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The United States Coast Guard (USCG), a branch of the U.S. armed forces, is charged with enforcing maritime law in both domestic and international waterways. The USCG, which operates under the Department of the Navy during wartime and the Department of Homeland Security in peacetime, also has a federal regulatory mission. Officers in the Coast Guard lead enlisted and civilian personnel in a variety of technical, communication and staff functions.
Requirements for Undergraduates
Undergraduates typically can take two routes to become a Coast Guard officer. The first is matriculation at the United States Coast Guard Academy, a four-year college in New London, Connecticut. Like the other service academies, the Coast Guard academy offers tuition-free, four-year bachelor of science degree programs. Upon graduation, a cadet is commissioned an ensign and required to fulfill a five-year commitment to the Coast Guard. A second route is available if you have already completed an undergraduate degree elsewhere. You can an apply to Officer Candidate School (OCS), a rigorous,17-week training program designed to prepare you for a military lifestyle as well as test your physical, mental and technical abilities.
Your tuition, room and board fees as a cadet in the Coast Guard Academy are paid for by the U.S. government at no cost to you. In addition, you will receive additional pay of $11,500 per year to cover the cost of your uniforms, books, equipment and other out-of-pocket incidentals that are approved by the school's superintendent. A portion is paid to you monthly for your personal expenses, and any unused funds remaining in your account upon graduation or departure from the academy are yours to keep.
Pay After Graduation
The base pay for an ensign commissioned in the United States Coast Guard in 2011 is about $2,784 per month, or $33,408 annually, according to the 2011 Military Pay Table (O-1 pay grade). As an officer, you are paid twice a month, and pay increases are directly tied to completion of additional training, years of active duty service and increases in rank. Officers also receive a basic allowance for housing (BAH) and basic allowance for subsistence (BAS) to offset the expenses associated with meals, room and board. As a newly commissioned ensign, you would receive an average BAH of $1,131 per month and a BAS of $223 per month. Therefore, your estimated total regular military compensation would be $4,148 monthly or approximately $49,666 annually after graduation.
Careers for Officers
Undergraduates with academic backgrounds in engineering, aviation, business, information technology and communications are highly sought after and well compensated by the Coast Guard. Expertise in these areas is pivotal to vital missions that range from life-saving search and rescue to averting drug smuggling. Officers with engineering backgrounds oversee the design, construction and maintenance of vessels and facilities, while environmental specialists are entrusted to protect the waterways from oil and chemical spills. Every USCG officer is expected to lead others, manage projects and make informed, timely life and death decisions.
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Roslyn Bradford is a career consultant with more than 20 years of experience in human resources, management development and college preparation. An alumnus of Pennsylvania State University and the Wharton School of Business, she is a former contributing writer to Minority MBA and the USC Marshall School of Business alumni magazine. Bradford owns Kenobi Enterprises, a consulting and media company in South Jersey.