2 AC Applicants and Accessions
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Appendix A-E

This Chapter:

NPS Applicants
AC Accessions

The Services are one of the largest employers in the United States, enlisting nearly 189,000 young men and women in the Active Components in FY 1997.  Recruiting a quality force is as important as ever, perhaps more important given the smaller number of men and women in the military and the increasing sophistication of weapons and methods for fighting "modern" wars.  The Services' missions are changing to include peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts, requiring additional skills from today's men and women in uniform.  (See Chapter 8 for an analysis of the demographic characteristics of the Servicemen and Servicewomen serving in Bosnia during FY 1997.)

Military recruiting is more and more difficult.  Data from the annual Youth Attitude Tracking Study (YATS) show that overall propensity to enlist among young men (16- to 21-year-olds) has not changed significantly since 1994.  Today, 26 percent of those surveyed reported that they planned definitely or probably to enlist in the military in the next few years.(1)  However, there was a significant drop in the propensity of 16-21 year-old Hispanic men, from 43 percent in 1996 to 37 percent in 1997.  Also, propensity of 16-21 year-old women declined from 14 percent in 1996 to 12 percent in 1997. (2)

The increasing proportion of high school graduates attending college limits the supply of high-quality applicants to the Services.  Most high school seniors report that they plan to go to college (77 percent right after high school and 15 percent a year or more after graduating).(3)  About 65 percent of today's high schoolers actually enroll in college in the Fall after graduation, compared to about half of high school graduates 15 years ago.(4)  In spite of decreasing propensity and increasing competition with colleges and universities, military recruiters were able to enlist a high-quality accession cohort in FY 1997.  Recruiting is likely to continue to be a challenge as recruiting objectives increase and with propensity at such low levels.(5)   This chapter introduces the Active Component enlistment process, followed by demographic characteristics of enlisted applicants and new recruits (non-prior service accessions).  New to the report this year are data of prior service recruits.

The Recruiting Process

Initial contacts between military recruiters and youth interested in military service are exploratory.  In most cases, youth seek information from recruiters in more than one Service.  Once they select a Service and take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), youth may wait before deciding to proceed with enlistment processing.

In addition to providing information to the prospective enlistee, recruiters determine an applicant's eligibility for military service. They ask questions regarding age, citizenship, education, involvement with the law, use of drugs, and physical and medical conditions that could preclude enlistment.  Most prospects take an aptitude screening test at a recruiting office.  Estimates are that 10 to 20 percent of prospects do not continue beyond this

The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. Prospects who meet initial qualifications take the ASVAB, the first formal step in the process of applying to enlist in the Armed Forces.  The ASVAB is a battery of tests used by DoD to determine enlistment eligibility and qualifications for military occupations.  It consists of 10 tests, four of which comprise the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT):  Arithmetic Reasoning, Mathematics Knowledge, Word Knowledge, and Paragraph Comprehension.  The AFQT, a general measure of trainability and a predictor of on-the-job performance, is the primary index of recruit aptitude.

AFQT scores, expressed on a percentile scale, reflect an applicant's standing relative to the national population of men and women 18 to 23 years of age.(7)  The scores are grouped into five categories based on the percentile score ranges shown in Table 2.1.  Persons who score in Categories I and II tend to be above average in trainability; those in Category III, average; those in Category IV, below average; and those in Category V, markedly below average.  By law, Category V applicants and those in Category IV who have not graduated from high school are not eligible for enlistment.  Over and above these legal restrictions, each Service prescribes its own aptitude and education criteria for eligibility.  Each Service uses combinations of ASVAB test scores to determine an applicant's aptitude and eligibility for different military occupations.

Table 2.1.  Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) Categories and
Corresponding Percentile Score Ranges

 AFQT Category

 Percentile Score Range













Educational Credentials.  DoD implemented a three-tier classification of education credentials in 1987.  The three tiers are:

    • Tier 1--Regular high school graduates, adult diploma holders, and non-graduates with at least 15 hours of college credit.
    • Tier 2--Alternative credential holders, including those with a General Education Development (GED) certificate of high school equivalency.
    • Tier 3--Those with no education credentials.

