types of colleges you put on your wish list in your application. 

Not every college offers ROTC opportunities, but there is a wide range to choose from. 

Some colleges will have reputations for being big “party schools” with a thriving Greek fraternity system, and others will be more conservative when it comes to partying. 

As an ROTC student, you can, by and large, avail yourself to whatever the college has to offer “socially”. 

As an ROTC student, as long as you remain in good standing with your ROTC Unit, you can have any type of social life you like. 

You may be held to a higher standard by the ROTC Unit, and there may be less wiggle room if you do something really dumb compared to a non-ROTC student, but you’re pretty much on your own when it comes to social interactions. 

One of my sons pledged a fraternity at Yale and the other is on the heavyweight rowing team. They participated in all kinds of activities alongside their Navy ROTC commitments. 

Generally speaking, there will probably be few limitations on how you engage in social activities on campus even as an ROTC student.  

Unless your social life begins to jeopardize your standing as an ROTC student (which I would hope that it won’t), you can assume that any and all social opportunities that your college offers will be available to you. The choice will be yours.     

Let’s compare life as an ROTC student at Texas Tech (known to be a “party school”), with life as a midshipman at the Naval Academy, for example. 

Bottom line: There are not a lot of similarities when it comes to social life. 

ROTC students at Texas Tech probably have free reign to take advantage of any and all social opportunities that present themselves. 

On the other hand, at the Naval Academy, your options for social life are more limited. 


Obviously, as a Navy Midshipman, you live within the confines of the military campus (aka the Yard). 

There are no fraternity houses, no students partying into the wee hours of the morning, stumbling around campus, throwing up on the sidewalk, bringing pizzas back to their dorm rooms at 3am, blasting music out their windows, or passing out on the steps. 

That just doesn’t happen. 

The service academy environments are more controlled, professional, and serious. 

There are plenty of fun things to do, sports to play, clubs to join, friends to hang out with, and special events; but, it’s not just a complete free-for-all where absolutely anything goes. 

At the academies, there is a high level of military bearing, decorum, and respect for each other, the faculty, and the facilities. 

Students wear uniforms at all times while on campus, there are no fraternities, and the public doesn’t have unfettered access to the campus.  The campus is relatively self-contained. 

Despite what it might sound like, you are not trapped on the campus at a service academy. There are opportunities to go out in town, travel, and live like a normal person while on “liberty”. 

These opportunities expand as you become more and more senior and move up the ranks. 

As a general rule, your “freedoms”, so-to-speak, increase as you get more and more senior. 

As you can see, the vibe and social opportunities at service academies and traditional colleges can be quite different. 

If you have the choice, you should think long and hard about the pros and cons of each. 

This decision should not be taken lightly. There are advantages and disadvantages in each scenario and I urge you to consider them carefully. 


  • You can choose the college that suits your particular desires when it comes to the social scene (if you want to be in a fraternity or sorority you can probably make that happen depending on the college you pick)
  • You have more flexibility in your daily routine, you pretty much do whatever you want as long as you’re meeting your ROTC obligations
  • You can wear whatever clothes you want (or don’t want) most of the time
  • You can stay up all night, every night, and drink, and party, and pass out on the sidewalk if you so choose (assuming you stay in good standing with your ROTC unit)
  • You may have a wider range of students to get to know, not every one will be on their way to becoming a military officer


  • Along with social freedom and mobility often come problems
  • If you overdo it, you can jeopardize your grades, your standing in the ROTC Unit, and even your scholarship
  • You have to have the discipline to keep yourself in check. This may be easier said than done.
  • Fewer people will resonate with your mission. You may find that your typical US college doesn’t have students who appreciate what you’re doing as an ROTC student, as a military person.
  • If you want to make a career out of the military, ROTC students typically don’t get as much “street credit” as their service academy counterparts do


  • A more structured environment may suit your personality, you may not fit in well with the crazy party scene that characterize many other colleges
  • You may forge deeper relationships with fellow academy-mates because of your shared mission
  • Surrounding yourself with students with similar values may be invigorating and self-affirming
  • The “shared suffering”, so-to-speak, often creates lifelong  bond and friendships that are not common at the typical “every-student-for-themselves” traditional colleges 
  • You may actually need a more disciplined schedule if you plan on getting the most out of your education. Left with no limits, you can see yourself getting behind on academics.
  • You’re not looking for opportunities to party, get wasted, stumble home, and pass out on the floor of your dorm room. You’re looking for an opportunity to learn, develop skills, forge relationships, and be a productive member of society who has a mission to serve your country. 


  • You’re more constrained socially
  • You can’t wear boxers and flip flops to class
  • You can’t skip class, major in lesbian dance theory, or order Dominoes pizza to your dorm room at 2am
  • The diversity of viewpoints and life experiences of your classmates may not be quite as random as they would be at a traditional college

This is hardly an exhaustive list of the things you should think about when comparing an ROTC to a service academy experience.

It’s a fascinating process to compare and contrast these two experiences to see which one fits your short, medium, and long term goals better.

If you find yourself in this position, first off, congratulations, and second, take a piece of paper, and articulate in your own words, the pros and cons of each option.

Sometimes it’s good to see things on paper before making your final decision.


If you're enjoying this content, consider enrolling in our online mentoring program, where I teach lessons like this every week (starting in 9th grade) to students who aspire to attend service academies and ROTC programs. There's not better way to prepare for the rigors of the application process.

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