ROTC Students Struggle to Reconcile Careers and Military

Cadets work to balance scholarship duty and academic planning

Flying a fighter plane through enemy territory and playing Top Gun in real life is a dream Jeff H. Dunn '98 says is about to come true when he graduates, thanks to the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC).

"I'll be in for at least 10 years flying some cool planes," he says.

But for Patrick Aquino '98, who accepted a four-year Navy ROTC scholarship hoping to attend medical school one day, dreams of military glory turned to struggles over paperwork and an eventual exit from the program.

"In the end, I felt my career in the Navy would interfere with my future goals," Aquino says of his medical school plans.

"You follow the needs of the Navy," he says. "I wanted to have [military service] as an option, not an obligation."


All Harvard ROTC cadets participate in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's ROTC program. Many, like Aquino, accept military scholarships that obligate them to serve in a post assigned by the military.

Although not all cadets at MIT sign up for ROTC with specific careers in mind, those who do often have difficulty landing desirable upper-level jobs, despite their impressive college credentials.

In addition, cadets say the ROTC program often has made delaying service to go to law or medical school, or switching majors within ROTC, a daunting task.

According to officials at MIT's ROTC program, these problems occur primarily because the military does not view cadets as free agents-it sees them as good investments.

"We always tell [high school students] when they show up that the needs of the Air Force come first," says Col. William Rutley, a visiting professor of aerospace studies and director of Air Force ROTC at MIT for the last two years, of the students he recruits for ROTC.

"We will show you the opportunities in career fields, but there's no guarantee," he notes.

Career Dreams

Career concerns among those at the MIT training program range from deferring active duty in favor of post-graduate study to tailoring ROTC to fit their chosen career.

"When I was a senior in high school, I got on the phone with [ROTC] people to find out exactly what programs I could get into when I graduated," said Justin E. Porter '99. "The Air Force and the Navy were very strict about what fields you could study and whether you could get an educational delay. The Army was much more flexible."

According to Rutley and Lt. Col. Robert Rooney, director of Army ROTC at MIT, the Air Force and Navy are more strict than the Army in granting educational delays, but all three branches are hesitant to grant deferrals of service.

"There are educational delays for doctors and lawyers, but other than that they're pretty hard to do," Rooney said. Even in medicine and law, he says, the 150 annual educational delays granted are parceled out among 4,000 Army cadets nationally based on an "order of merit" list.