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How to Enter the Army as a Higher Rank

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The U.S. Army had about 483,000 soldiers on active duty in 2016. Among them were around 60,000 new recruits. Traditionally, new enlistees and newly commissioned officers enter the Army at the lowest enlisted or officer rank. The rank system is designed to bring soldiers along through promotions as they gain experience. However, under certain circumstances it's possible to enter the Army at a higher rank.

Army Rank Structure

The Army's rank structure runs from private to sergeant major for enlisted soldiers and from second lieutenant to general for commissioned officers. Corresponding pay grades run from E-1 to E-9 for enlisted troops and O-1 to O-10 for officers. When soldiers enlist, they usually start as a private. Most commissioned officers, meanwhile, enter as second lieutenants. But the Army offers advanced pay grade entry for those with college credits, certain life experiences or professional skills such as in medicine.

Using College Credits

One of the most common ways of entering the Army at a higher rank is to earn college credits. If you have at least 24 semester hours from an accredited college or university, you can start as an E-2 – you'll still be a private, but you'll be making more money. If you have at least 48 semester hours of college credit, you can enter as an E-3 private first class. In that case, you're starting at a higher rank as well as a higher pay grade. And earning a four-year degree from an accredited college or university can get you a starting rank of E-4 specialist.

Other Qualifying Experience

Enlistees can also enter as an E-2 if they've obtained Eagle Scout or Girl Scout Gold Award status. Completing one or two years of high school junior ROTC can also earn you E-2 status when entering the Army. If you complete three or more years of junior ROTC, you may be able to enter the Army as an E-3 private first class. Those completing two or more years of post-secondary vocational-technical training, with a certificate of completion, also qualify for Army enlistment at E-3.

Future Soldiers Referrals

If you're in the Army's Future Soldiers Program – a status for those who have committed to enlist but have not formally done so – you can earn entry at a higher rank by referring others to recruiters. Depending on how many of your referrals also enlist, you may enter the Army as an E-2 or E-3. For example, referring two high school graduates who subsequently enlist can gain you entry as an E-3.

Advanced Officer Pay Grades

Those who possess specialized training and licensure in fields such as medicine or law are eligible to enter the Army at advanced officer pay grades. Generally, clinical professionals with doctorate-level educations can enter the Army as O-3 captains or higher, depending on experience. There are many different officer specialties in the Army in addition to lawyers and doctors, including nurses and religious chaplains. An Army officer recruiter will always have the latest information on advanced officer pay grade programs for professionals seeking Army careers.


Tony Guerra served more than 20 years in the U.S. Navy. He also spent seven years as an airline operations manager. Guerra is a former realtor, real-estate salesperson, associate broker and real-estate education instructor. He holds a master's degree in management and a bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies.

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