The system was developed after research indicated a strong relationship between education credentials and successful completion of the first term of military service.(8)  Current research continues to show that education attainment of youth predicts first-term military attrition.(9) In conjunction with the National Academy of Sciences, the Defense Department developed a mathematical model that links recruit quality and recruiting resources to job performance.  They used that model to establish the recruit quality benchmarks now specified in Defense Planning Guidance.  Service programs are required to ensure that a minimum of 90 percent of the non-prior service (NPS) recruits are high school diploma graduates.  At least 60 percent of these recruits must be drawn from AFQT Categories I-IIIA; no more than 4 percent of the recruits can come from Category IV.  This DoD policy does not prohibit the Services from setting their own targets above these benchmarks. These benchmarks were set by examining the relationship between costs associated with recruiting, training, attrition, and retention using as a standard the performance level obtained by the reference cohort of 1990, the cohort that served in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.  Thus, these benchmarks reflect the recruit quality levels necessary to minimize personnel and training costs while maintaining Desert Shield/Desert Storm cohort performance.(10)

The Services have different standards for individuals in each tier.  Generally, Tier 3 applicants must have higher AFQT test scores than Tier 2 applicants, who must have higher test scores than Tier 1 individuals.  The Air Force and Marine Corps follow these differential standards, requiring different minimum test scores for each tier.  The other Services apply the standards slightly differently.  The Army and Navy require applicants with alternative credentials (Tier 2) and those with no credentials (Tier 3) to meet the same AFQT standards, which are more stringent than those for high school graduates (Tier 1).

Physical Examination.  If an applicant achieves qualifying ASVAB scores and wants to continue the application process, he or she is scheduled for a physical examination and background review at a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).  The examination assesses physical fitness for military service.  It includes measurement of blood pressure, pulse, visual acuity, and hearing; blood testing and urinalysis; drug and HIV testing; and medical history.  Some Services also require tests of strength and endurance.  If a correctable or temporary medical problem is detected, the applicant may be required to get treatment before proceeding.  Other applicants may require a Service waiver of some disqualifying medical conditions before being allowed to enlist.

Moral Character Standards .  Each applicant must meet rigorous moral character standards.  In addition to the initial screening by the recruiter, an interview covering each applicant's background is conducted at the MEPS.  For some individuals, a computerized search for a criminal record is conducted.  Some types of criminal activity are clearly disqualifying; other cases require a waiver, wherein the Service examines the applicant's circumstances and makes an individual determination of qualification. 

Occupational Area Counseling .  If the applicant's ASVAB scores, educational credentials, physical fitness, and moral character qualify for entry, he or she meets with a Service classification counselor at the MEPS to discuss options for enlistment.  Up to this point, the applicant has made no commitment.  The counselor has the record of the applicant's qualifications and computerized information on available Service training/skill openings, schedules, and enlistment incentives.

A recruit can sign up for a specific skill or for a broad occupational area (such as the mechanical or electronics areas).  In the Army, all recruits enter for specific skill training.  Approximately 60 percent of Air Force recruits enter for a specific skill, while the rest sign up for an occupational area and are classified into a specific skill while in basic training.  In the Navy, approximately 70 percent of recruits enlist for a specific skill, while the rest go directly to the fleet after basic training, classified in airman, fireman, or seaman programs.  Approximately 85 percent of Marine Corps enlistees enter with a guaranteed occupational area and are assigned a specific skill within that area after recruit training; the rest enlist with either a specific job guarantee or assignment to a job after recruit training.

Normally an applicant will be shown a number of occupations.  In general, the higher the individual's test scores, the more choices he or she will have.  While the process differs by Service, specific skills and occupational groupings are arranged similarly to an airline reservation system, with the "seat" and time of travel (to recruit training) based upon either school or field unit position openings.  The counselor discusses the applicant's interests and explains what the Service has to offer.  The counselor may suggest incentives to encourage the applicant to choose hard-to-fill occupational specialties.  The applicant, however, is free to accept or reject the offer.

