Is the military my oyster?
March 26, 2008 7:44 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning on enlisting in the armed forces and I just scored a 97 on my ASVAB. Now what?

First, some background. I went to one year of community college before I gave up on it and signed up to be a plumbing apprentice with a local union. Given the housing market's current slump I can look forward to getting laid off each winter, so I'm seriously exploring my backup plan: the military.

I talked to an Air Force recruiter last friday, and after getting an 84 on her mock test she scheduled me for the ASVAB. I scored a 97. So, assuming this puts me in a good position, what should I do? A Navy recruiter gave me his card, saying I could be in the Nuclear program in the Navy. I'm also a deft hand at IT, but I've never particularly wanted to make it my career. What can I realistically ask for at this point? Which branch and what jobs offer the best signing bonuses? Does this score better my chances on getting into officer candidate school should I decide on it, or am I overestimating what this means?
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia to Work & Money (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The military will be contacting you. I took the ASVAB for fun back in 1995, and for the next three years (post-graduation) I had to repeatedly tell all branches of the military that I was not interested. If I recall correctly, the Marines and Army were the worst to get off of my back.
posted by c0nsumer at 7:48 PM on March 26, 2008

If it was me, I wouldn't worry so much about the signing bonus as I would about the whole package. What do you get while you are there (pay, training, service locations) and what you get when you get out. College money, benefits, retirement and all that. I'm pretty sure all of that is up for negotiation. Or at least there are multiple plans depending on the service term you sign up for.

And thank you for considering serving! One one hand, it's a rough time to join. On the other, recruitment is down and you might get a pretty good package if they want you bad enough. Good luck!
posted by gjc at 7:59 PM on March 26, 2008

Be careful. I had an extremely gifted friend who joined the Navy when she decided not to finish college (Georgia Tech). I think I've heard that you won't be promised a particular job or position before you sign up - even if the recruiter **seems** to promise something, you may or may not be able to get it in writing, and that may or may not actually get you where you want to be. She was interested in a writing program they had, but wound up an airplane mechanic. Which I think was wonderful for her, by the way, and I'm not saying she was tricked, just saying that you kind of just have to do what they tell you.
posted by amtho at 7:59 PM on March 26, 2008

Best answer: is a good starting resource. The guide stresses that you should get everything the recruiter says in writing.
posted by Monday at 8:10 PM on March 26, 2008

They will ALWAYS tell you you can be in the nuclear program if you score high on the ASVAB. I think it's in the recruiters' handbook.

What you would actually get would depend on availability and the various bonuses and perks vary from job to job, and your performance in training post boot-camp would help determine your position and station more precisely.

My sister was promised nukes twelve years ago, and she ended up an aviation electrician. But it has worked out for her, and she eventually went through OCS. She's actually going to be 37 years old when she retires. Blows my mind.
posted by padraigin at 8:14 PM on March 26, 2008

Be aware that anything the recruiters promise you is not guaranteed, including placement in any particular program or station assignment. I'm not saying you shouldn't go in, but if you do, you should go in with your eyes open to the scandals involving recruiting in recent years. This article, especially the section on "Guaranteed Jobs," may be useful. It might also be useful to check out what folks like this have to say.
posted by mediareport at 8:19 PM on March 26, 2008

FWIW I got straight 98s on my ASVAB. I knew the field I wanted to go into and brought a fistful of letters of recommendation to Air Force basic training. We were given the opportunity to hand them over. Ouila, 7 days later I got the job I wanted... then again it was a field that had high ASVAB requirements, so I guess it worked out for the quota-filler as well as myself.
posted by crapmatic at 8:21 PM on March 26, 2008

Response by poster: These answers are all useful, and exactly why I wanted to ask. I'm well aware of what recruiters have been known to do, which is why I want some unbiased opinions of where I stand. I'll certainly get any big promises in writing (if that even makes a difference) but what I really want to know is what kinds of jobs could I potentially get in, and which ones in particular ought I lobby for? One of my goals is to get into a job that will serve me will in civilian life if/when I leave the military. Furthermore, am I right in making the Air Force my main focus, or should I give the Navy equal weight? Since it's probably also important I'll add I'm exceptionally tall, 6'7", which could make a big difference for being on a boat.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:29 PM on March 26, 2008

Get everything in writing. You can get the program you want if you cover your six. Pay attention to every single piece of paper that you sign.

Your recruiter will promise the moon...then you have to go talk to someone else who has a different agenda. When you talk to that guy, make sure you ask a million questions, read everything...TWICE. I got everything I was promised by going in with my eyes open and being halfway intelligent. he people that complain that the recruiters screwed them are the ones that don't pay attention to every single thing that they hear, see, and read.

