How Old is Too Old to Join the Military? – Military Age Limits

Written by

John Cotton


Logan Miller

how old is too old to join the military

Thinking of enlisting but also finding yourself asking how old is too old to join the military? The common knowledge minimum age for enlisting is 17 years old. But there is also a limit or maximum age requirement to enlist in the military.

Unfortunately, you could be too old to enlist in the military since the age cap is between 35 and 42 years old (depending on which branch you wish to join or re-enlist). Sometimes, age waivers can also be applied to the role you’re eyeing.

Military Age Requirements


At 45 years old, at 50, or 55 years old, you could be already too old to enlist in Army, but there are special circumstances where older people could still serve in the military.

Sometimes, the applicant’s skill set and military career (whether they have previously served or not) could still be considered. Other times, a particular role or military branch would have special considerations.

1. Minimum age


The age requirements to join the military for most military branches is set at 17 years old.

Parental consent needed for some branches: If you enlist at 17 years old, you are required to file parental consent from your legal guardians. But this isn’t necessary for ALL roles.

The Navy Reserve is the only branch that requires you to be 18 years old, either with parental consent or without.

18 years old is also legal age, which means applicants are no longer required to submit a consent form or letter.

2. Maximum age


In 2006, the Army asked Congress to up the age limit to 44, but wasn’t granted the request. Instead, 42 years old is the maximum army enlistment age cap to enlist in the military.

You can still apply for an age waiver as you reach the max age. Although approval will depend on your unique skill sets, the demand for your skills, and previous enlistment, tours, and time served.

Age Limit Variations by Military Branch


The oldest age or the maximum age cap is set by Federal Law. To join any branch of the US military requirements for females and males must be below 42 years of age.

However, branches of the military are also allowed to set their age caps.

military requirements.

Here are some age requirement guidelines per military branch, so you’d know what is considered “too old” to join the military:

1. US Army

  • Active duty: 17 to 34 years old
  • Army Reserve: 17 to  34
  • National Guard: 17 to 35 (*Some sources say the Army National Guard age limit is below 42)
  • Service Academies: 17 to 22

2. Marine Corps

  • Active duty:  17 to 39
  • Marine Corps Reserve:  17 to 39
  • Service Academies: 17 to 22

3. Navy

  • Active duty: 17 to 29
  • Navy Reserve: 17 to 29
  • Navy SEALs: 17 to 28
  • Service Academies: 17 to 22

4. Air Force

  • Active duty: 17 to 39
  • Air Force Reserve:  17 to 39
  • Air National Guard:  17 to 39
  • Service Academies: 17 to 22

5. Space Force

  • Active duty: 17 to 39

6. Coast Guard (USCG)

  • Active duty:   17 to 31
  • Coast Guard Reserve: 17 to 40 years old
  • Service Academies: 17 to 22

Note that these age limits are continuously changing. In 2023, the Navy was allowed to change its age limit to 41 due to low numbers of young adults enlisting.

Military Officer Age Limits

Just like enlisting as a reserve or guard, note that the age limits will also vary for those joining as an officer.

For example, 32-year-olds could still apply for Warrant Officer flight training, while 46-year-olds can still be accepted for Warrant Officer technical training.

  • National Guard – 34
  • Army Reserve – 34
  • Air Force & Reserve – 39
  • Navy – 42 years old
  • Navy Reserve – 39
  • USMC & Reserve – 28
  • USCG – 31
  • USCG Reserve – 39

1. Exceptions, waivers, and special circumstances


If you have reached the maximum age cap, you may apply for an age waiver for your enlistment to be reconsidered. Although it is important to note that age waivers are approved if you have the experience, and skills needed.

That said, most older enlistees granted age waivers are those who can offer unique skills that are in high demand in the military. Army recruiting and approval of age waivers are at the discretion of your command.

Easily approved age waivers are usually in specialty fields such as:

  • Medical (experience as a nurse, doctor, medical technician, etc)
  • Trades (experience in welding, car mechanics, etc.)
  • Religious Duties

2. For re-Enlistment


For those with prior tours of service, re joining the army with age waivers can also be applied. A veteran can deduct the number of years he or she has served to the maximum age requirement. So let’s say you served 2 years, and the maximum age is 28 years old; your maximum age is adjusted to 26.

Different branches could have different age caps for reenlisting service members. For example, the USMC has a maximum age cap of 32 years old if with prior service. It is best to get in touch with veterans services to learn more about the age caps for specific branches of the military if you plan to reenlist.

Army Age Limit Reasons: Why is the Age Enlistment Limit Needed?

Age limit for military, which includes Air Force, Navy, and coast guard age limit, is to ensure that each recruit meets the educational and physical requirements needed to serve in the military.

1. The effects of the age


We would like to think that we can be of use at any age. But the cold fact is that our bodies deteriorate over time. The older we get, the more frail our bodies and minds get.

2. Young recruits


If you’re young and trying to enlist in any branch of the army, here are things to consider.

  • Prepare for the physicality of the job: The younger we are, the more physically capable we are. And being physically fit is integral for any fighting force to be effective and successful.
  • Get your high school diploma or GED first: But age is only one requirement. If you enlist at 17 years old, you are also required to have a GED or a high school diploma.
  • Your application could be pushed back a year: Younger applicants could be accepted but listed as “without a diploma.” In some cases, applications could also be set aside for consideration if the military branch has filled its quota.

