Becoming a dentist is a lengthy process, and if you are a civilian, a very expensive one. You can end up with thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off once you finish your school. If, however, you make the choice to serve your country in the United States Navy, you can have your undergraduate degree and dental degree paid for by the military. You can also receive money toward your living expenses while you are in school.
Sign up with one of the Navy’s two officer commissioning programs. The first is the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, (ROTC). Navy ROTC is offered at most major universities and will pay your undergraduate and dental school tuition expenses and give you a monthly stipend for books and other school expenses. To enroll in ROTC, talk to a guidance counselor at your high school or an adviser at your university. As an added benefit, you do not have to attend Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) if you have completed ROTC. If you are currently enlisted in the Navy, the Seaman to Admiral-21 (STA-21) program will pay for your education while allowing you to stay in the Navy, continue to serve your country and draw a paycheck. To enroll in the STA-21 program, speak with your unit’s Retention Office.
Complete your undergraduate degree. This will normally take four years, though you can reduce the time you’ll spend completing your degree if you have past college credits. If you have previous military experience, talk with your unit’s education office about receiving college credit for your military service through the Defense Activity for Non-traditional Education Support (DANTES). You can also take College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams at no cost through your unit, and test out of many lower-level college courses.
Complete dental school. Dental school is usually a 4-year journey, but you may be able to shorten this time. Talk to your dental school about opportunities to earn extra credit or take extra classes each semester.
Complete officer training with the United States Navy (unless you have completed an ROTC course). Navy Officer Candidate School (OCS) is 12 weeks long. Upon completion of OCS, you will be commissioned as an O-3 (lieutenant).
Complete your Naval service commitment. The standard service commitment for newly commissioned officers in the Navy is 6 years. During this time period, you can expect to be promoted at least once, to O-4 (lieutenant commander). If you are an outstanding officer, you may reach the rank of O-5 (commander). Once your Naval service commitment is complete, you may choose to continue serving in the Navy or return to civilian practice.
Strive to be at the top of your class. Navy officer commissioning programs and dental school admissions are very competitive. Your grades and class ranking are important criteria in selection.