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How to Become a Navy Officer: The Path to a Valuable Career

Military History

The U.S. Navy’s role in national defense is more versatile than most people think. It blends land, air, and sea capabilities. Choosing a Navy officer career path places an individual within military leadership ranks, helping the Navy sustain its future, strength, and efficiency in all these areas. Strong Navy officers are critical for ensuring smooth daily operations and maintaining the security and organization of enlisted men and women.

What Does a Navy Officer Do?

A U.S. Navy officer can perform various tasks such as supervising enlisted men and women, organizing and executing military operations, commanding or operating major military vehicles including ships or aircraft, and providing professional support services to the military in legal, medical or any number of other areas.

The specific duties of a Navy officer depend on the individual's area of expertise. A Navy officer can specialize in one of a variety of departments such as health care, combat, transportation, engineering and science, or protective services. In general, a Navy officer is in a position of leadership, with responsibilities that focus on overall operations rather than the targeted duties assigned to enlisted personnel.

Steps to Become a Navy Officer

As a military leader, a Navy officer needs a well-rounded set of skills, including the ability to make tactical decisions. For this reason, candidates who are pursuing a Navy officer career path must meet higher education and training standards. They must also meet the universal physical and general military enlistment requirements. Understanding the following steps can be beneficial for an individual who is interested in how to become a Navy officer.

Step 1: Meet Military Requirements               

To join the military, individuals must either be U.S. citizens or possess a valid green card that designates them as a lawful permanent resident. Men and women as young as 17 can join with parental consent. Officer candidates must not have reached their 27th birthday before June 30 of their graduation year from a chosen officer training program.

All candidates must pass a criminal background check and the Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT) for their gender. The PRT consists of a 1 1/2-mile run, curl-ups (sit-ups), and push-ups. The test is scored by averaging the candidate’s marks in these three categories.

Step 2: Earn a Degree               

Navy officers must possess an advanced education to better understand complex topics and make critical decisions with confidence. Those who are joining a Navy officer training program must be completing, or have already completed, a bachelor's degree in their chosen specialty. Although officers can hold degrees in a number of areas, the minimum education requirements typically include an undergraduate degree. 

For some fields—such as military history, defense analysis, or operations research—a graduate degree can give officers additional knowledge to apply to military operations and strategies. A Navy officer who has completed a Master of Arts in Military History is provided a deeper understanding of the successes and failures of notable military leaders of the past. This area of study offers insight into different leadership styles, tactical strategies, and the nuances of international relations.

Step 3: Complete Officer Training               

Unless an undergraduate degree is earned through one of the Navy’s own programs, Navy officers are required to complete a specialized training program. Those who join through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC) program or the U.S. Naval Academy already have received the necessary officer training as part of their degree fulfillment.

To become a Navy officer, all other candidates must complete the Officer Candidate School program to learn about Navy operations and officer expectations. Candidates in the program complete coursework that covers leadership training, military discipline, physical fitness standards, and academic instruction about the Navy. This training helps prepare future officers for success by increasing their understanding of duties while building confidence as leaders.

Salaries of Navy Officers

Salaries and benefits associated with Navy officer careers are based on rank and length of service. The monthly salary for Navy officers with less than two years of service can range from $3,287.10 for an O-1 rank up to $10,999.50 for an O-8, though this highest ranking for a new officer is rare. The salary continues to rise as an officer gains additional years of service until reaching the salary cap for a particular rank. The highest monthly salary possible for a Navy officer is $16,441.80. This is reserved for officers who have served in the Navy for at least 20 years and attained the rank of admiral.

Officer promotions are not automatic in the Navy and are offered based on available vacancies. Some areas of expertise may offer greater opportunities for promotion than others, depending on the number of available spaces. Factors that can help an officer’s chances of promotion include experience in a major command or as a commanding officer of a ship, and maintaining a clean service record.

Future Career Growth of Navy Officers

Serving as leaders among their peers, those following a Navy officer career path are responsible for the efficiency of daily Navy operations as well as the management and care of enlisted personnel. Highly educated and highly trained, they constituted 15% of military personnel serving in active duty as of March 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The expanding need for technological and readiness capacity will increase the demand for knowledgeable and capable Navy officers. The BLS only provides detailed predictions about job growth for civilian careers; however, it projects job opportunities for Navy officers and other military personnel to be very positive through 2028.  

Pursue a Career as a Navy Officer

The first private U.S. military college, Norwich University is credited as the birthplace of the ROTC. Offering curriculum online, the university provides quality education that is convenient for students who are pursuing a career in the U.S. military. The online Master of Arts in Military History program at Norwich University gives graduates a deep, chronological look into global military conflicts of past generations and the key figures who navigated them.

Through guidance from the American Historical Association, this program lays the path to becoming an effective Navy officer by contextualizing the ways in which geography, politics, and economics affect war and shape history.

Learn more about how to become a Navy officer through the online Master of Arts in Military History degree—and develop the foundation you need for a successful future as a Navy officer.


Recommended Readings

Career Outlook: Military Analyst
How Roles Have Changed for Women in the Military
5 Influencers of Military Theory


Navy Officer Explained, Military
Join the Military, U.S. Government
Navy Physical Readiness Test (PRT) Overview, Military
Joining the Navy If You Haven’t Served Before, U.S. Navy Recruiting Command
Officer Candidate School, Naval Education and Training Command
2020 Military Pay Tables & Information, Defense Finance and Accounting Service
Military Careers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Navy Officer Promotions: How You Can Rise in Naval Rank, The Balance Careers

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