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Careers in the Armed Forces


Set your sights high and march into a career in the armed forces.

Entry requirements for the Armed Forces

The educational qualifications you need to join the armed forces are role dependent, but there are opportunities available whatever your academic background. The standard application process for the Royal Air Force, the Royal Navy, the Marines and the Army starts with an eligibility check. This means you’ll have to meet health and fitness requirements and be able to provide evidence of your nationality and residency in the UK as well as proof of your age.

The minimum age for applying for most roles in the armed forces is 16, but parental consent is compulsory for all applicants under the age of 18. The minimum length of service required in each of the armed forces also varies.

Royal Air Force

After initial application to the RAF, the second stage includes an aptitude test, selection interviews, a health assessment, a fitness test and a pre-recruitment training course. The RAF recruits both males and females, assuming that all other eligibility criteria are met.

RAF training is divided into two stages, the first being Initial Officer Training, in which all applicants participate. Initial Officer Training is spread over the course of three, 10 week terms, resulting in a valuable Level 5 Diploma from the Institute of Leadership and Management. The second stage is role specific training for one of over fifty possible roles, most of which offer a starting salary of £14,348 plus benefits during training.

Salaries after training vary massively – an RAF regiment officer could initially earn £17,185, whilst a medical officer will have a starting salary of £96,200. Most roles will have a minimum requirement of 12 years’ service, a period over which the RAF offer a wide range of opportunities for career progression in the form of apprenticeships, training and scholarships.


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Royal Navy and Royal Marines

The process for joining the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines differs slightly from that of the RAF. In addition to the previously listed eligibility requirements, the Royal Navy is open to both male and female applicants but the Royal Marines is an exclusively male organisation.

Following a successful initial application to the Royal Navy, you’ll sit a recruitment exam to test your English, maths and problem solving skills and your basic understanding of mechanics. There will also be an interview process, medical and eye tests, and a fitness test. If you pass all these tests you‘ll gain a place on the Pre-Royal Navy course.

If you are accepted to join the Royal Marines you will be granted entry into the prestigious Royal Marines training programme, as a commando or an officer. If you choose to apply as a commando, during your 32 weeks at Commando Training Centre you’ll learn everything from the basics of marching to learning the combat skills which will transform you into an elite soldier.

Officer training in the Royal Navy takes longer and has minimum qualification requirements of A-levels or their equivalent and is open to 17-25 year olds. What’s more, you’ll start earning right from the start of your basic training. Typical starting salaries for ratings begin at £14,492 and officers start on £25,220. As you move up the ranks you could earn anything from £17,945 to £91,466 or more, depending on your skills and qualifications.


The application process for the Army is different to that of the other armed forces, as you must decide on which role you want in the army, before you apply. You can join either as a regular soldier or a regular officer. Having met the Army’s eligibility requirements and a specific role, an army applicant will have an interview, followed by an assessment, before being accepted. Army careers begin with Phase 1 training, during which you’ll learn basic soldiering skills, followed by Phase 2 when you’ll learn more specialised skills. 

There are over 200 different roles in the Army, each offering opportunities for career progression. For example, the position of an infantry soldier requires no formal qualifications but is open exclusively to male applicants aged 16 or above. An entry level infantry soldier will earn a minimum of £14,492 per annum, with opportunities to progress from Private to Lance Corporal and from Lance Corporal to Corporal. 

Find out about jobs in the public services

About Lynette Daly

Lynette is the publishing editor of Moving On magazine. Moving On is devoted to helping young people make good choices for their future – education, qualifications and careers. Moving On really wants to motivate you! Our articles cover a range of topics to inspire and give ideas. Our magazines are delivered free to all schools, colleges and sixth forms in England and is also available online.

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