If this happens, you might have to wait another year to have your application processed. Younger recruits aren’t prioritized as skilled, older recruits who could bring their degrees, expertise, and knowledge that only first-hand experience could bring.

Restrictions for educational attainment are strictly enforced in the military. The main reason for this is that statistics have shown that recruits without diplomas tend to have low success rates in basic military training.

3. Older recruits


At an older age, although we become wiser and have learned a lot through life experiences and professional careers, we are less physically capable.

However, the military considers older recruits as an asset in a different capacity.

Your life and professional experience are invaluable, and the military recognizes this. That said, positions and posts are open for older recruits with unique skill sets and knowledge.

Factors Affecting the Decision to Join the Military at an Older Age

  • Older people have more knowledge and experience. If you truly believe you could be an asset to the military, send in your application.
  • Just remember that the military and its specific branches take priority over experience and skill. So make sure you have both.
  • The most obvious downside to joining the military at an advanced age is the physical demands of a military serviceman. At an older age, it is harder to keep up and easier to break down.
  • If you join when you’re beyond 35 years old, the pension and retirement benefits you get could be smaller than those who started early.

Benefits of Joining the Military at a Younger Age


Being in the military is a job, albeit a unique and demanding job. As with any job, you should expect to receive and be entitled to some benefits. The military is no exception. Service members are entitled to free dental and HMO.

You also have paid 30 days off per year. Lastly, you are entitled to a savings/investment and 401 (K) retirement plan. Outside the military, many establishments have special offers and promos to show their appreciation for your service.

Other benefits of enlisting in the US military at a younger age include:

  • Physical Fitness

No matter your role in the military, there’s a high chance you’ll be taught a routine that involves an intense workout. Basic training and deployment keep you in top physique and disciplined – another skill you can apply for the rest of your life.

  • Free or Low-cost Training, Education, and Self-Improvement Courses

The military offers low-cost, quality education to provide you with professional skills you can use later in civilian life.

Allowances for housing, education materials such as books, and tuition assistance are also available.

  • Developing a Sense of Duty and Community

The relationships you build while in basic training and deployment can potentially last a lifetime. Going through mutual situations and overcoming them creates unbreakable bonds between people.

Truly believing and sharing a sense of service in protecting your nation with your fellow soldiers is a unique kinship that can only be formed in the military.

  • Travel for Free

The US military has installations all over the globe. You can be stationed at any one of these and gain a unique experience of being exposed to different places and cultures.

While your time is mostly attached to the base you’re assigned to, you will get downtime and can use this to explore that new town or country.

Joining the Military as a Middle-aged or Older Enlistee


Based on a report from the Defense Department, in the years after the attacks on 9/11, an influx of older enlistees was observed. Many people over 50 have either signed up for the first time or reenlisted.

Either being triggered by what they have witnessed or their sense of service renewed by the new threat to America’s security, new recruits or re-enlistments are accepted even at an older age.

Here are some benefits of joining/re-joining the military at an older age:

  • More Relaxed Physical Fitness Tests

Older enlistees won’t be judged for their physical attributes and educational attainment. Instead, their approval and activation will be solely based on their skill sets and what the military holds in high demand.

  • Skilled Military Servicemen Have a Specific Purpose

The military has welcomed older recruits as skilled assets, operating in specialized fields. Doctors, dentists, welders, teachers, psychiatrists, and so on, are prioritized for their expertise.

  • Age waivers are available for special cases

Age waivers are available for enlistees that do not meet the maximum age requirement, granted they can fully justify their request for their age to be waived.

If this is your first time to serve in the military, transitioning into your duty as a middle-aged man/woman could be challenging, especially if you are deployed away from home or family.

If you enlisted after your college graduation, you have a better chance of landing officer positions. You can also take advantage of loan repayment programs (offered for regular students and health professionals).

Other Requirements to Join the Military


For Enlisted Soldiers:

  • Age limit for Army must be 17 (youngest) and 35 (oldest).
  • Must be physically fit with no conditions that could hinder physical performance.
  • Good standing in the community and without any major criminal record.
  • Must have a high school diploma or GED.
  • Must be a US citizen or Green Card holder.
  • Lastly, you must pass the Army placement exam.

For Officers:

  • Age must be between 17 and 31
  • Should be physically fit
  • Good standing in the community and without any major criminal record.
  • Must be a US citizen or Green Card holder.
  • Should be a college graduate at the time of becoming an Officer
  • Must clear and complete a background check
  • Fill out forms, complete the interview, and provide the required documents.

Frequently Asked Questions


Can I request an age waiver if I am above the age limit?

Yes. But review and approval will be at the discretion of your command and will be based on prior service, experience, and skills.

How old can a woman be to enlist?

Men and women have the same maximum age cap. No matter the gender, the max-age cap is 42 years old.

What are some alternative military-related careers if I am too old to join?

There are a lot of job listings available in the military. Although some are not open to civilians, there is still a lot available to non-military personnel from Navy Clerks to scientists.

What age is too old, until what age can you join the army?

Federal Law states that the maximum age cap for any branch of the military is 42 years old. Although different branches of the military are free to set their maximum age caps.


Now that you know how old is too old to join the military. You might also want to ask yourself another question: “How can I offer my expertise?”

Age is one thing, physicality another, but experience and skills are what the military is looking for. So if you feel you still have it in you to serve and you are confident that your skills will serve the best interest of the military, they will welcome you with both arms.

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