The application process for the Coast Guard's officer accession programs (other than the Coast Guard Academy), consists of three main steps:
meeting the qualification criteria,
writing a convincing 2-page memo describing, in an engaging manner, why you should be selected for the program, and
coming across well in an interview before a 3-officer board.
The first step (meeting the qualification criteria) is a necessary part of the process, but should not be something you spend a lot of time on. Everyone who applies for one of these programs will have met the exact same criteria. Consider meeting those criteria to be just getting past the gate-keeper, getting an appointment to show those who will make the final selection why you – over all the others – should be selected. This part of the process is relatively straightforward and easy (filling out forms, getting letters of recommendation, getting an officer accession physical). Don't let it take more time than absolutely necessary. The check-off sheets (downloadable from the CGRC's web site) give you a guide for completing all requirements of the application process.
In October 2008, age requirements for non-aviation officer accession programs were standardized and published in ALCOAST 485/08. These and the aviation-program requirements are listed below. With this ALCOAST the concept of "constructive age" and all age waivers were eliminated for these programs.
|Category||Minimum age*||Maximum age*|
|OCS (temporary commission)||21||34|
|OCS (Reserve commission)||21||30|
|Direct Commission (except aviation and SRDC)||21||40|
|Flight training (where applicant is already commissioned or in OCS)||21||30|
|Direct Commission Aviator||21||33|
|Wilks Flight Initiative||21||30|
* As of 30 September of the FY in which the selection board meets
** For fiscal reasons, PPEP has been suspended and no applications for PPEP are currently being accepted. A future ALCOAST will announce resumption of the program.
Unfortunately many applicants view the process of applying as little more than checking off a couple dozen tasks listed on the check-off sheets. They don't seem to realize that all other applicants will be performing the same tasks and end up in exactly the same place as everyone else. That is, no applicant who performs those tasks is any closer to becoming an officer than another applicant.
What many applicants don't seem to grasp is that those tasks are there only to ensure everyone meets the minimum qualifications that can be set out in writing. Completing them is no guarantee that those who complete them will be selected to attend an officer program. It's assumed that everyone who applies meets these objective standards. Anyone who doesn't is instantly knocked out of the competition.
What really matters are the second and third steps: the narrative memo and the interview. It's the subjective feelings and thoughts of your CO, the members of the interview board, and the members of the selection board that count. And the only way to ensure all those officers have favorable impressions of you is to put in a lot of work to actually become what they're looking for. You can't just wake up one day and decide you're going to submit an OCS application before the next deadline and expect to be selected. Almost no one can do that and convince the officers who will judge them that they should be accepted – people they would want to serve with or believe others would want to serve with.
The second and third steps represent the only chance you have to make a personal impression on the members of the selection board. In the case of the interview, you do so through the officers on the interview panel. The narrative memo is your only shot at directly speaking to the officers on the selection board. Thus, it's these two steps that you should spend the most time on.
One item on the check list that particularly seems to worry applicants is the narrative statement explaining why you want to become an officer. The Personnel Manual requires "A brief narrative explaining the applicant's reasons for applying . . . and [explaining the applicant's] goals as a Coast Guard officer, if selected." To allay some of the anxiety many would-be applicants feel about this aspect of the application, check out the info elsewhere on this site related to writing the narrative.
Another part of the application process that might be stressful is the interview. For that reason, I've also provided some pointers on preparing for the interview.
Both the narrative statement and the interview should be the culmination of years of effort by the applicant. Those who consciously prepare for the application process, by pursuing a pattern of behavior over a few months that's aimed at impressing the officers on the interview board are unlikely to succeed. Those who do succeed have deep positive character traits developed over the applicant's whole life. Those traits include (but most certainly aren't limited to)
willingness to make mistakes and to learn from them
willingness to accept responsibility for one's mistakes
a respectful sense of humor
comfort with oneself
the ability to put others at ease in any social setting
excellent communication skills (both written and verbal)
a desire for constant self-improvement
concern for other people (in and out of the Coast Guard), and
willingness to put the Coast Guard's good ahead of one's own good.
Rather than assembling a presentable application, the hardest part of applying for OCS is drafting your narrative memo and coming across well in the interview – all of which require you to look honestly and objectively at yourself to see if you have these and other positive traits.
Take a look at your Coast Guard record – what's written in your marks, which awards you've earned, your day-to-day attitude and performance – and ask yourself a couple questions.
Have you always done only what was required of you or have you voluntarily done more than the bare minimum, taken on additional tasks or collateral duties?
Do you look for ways to improve your performance and the performance of teams you work with to accomplish assignments?
These are the kinds of things that officers on interview and selection boards want to see in those who want to join their ranks. Your answers to these questions will give you an idea how you stack up against the competition.
You can also download an Officer Program Application Preparation Handbook (which applies to OCS, PPEP, DCE, AVCAD, and CSPI) and the Supervisor's Guide to Preparing Officer Program Application Endorsements is there to help supervisors of would-be applicants.
Don't be too put off by the way these booklets look when you print them out: they're formatted as booklets. Just print then out, feed them into a copier that does double-side copying, and select single-side to double-side. If you can print them directly from your computer to a double-side copier or printer, that'll give you the same result. Either way, fold the output in half and you'll have a booklet.
And these tips should help you stay on the right track.