What’s It Like To Be in ROTC?

30,000 students. 7,000 courses. 150+ majors. 1,800 clubs and organizations. Illinois is a gigantic school with endless opportunities. There are thousands of ways you can personalize your experience and create your legacy.

But, with so many different options, you might feel a little lost. I certainly do at times—there are so many things I want to do, but just don’t have time to look into. Thus, I’ve decided to start a series of posts that might help you get around this problem. Every week or so, I’ll talk to someone in a certain program, major, or organization, and write about their experiences.

This week, I spoke to Daniel Gerst, a sophomore in the Navy ROTC (Marine Option) program. I met Dan in one of my lectures—he’s an Astronomy major as well. For those of you considering joining the ROTC at Illinois, hopefully this post will help!

Was joining NROTC something you always planned on doing?

I knew I wanted to be a Marine since my sophomore year of high school. However, many of my friends who are currently in NROTC were unsure about whether or not the military path was right for them. Fortunately, the NROTC gives you the opportunity to spend time with people in the service and ‘try things out’, so you can determine whether the lifestyle is for you before committing to anything.

Daniel (left) at a Navy/Marine Corps ball. Image credit: Daniel Gerst.

Does being in NROTC take up a lot of time? Do you have time to make any other commitments?

How much time you spend with the NROTC is completely up to you. To be an active member of the battalion and make most out of your training, it’s recommended that you attend more than just the required events. But still, the choice is completely yours—we’ve had members of club sports split their time between NROTC and their athletic lives.

Regardless of how much effort you decide to put in, you will be forced to manage your time wisely. This is an invaluable skill for any college student and will definitely challenge you to be organized. Many of the midshipmen in my unit are members of RSOs, clubs, intramurals, Greek Life, and club sport teams. This creates a demanding schedule, but is certainly achievable with a good time management ability.

Daniel (left) at one of our football games. Image credit: Daniel Gerst.

What’s your favorite and least favorite part about being in NROTC?

My favorite part of NROTC is the people I’m surrounded by. Working with students and staff who are all committed to a cause that is bigger than themselves is a great environment to be in. The camaraderie is greater than any sports team that I have ever been a part of, and I am grateful for the midshipmen that I train with.

My least favorite part is trying to balance schoolwork with a healthy sleep schedule. With time-consuming classes, it can be tough to achieve more than 7-8 hours of sleep (especially if you have to be up early for drill the next day). Going back to the part about time-management—good time management skills are important to maintain a healthy lifestyle as well.

What are your plans after graduation?

ROTC programs are designed to commission you as an officer shortly after graduation. This means that upon graduation you will be serving your predetermined number of years with whichever branch of the U.S military you have been training with. That number varies per service and occupational specialty, but generally the minimum is four years. After those required years, remaining in the military comes down to the needs of your branch and your personal preference. Personally, my plan is to apply to be an astronaut as a military applicant. There are countless paths to take, and the Navy and the Marine Corps can help broaden your horizons drastically.

Daniel at a NROTC endurance race in Colorado. Video credit: Daniel Gerst.

Although I cannot speak from personal experience, the NROTC program at Illinois seems to be a very fulfilling and rewarding experience—Dan seems to be very happy with the path he’s picked. If you’re interested in becoming a midshipman or joining any other branch at Illinois, I hope this post gave you insight to what life in ROTC is like, and be sure to look up more information online!



Class of 2022
I grew up in Hong Kong, China, and I’ve come across the world to Illinois to major in Astronomy in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I’ve always thought outer space is super cool, and I love that I’m learning everything that I can about it at Illinois.