How to Become a Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and is one of the branches of the Armed Forces. It has many responsibilities, including environmental protection, port security, and law enforcement. Other Coast Guard responsibilities include search and rescue and patrol. Members of the Coast Guard are highly trained to tackle a variety of special projects regarding safety, investigation, or marine science. They serve throughout the country, along the border, and even in international territory. Potential applicants for Coast Guard positions should be prepared to enter a demanding career that requires time, training, and commitment, but that will offer the opportunity to help serve and protect the country.

Minimum Qualifications

The minimum qualifications for Coast Guard applicants vary based on the position. For entry-level positions, a high school diploma or GED should suffice. Leadership positions are generally filled by candidates already in the Coast Guard, and usually require a few years of experience and some education. Because the Coast Guard is part of the Armed Forces, candidates will have to enlist in the military.

Education & Training

Potential candidates for Coast Guard positions have the option of attending the Coast Guard Academy, which is a school for high school graduates. The Academy prepares students to serve as a commissioned officer within the Coast Guard and allows them to simultaneously earn a bachelor’s degree. It takes four years to complete coast guard degree programs. Coast guard degree completion programs are also available through the Academy.

As an alternative, candidates can attend Officer Candidate School (OCS). OCS has 17-week programs that are designed to train future commissioned officers for careers within the Coast Guard. Students have the option of pursuing studies in fields like nautical science and seamanship, and will be enlisted for at least three years after completing the program. The facility is located in Connecticut.

The third option is to enroll through a direct commissioning program. Designed for field specialists – like engineers, lawyers, and scientists – and military officers, these programs allow professionals to enter the Coast Guard without attending a training program. However, candidates must be between 21 and 34 and meet other criteria to apply.

Career Statistics

Upon graduating from the Academy or OCS, or after enlisting through a direct commissioning program, Coast Guard officers will receive a salary according to their pay grade and the amount of time they have been enlisted. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides a chart that illustrates the monthly pay received by members of the military. The U.S. Coast Guard also lists detailed payment information. In addition to their salary, officersreceive allowances for housing and other costs, as well as retirement benefits after being enlisted for 20 years of service.

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