The modern U.S. Army is a huge organization with more than a half-million uniformed personnel and billions of dollars in equipment. It requires that its people have a mastery of the hundreds of occupational specialties they’re assigned to, as well as well-trained leaders proficient not only in modern military doctrine, but also management and other more specialized disciplines. While there is no rank that specifically requires a master’s degree, it’s unlikely that an officer could earn a promotion beyond captain without at least some work toward an advanced degree.
Education Required to Join the Army
In general, the Army requires all recruits to have at least a high school diploma; in addition, officer candidates must have a bachelor’s degree. If you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree and you enlist, you may start at a somewhat higher rank than private, but not much higher, generally that of corporal or specialist. A master’s degree generally confers no extra benefit on an officer candidate, but those with law or medical degrees who are entering the Judge Advocate General Corps or the Medical Corps generally begin active service as captains.
Of the approximately 450,000 enlisted personnel in the Army, nearly all work in military occupation specialties that do not require a degree. However, competition for some positions can be fierce, especially in occupations like electronics, engineering, science, health care and other occupations. If you are in one of these fields, having a master’s degree in the field should help you earn promotions and acceptance to more advanced jobs in the field.
Army warrant officers are highly specialized experts in their field. They apply for promotion from within the ranks of enlisted personnel, and except for certain aviators, generally must have achieved at least the rank of sergeant and have four to six years’ experience in the field for which they want to be a warrant officer. Although a master’s degree is not required for any warrant officer MOS, some require a bachelor’s degree or some college work. A candidate’s completion of a master’s degree in the field is generally considered an asset.
A bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite to becoming a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army. Officers enter as second lieutenants, and promotions to first lieutenant and then captain are relatively routine, based primarily on length of service and a clean evaluation. Promotion beyond captain, though, is highly competitive, with promotion boards selecting only the most qualified for advancement. This is why, in mid-2013, there were more than 11,000 fewer majors than captains in the Army. In addition, there are numerous jobs in the Army for which a master’s degree is required. Thus, while a master’s degree is not required for promotion to any rank, it is required to fill many specific officers’ jobs. A Heritage Foundation study conducted in 2006 indicated that fewer than 20 percent of incoming Army officers have masters’ degrees or doctorates. On the other hand, between 35 and 45 percent of Army officers hold advanced degrees, or around the same percentage who hold the rank of major or better. This is a clear indication that even though it may not be a formal requirement, a master’s degree is critical to advancement in the modern Army.
Education Opportunities in the Army
Personnel in all ranks are sent to the Army’s various schools for training specific to their MOS, and the service sometimes sends officers to civilian college to earn a specific degree necessary to conducting the job. In addition, the Army assigns specific officers to attend the Army War College in Pennsylvania, where they pursue coursework leading to a master’s degree in Strategic Studies.
- The Heritage Foundation: Who Are the Recruits? The Demographic Characteristics of U.S. Military Enlistment, 2003-2005
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Military Careers
- Defense Manpower Data Center: Active Duty Military Strength by Service: Rank/Grade - Current Month
- U.S. Army: GoArmy.com: Careers & Jobs - Warrant Officer
- U.S. Army War College Academic Programs: U.S. Army War College Academic Programs
- Chris Hondros/Getty Images News/Getty Images