How to Become a Coast Guard Officer

Coast Guard College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative
Students, who are part of the Coast Guard’s College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative Program in San Juan, Puerto Rico, go over their schoolwork. (Petty Officer 1st Class Telfair Brown/U.S. Coast Guard)

You can earn a commission as an officer in the Coast Guard through the Coast Guard Academy, Officer Candidate School, direct commissioning and the College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI).

Applicants for all programs must be physically qualified, U.S. citizens and possess high moral character.

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, accepts about 250 young men and women each year. The four-year academic program leads to a bachelor of science degree in a variety of majors. Approximately 75% of academy graduates earn degrees in technical areas such as engineering, sciences and mathematics. Each major provides a sound undergraduate education in a field of interest to the Coast Guard and prepares the cadet to assume initial duty as a junior officer. Upon graduation, the cadet is commissioned as an ensign in the Coast Guard. Appointment as a cadet is based solely on an annual nationwide competition. It is not necessary to obtain a nomination from a senator or representative. The competition includes either the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or the American College Test assessment (ACT), high school rank in class, community service and leadership qualities. Interested students should apply during the fall of their senior year in high school.

Officer Candidate School

The Officer Candidate School is pre-commissioning training for college graduates who want to become Coast Guard officers. Candidates attend a 17-week officer training course at Yorktown, Virginia. The physical and academic curriculum is demanding. In addition to physical training, candidates study navigation, ship operations, seamanship, Coast Guard orientation and leadership. Upon completion, candidates are commissioned as ensigns in the Coast Guard Reserve.

Direct Commissions

Graduates from a law school accredited by the American Bar Association are eligible to receive commissions as lieutenant junior grade in the Coast Guard Reserve. The applicant must be admitted to the bar of a state or federal court within one year of receiving a commission. Qualified graduates of state and federal maritime academies may also be eligible for a commission as an ensign or lieutenant junior grade in the Coast Guard Reserve. Engineers are highly sought and may be commissioned directly up to the rank of lieutenant. Occasionally, direct commissions may be available for ROTC students at selected colleges and universities, previous military officers and qualified military pilots. Qualified military pilots may compete for direct commissions as aviators in the rank of ensign or lieutenant junior grade in the Coast Guard Reserve.

College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative

The College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) is a scholarship program for college sophomores. This program provides students with valuable leadership, management, law enforcement, navigation, and marine science skills and training. It also provides full payment of school tuition, fees (that are approved), some or all textbook costs, a salary, medical insurance and other benefits during a student's junior and senior year of college. The CSPI program guarantees training at Officer Candidate School (OCS) upon successful completion of all program requirements.

Each student is expected to complete their degree and all Coast Guard training requirements. Following the completion of OCS and commission as a Coast Guard officer, each student will be required to serve on active duty (full time) as an officer for three years.

CSPI Benefits:

Full tuition, some or all textbook costs and approved fees paid for two years

Monthly salary of approximately $2,000

Medical and life insurance

30 days of paid vacation per year

Leadership training

CSPI Application Eligibility Requirements:

Score a 1000 on the SAT, 1100 on the SAT I, 23 on the ACT, or ASVAB GT of 109 or higher

Be between 21 and 26 years of age at the time of your college graduation

Must be a sophomore or junior (with at least 60 college credits completed toward your degree)

Enrolled in a four-year degree program at an approved institution with a minimum 25% minority population

Meet all physical requirements for a Coast Guard Commission

Maintain a GPA of 2.5 or better

Be a U.S. citizen

Interested in Joining the Military?

We can put you in touch with recruiters from the different military branches. Learn about the benefits of serving your country, paying for school, military career paths, and more: sign up now and hear from a recruiter near you.

Story Continues