I'm a highschooler planning on doing NROTC, but considering other paths to a commission. Can anyone tell me about what it's like enlisting out of high school, and getting a degree from USNA or another school while in the Navy? If I were to enlist, it would be with the intention of becoming an officer down the road. What is the likelihood that I could make this happen - that is being able to go to a university or academy while in the Navy. Also, if I did so, would the four years at the academy count towards the 20 needed for retirement benefits?
I encourage you to browse and search the USNA forum for the many threads addressing the enlisted route to USNA.
It is the long way around, with no guarantees.
Yes, there are spots reserved in each class for enlisted applicants. Some test very high in the enlisted schools pipeline right after boot camp, and usually get sent to NAPS (Naval Academy Prep School) for a year. Some serve in the Fleet or Corps, show themselves to be outstanding Sailors or Marines, get the support of their chain of command, apply from duty stations all over the world, usually get sent to NAPS, and have to raise their right hand on Induction Day before turning 23.
All the Services have other enlisted commissioning programs. There is Tuition Assistance for distance learning and after-hours classes (most military bases have college extension sites on base, google UMUC for an example); you need a college degree for a commission. There are also full-time college student programs for truly outstanding performers. One example is the Seaman to Admiral program, STA-21:
As I commented, this is the long way around and is not a path trodden by the majority. If you are ready to go to college after HS, shoot for the ROTC scholarships or try the college programmer path. If you are a HS junior or younger, you are in the zone of prepping for a USNA admission cycle.
A phrase you will see here on SAF, and everywhere in the Services, is the “needs of the Navy (or other Service)” drive all decisions. If you enlist, and there are shortages in certain rates (specialty areas), and your test scores make you eligible, that’s where you will go. Ditto ships/subs/squadrons/homeport. You will get to submit preferences, but “needs” come into play. Completing Academy and other officer program applications while deployed on operational missions can be a challenge. It can be done, and is done, but it’s a long, hard road.
The enlisted personnel of the Services are the technical backbone, the hands-on folks who make things happen. Officers work closely with enlisted leaders to set goals, clarify priorities, allocate resources, make decisions, be accountable and responsible for their people - to lead. It’s a strong and powerful partnership if working correctly, bound by mutual respect. Do your research on enlisted service. You start out as the lowest worker in the hive, which is how you learn to move up.
And, for fun, google “DFAS 2018 military pay charts” and look up the base pay differences between a newly commissioned officer (0-1 under two years of service) and a Seaman (E-3 under two years of service). Other allowances are also higher for officers. It’s not all about the money, but it is a factor.
Finally, the 4 years at USNA does not count for military retirement. It can be used for Federal retirement, if you leave the uniformed service and work in the civil service as a govt employee, whether after your initial service obligation or a full career.