In Heinlein's Starship Troopers, the main character (Juan Rico) enlists in the military shortly after high school graduation:

Graduation right after that and three days later my birthday, followed in less than a week by Carl's birthday ... [we met] the day after his birthday and ... went down to the recruiting office together. (Ace Books 1987 paperback edition, p. 25)

Later, after several years in the military, a fellow soldier is suggesting that he go for officer training. He (the fellow soldier, 'Ace') says:

"... I've got no education and I'm ten years older than you are. But you've got enough education to hit the selection exams for [Officer Cadet School] and you've got the I.Q. they like." (p. 127)

Juan has been in the Mobile Infantry for the whole intervening period, with no mention in the book of any education or training other than boot camp.

Ace says he has "no education" (and is therefore not qualified for OCS), but that Juan has "enough" education. Is the suggestion that Ace has less than a high-school education, and that Juan's high-school education is sufficient for OCS? (One other OCS cadet is described as having "a B.S. in math on his eighteenth birthday", but there isn't any other discussion of educational requirements.)

  • 1
    Take Ace at his word. He has no education. Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 0:37
  • Unless there's something else you didn't quote, I don't read that as Ace being qualified for OCS.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 0:59
  • Maybe I wasn't clear. I think Ace is saying (paraphrasing), "I don't have enough education for OCS, but you (Juan) do." But Juan only has a HS education ... ?
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 1:02

2 Answers 2


Here is a frame challenge.

The OP says that Juan Rico seems to have ended his formal education with high school, and yet has enough more education than his friend Ace that Rico can go to officer's school and Ace can't. The OP can hardly believe the possibility that Ace could have entered the military without completing high school.

Why would someone in the year 2022 believe that Heinlein writing in 1958-1959 would assume that a military of the distant future would require a high school diploma to enlist?

When did having a high school diploma become necessary to enlist in the US armed forces? It wasn't during the 19th century when there were many teenage and younger drummer boys in he army and first, second, and third class boys in the US navy. I think that if I mentioned the ages of the youngest 19th century recruits in the US armed forces, most people here would find it unbelievable, more like science fiction than history.

It wasn't a requirement in the US Navy in World War Two. Calvin Leon Graham (April 3, 1930-November 6, 1992) was an elementary school student when he enlisted on August 15, 1942, aged 12 years, 4 months, and 12 days.


Of course a boy who could pull off such a big lie about his age might have been able to pull off an equally big lie about his education.

This site says:

During the enlistment for the war, young boys had to be at least 17 to be allowed to join. At 16, one could join with a parent’s consent, but 17 was still preferred. However, Graham was undeterred. Along with two of his friends, he forged his mother’s signature on his enlistment papers, stole a notary stamp from a local hotel, told his mother he was going to visit relatives, and lined up.


If 17 and even 16 year olds could legally enlist with the permisssion of their parent's I doubt a high school diploma would be required, since only a small minority of boys that age would be high school graduates.

There is a book about underage US soldiers in World War Two:


And that should say whether a high school diploma was a requirement for enlisting them.

Dan Bullock (December 21, 1953 – June 7, 1969) was a United States Marine and the youngest U.S. serviceman killed in action during the Vietnam War,1 dying at the age of 15.

When he was 14 years old, he altered the date on his birth certificate to show that he was born December 21, 1949. He processed through the recruiting station, and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps on September 18, 1968


The article does not mention whether he also forged a high school diploma or it was not necessary.

And of course a lot of rebel and guerrilla groups after World War Two have started using teenage and pre teen kids without high school diplomas as soldiers, now that modern assault rifles are so light weight. And it is possible that Heinlein, someone concered about Communist guerrillas, was already aware of that as early as 1958.

As a science fiction writer Heinlein could easily imagine that in some possible futures warfare would be so complex and scientific that nobody could be accepted into the military unless they had a PHD in science and were over 30 years old. But Heinlein didn't intend to write such a story, since Juan Rico and his friend enlisted soon after high school graduation and their eighteenth birthdays.

So clearly Heinlein decided that a high school diploma would be sufficient eduation to be enlisted in his future. Did Heinlein think that a high school diploma would also be necessary for enlistment, or did he imagine a future where educational requirements would still be as low as they were in the 1950s?

  • Indeed, an answer here says that the US Army instituted its high school/GED requirement in 1972 ... I'm inclined to accept this answer but will wait a little longer.
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Jun 11, 2022 at 22:15
  • This is an interesting take on it, and the OP has already responded positively to what you wrote. But I am confused by one thing -- you are talking about requiring a high school education to enlist. From the original question, it sounds as though both of the characters already enlisted; the question is about getting into officer's training; there is no reason to assume that OCS has the same prerequisites as enlistment.
    – Basya
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 11:25
  • Right. I would summarize this answer as "Juan has a high-school education (the same as when he enlisted), which is good enough for OCS. Ace has less than a HS education (with which he was able to enlist), which is not good enough for OCS."
    – Ben Bolker
    Commented Jun 12, 2022 at 17:35
  • It gets better. In the Starship Troopers universe you need to enlist to become a citizen (and thus get voting rights and things like that). That implies enlistment is open to anyone (with probably an age restriction), regardless of educational status (though an IQ test might be part of the enlistment process, and/or a criminal background check, to prevent "stupid" people and criminals from getting voting rights).
    – jwenting
    Commented Dec 5, 2022 at 7:03

I believe you're reading "education" in a different way than Heinlein intended. Ace doesn't have "enough education to hit the selection exams" - he may have done enough to graduate from high school, but he didn't learn as much as Johnny did.

Heinlein is distinguishing between passive completion of education requirements, which both Johnny and Ace have accomplished, and actual learning, which Ace believes he has not done (while Johnny has). By this reading, OCS doesn't have any prerequisite other than a HS diploma - but does require that the applicant actually have learned the material the high school is intended to teach (it's clear from the book that you don't need to pass History and Moral Philosophy to graduate from HS).

  • 1
    I agree with this. It's not that Ace is missing formal coursework that Johnny has, it's that Ace doesn't think he studied hard enough to actually pass the entrance exams for officer school. Commented Dec 4, 2022 at 22:23

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.