Each branch of the U.S. military has slightly different education requirements for enlisted personnel. The minimum requirement is a general equivalency diploma (GED) and a certain number of college credits.
But if you don't have a high school diploma, the requirements to enlist are more stringent. While it's still possible to enlist with a GED, your chances are not as strong as people with traditional high school diplomas, and you're encouraged to bolster your education with some college credits. Most branches will require at least 15 credits, which is a full semester at most community colleges.
Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB)
All recruits must also take the Armed Forces Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test before enlisting. It helps assess not only whether an applicant has the skills to join the service, but for what role he or she might be best suited. The ASVAB test is used to calculate the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) scores, using the test taker's standard scores from the arithmetic reasoning, mathematics knowledge, paragraph comprehension, and word knowledge subtests.
For enlistment purposes, the military breaks education into three overall categories: Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3. The vast majority (more than 90 percent) of all enlistments fall into the Tier 1 category.
Applicants in Tier I have a high school diploma, or at least 15 college credits. It means a high school diploma, not a GED. Depending on state law, completion of high school by a home study program may or may not be considered equivalent to a high school diploma. It is the most viable route to enter the armed services as an enlisted member.
Tier II includes GEDs, home study (in some states), Certificate of Attendance, Alternative/Continuation High School, Correspondence School Diplomas, and Occupational Program Certificate (Vo/Tech) holders. The services limit the number of Tier II candidates allowed to enlist each year.
In the Air Force, the number of Tier II candidates is fewer than one percent each year. In such cases, and the applicant must have a suitable score on the AFQT. Usually, requirements for the AFQT are more stringent for GED holders, as opposed to those with high school diplomas.
The Army has typically allowed up to 10 percent each year to be Tier II candidates, and the Marines will only allow about 5 percent, and the Navy about 10 percent. And like the Air Force, Tier II recruits in other branches have a higher minimum score requirement on the AFQT.
The Coast Guard only accepts Tier 2 candidates if they have prior military service, and also requires them to score higher on the AFQT.
This category is all but non-existent in the 21st-century armed services. It includes anyone who is not attending high school and is neither a high school graduate nor an alternative credential holder. The services almost never accept a Tier 3 candidate for enlistment.
Your best bet is to get at least 15 college credits if you fall into this category so that you will be qualified as Tier I. Make yourself a more suitable candidate for enlistment by speaking to your recruiter about the latest requirements. Also, look to see what assistance may be available to you.