Many applicants do not decide immediately, but take time to discuss options with family and friends; others decide not to enlist.  A review of the enlistment decision process indicates that the military continues to compete with civilian employment and educational opportunities even after the prospect has completed the application stage of the enlistment process.(11)

The Delayed Entry Program (DEP).  When the applicant accepts an offer, he or she signs an enlistment contract.  Only a small proportion of new enlistees is sent to a recruit training center from the MEPS within a month of their enlistment.  Most enter the delayed entry program (DEP), which allows up to a year before the individual reports for duty, with up to a six month extension upon approval by the respective Service Secretary. (12) The DEP controls recruit flow into training "seats" at technical schools.  Average time in the DEP is about four months.

Qualified high school students may enlist in the DEP with a reporting date after graduation; their enlistment contract is contingent upon successfully completing high school.  Not all DEP enlistees actually enter active duty.  By Service, an average of 11 to 19 percent of individuals in the DEP changed their minds and asked to be released from their enlistment contracts each month in FY 1997. The Services consider enlistment in the DEP a serious commitment, but they do not require youth to enter military service against their will during peacetime.

Go to Characteristics of Active Component Non-Prior Service Applicants

  1. Enlistment propensity is measured with the Youth Attitude Tracking Study (YATS) conducted annually by the Department of Defense. go back
  2. Ibid.
  3. go back
  4. Lehnus, J. and Lancaster, A.,  "Declining Interest in Military Service:  Quantitative Observations," in Youth Attitudes Toward Military Service in the Post-Cold War Era:  Selected Papers Presented at the International Military Testing Association, San Antonio, Texas, 1996 (DMDC Report No. 97-001).
  5. go back
  6. U.S. Department of Education, The Digest of Education Statistics 1997 (NCES 97-xxx) (Washington, DC:  National Center for Education Statistics, 1997), Table 183.
  7. go back
  8. Memorandum from F. Pang, Assistant Secretary of Defense (Force Management Policy), Subject:  1997 Youth Attitude Tracking Study, January 15, 1998.
  9. go back
  10. Waters, B.K., Laurence, J.H., and Camara, W.J., Personnel Enlistment and Classification Procedures in the U.S. Military (Washington, DC:  National Academy Press, 1987), p. 12.
  11. go back
  12. The score scale is based on a 1980 study, the Profile of American Youth, conducted by DoD in cooperation with the Department of Labor (DoL).  Participants were drawn from a nationally representative sample of young men and women selected for an ongoing DoL study, the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth Labor Force Behavior.  An effort is currently underway to update the Profile of American Youth study.
  13. go back
  14. See Flyer, E.S., Factors Relating to Discharge for Unsuitability Among 1956 Airman Accessions to the Air Force (Lackland AFB, TX: Personnel Research Laboratory, December 1959); and Elster, R.E. and Flyer, E.S., A Study of the Relationship Between Educational Credentials and Military Performance Criteria (Monterey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School, July 1981).
  15. go back
  16. For attrition by education credential, see Department of Defense, Educational Enlistment Standards:  Recruiting Equity for GED Certificates, Report to Congress (Washington, DC:  Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense [Force Management Policy], April 1996); and Laurence, J.H., Does Education Credential Still Predict Attrition?,  paper presented as part of Symposium,  Everything Old is New Again--Current Research Issues in Accession Policy, at the 105th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association, Chicago, August 1997.
  17. go back
  18. Sellman, W.S., Public Policy Implications for Military Entrance Standards, Keynote Address presented at the 39th Annual Conference of the International Military Testing Association, Sydney, Australia, October 1997.
  19. go back
  20. Orvis, B.R. and Gahart, M.T., Enlistment Among Applicants for Military Service: Determinants and Incentives (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 1990), p. vii.
  21. go back
  22. 10 U.S.C. 513, as amended December 1996.
  23. go back

[Home] [Exec. Summary] [Contents] [Search] [Download] [Links] [FAQs]