Enlisting before attending USNA?


10-Year Member
5-Year Member
Dec 15, 2008
I know that I want to be an infantry officer in the Marine Corps.

I have been accepted to the Virginia Military Institute, and have received a 4-year Marine NROTC scholarship. I have applied to the Naval Academy, but have not yet heard back. I am fully qualified in every area (except, perhaps, medically - but that's a different story), and would not be at all surprised if I did receive an offer of appointment, being that I have also received two nominations.

Before a few months ago, I had dismissed the idea of any route to becoming an officer, other than going to a military school. But since then, I have been thinking about it, and discussing it with others from the military. Now, I am seriously considering enlisting after I graduate from high school, and going to college (ideally, a military school) and being commissioned, later.

The reason I might want to do this is to obtain first-hand experience of what it is like to be enlisted, and to gain more respect from those under me when I am an officer. This experience will be very helpful when making decisions as an officer, especially for someone in an infantry MOS in the Marines.

It is my goal to become the very best Marine Corps infantry officer I possibly can. Enlisting before becoming an officer is certainly not generally the recommended route for someone to take, but I think it might be worth it to:
  • delay being commissioned
  • delay any chance of getting married before I'm 26, or so
  • make it more difficult to re-adjust to an academic environment after several years in the Marines
  • risk not getting accepted to USNA/VMI later (especially if I turn down an offer now), having to attend a regular civilian college
in order to be a better leader.

There might, however, be another option that would allow me to gain prior enlisted experience and go to USNA, without waiting too long to graduate and be commissioned. On the Naval Academy's Admissions webpage, there is a link for "Active duty service applicants." From the way the information is worded, it sounds as if enlisted members of the Navy and Marine Corps are eligible to apply to and enter USNA/NAPS, regardless of how long they have served already, provided that they still have at least two years remaining on their enlistment contract.

Here is the link:

So if I am reading this correctly, I would be able to go to Basic and serve for a year or two, and then enter the Naval Academy. This way, I would get the enlisted experience I want, as well as the education I want, without spending eight or more years to do so. I realize that I would be competing for one of only 170 appointments awarded to active duty sailors and Marines each year, and that I would still be risking not getting accepted at all, having already turned down an offer (assuming I get accepted later this year).

So my questions are these:
  1. Do you have any advice on the value/disvalue of prior enlisted experience, and whether or not it would be worth it to risk not getting the education the Academy offers, in order to obtain this experience?
  2. Do you know if I have been reading the Academy's information correctly?

I would greatly appreciate any insight you might have. Thanks.
For a long time I wanted to do exactly what you're doing and considered enlisting first (AFA is my number one now though).

I was told by several officers (one was prior enlisted) NOT to enlist if I'm "college material."

Just recently a marine recruiter was trying to get me to enlist and he was basically telling me that prior enlisted officers we're more respected, but he was trying to get me to enlist. IMO, you can still be highly respected as an ROTC/academy officer.

If I don't receive an appointment, my plan is to do ROTC next year and then reapply.
My mid for drag weekend served 2 years on a sub, got into naps, and now is at USNA. Basically, if you want it you can get it. He is 4 years older than the other plebes however much of the information you are forced to memorize during plebe summer he already had learned. Also, he was already used to military life. Serving prior to the naval academy is definitely an option, he liked it a lot. Hope this helps.
TPG is spot on. Go to VMI now, excel, earn your commission, complete TBS, and then start leading Marines. In life, one encounters enough obtacles. Why create more?

audentes fortuna iuvat et cave nil vino
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Just another voice saying the same thing. Enlisting would actually hurt your chances for at least a year. There is nothing that you will be doing in Bootcamp or A school that will help with USNA. They will still be looking at increased SAT scores, AP classes, leadership roles, volunteering, transcripts, etc. There is nothing you can do your first year as an E-3 that will impress the board. There is no way to improve the same application you just filled out by enlisting.
Your reading of the rules is technically correct. Trust me when I say it is the lowest percentage angle for getting an appointment. If you want to impress them, go somewhere good, take hard classes and do well, and then STILL apply to be a plebe. THAT will impress.
Fair Winds...
Prior Enlisted/NAPS
Thanks for all the advice. It has certainly helped some!