Go AF or Navy, the Navy Nuke program is kick ass and I loved my 6 yrs in the Navy, but the AF has much better educational programs and while you might get stuck in a strange country, you won't get stuck on a sub or boat for months at a time :)

If you do choose Navy and don't want to go Nuke, consider Naval Aviation, Avionics...lots of electrical engineering and computer type stuffs. I can't help sort out the AF jobs.
posted by legotech at 8:36 PM on March 26, 2008


I had a highschool classmate who was "discouraged" from attending the Air Force Academy because of his height, and he couldn't have been more than 6'3", tops. Apparently, the AF specs out their cockpits for an "average" person of like 5'8" to 6'2 or so.
posted by Oktober at 9:45 PM on March 26, 2008

Do you have access to your line scores (your scores on the individual sections of the ASVAB)? Those scores, rather than your AFQT, help determine your job qualifications. Once you have your line scores, head to, which Monday linked to, and find the lists of enlisted jobs for each service. Going through those lists should give you a better idea of what you qualify for and what you're interested in, and give you material for further questions to ask here.

You might want to ask a second question about the height issue, as some of the people who could advise you on it may have bypassed this thread.
posted by concrete at 9:50 PM on March 26, 2008

Recruiter's promises are completely meaningless. Get it in writing, and make sure whatever you're promised actually *appears* in the contract you're signing.
posted by Happydaz at 10:08 PM on March 26, 2008

What can I realistically ask for at this point?

Realistically, all this means is that you are qualified for pretty much any enlisted job in the military for the ASVAB requirement. That is all it means. (There are some jobs that have requirements, like crypto-linguist where you would need to take another test [DLAB]to be accepted into - also security clearances, and physicals ) I would be looking at all the jobs that had the best potential for job security after you got out of the service. That means skill sets that are directly transferable to the civilian world. Now be careful, alot alot alot of skills in the military are not directly transferable - say avionics - some avionics are very particular to a specific aircraft and when you leave the service there is no civilian need for that type of avionics (outside of the defense world.) So be damned sure these skills are transferable. Some hints - computer programmer, wide band, satellite and telemetry systems, and bio-environmental - these are AF specific, but probably would work for any service.

Which branch and what jobs offer the best signing bonuses?

Forget about the signing bonus. Signing bonuses are generally for high risk jobs or jobs that nobody wants. If you can get a bonus, check about after your job is selected.

As far as which service to go with, you need to think about the kind of lifestyle you want to lead while you are in the military. Do you want to be camping alot? Army. Do you really really really like to camp? Marines. Do you like being on a boat? Coast Guard. Do you really really really like being on a boat. Navy. I'm biased to the Air Force, myself, I like camping, but I don't like to live out of backpack - so I got to do a little bit of camping while in the Air Force - but I didn't live in the field.

Does this score better my chances on getting into officer candidate school should I decide on it, or am I overestimating what this means?

Becoming an officer, in the AF, has really nothing to do with ASVAB scores. In fact, it is huge roadblock in the AF if you were in enlisted to become an officer. There are programs, but they are highly competitive. If you want to be an officer, go to college, forget about enlisting.

And as everyone here has already said, get it in writing. On the enlistment paperwork.
posted by bigmusic at 10:29 PM on March 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

My 6'5" BIL still has back problems from being a nuke on a submarine. There was only one place on board where he could stand up straight, and of course his bed was too short. So you might want to look at where aircraft carriers are stationed and see if those locations are appealing. (He ended up on a sub because he really, really wanted to go to Hawaii.)

He had a great experience and later got a degree in EE on the GI Bill and works now as an engineer. It was a really good opportunity for him.

I agree with the AF comments... when I worked as a civilian in a joint command we called them the "chair force." The local Navy gym just had free weights but the local AF gym had a smoothie bar!
posted by mingshan at 8:17 AM on March 27, 2008

I can speak very, very highly of the Navy Nuke program. I've got several close friends in it right now, and I work around a ton of guys that got their start there (yeah, I work in nuclear). Anyways, nuclear is going to be huge going forward, the Navy's considering moving most of their ships to nuclear, and nuclear power is growing. And nuclear engineers make great money in the private sector, and will be in serious demand in the next 10 years (since most of the people in it are old and retired, and there aren't as many graduating to replace them). Probably the best combination of job security and high salary there is.
posted by General Malaise at 12:01 PM on March 27, 2008

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