Each branch of the service operates its own Service Academy as a four-year institution of higher education. All students receive a full scholarship with a small monthly stipend. Upon graduation, you're commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army, Air Force, or Marine Corps or as an ensign in the Navy or Coast Guard. Appointment to a service academy is extremely competitive. For more information, call 1-800-822-8762 (US Military Academy in West Point, New York), 1-800-638-9156 (US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland), 1-800-443-9266 (US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado), 1-800-883-8724 (US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut), and 1-866-546-4778 (United States Merchant Marine Academy, Kings Point, New York).
The military organization is characterized by a strict hierarchy divided by military rank, with ranks normally grouped (in descending order of authority) as officers (e.g. Colonel), non-commissioned officers (e.g. Sergeant), and personnel at the lowest rank (e.g. Private Soldier). While senior officers make strategic decisions, subordinated military personnel (soldiers, sailors, marines, or airmen) fulfil them. Although rank titles vary by military branch and country, the rank hierarchy is common to all state armed forces worldwide.
Personnel may be recruited or conscripted, depending on the system chosen by the state. Most military personnel are males; the minority proportion of female personnel varyies internationally (approximately 3% in India, 10% in the UK, 13% in Sweden, 16% in the US, and 27% in South Africa). While two-thirds of states now recruit or conscript only adults, as of 2017 50 states still relied partly on children under the age of 18 (usually aged 16 or 17) to staff their armed forces.
Examinees also receive a score on what is called the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT). AFQT scores are computed using the Standard Scores from four ASVAB subtests: Arithmetic Reasoning (AR), Mathematics Knowledge (MK), Paragraph Comprehension (PC), and Word Knowledge (WK). AFQT scores are reported as percentiles between 1-99. An AFQT percentile score indicates the percentage of examinees in a reference group that scored at or below that particular score. For current AFQT scores, the reference group is a sample of 18 to 23 year old youth who took the ASVAB as part of a national norming study conducted in 1997. Thus, an AFQT score of 90 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 90% of the nationally-representative sample of 18 to 23 year old youth. An AFQT score of 50 indicates that the examinee scored as well as or better than 50% of the nationally-representative sample.