Air Force Journey

Sharing my journey through Air Force Officer Training School (OTS) and beyond.

Choosing Career Field

Picking an AFSC (Career Field)

There are always a lot of questions about how it works to pick a job, so I decided to do a dedicated post about it.  The Air Force career fields are called Air Force Specialty Codes, or AFSCs.  Officers have four digit AFSCs and enlisted have five digit AFSCs.  For the sake of simplicity, I’ll only discuss the officer AFSCs here.

In general the first digit of the AFSC is the career group, second digit is the utilization field, third is functional area, and fourth is the qualification.  The first three digits identify the the career field and the fourth digit changes as you progress through your career.  For example I am a 13S1 Space Operations which makes sense because 1 is Ops, 3S is for space, and 1 because I am still new.  Wikipedia does a good job breaking this down:

Remember that the line officer AFSCs are broken down into rated (anyone who flies) and non-rated slots (everyone else).  When I applied for my non-rated slot there were three choices for my AFSC on my AF56, but I was able to submit five choices total.  All five of my choices were listed both on my OTS Applicant Profile and I loaded them directly into SharePoint when I uploaded my final application, so they were readily available to AFRS/AFPC.  I can’t remember how many rated choices you get because I know it is a little different.

Prior to every board (especially the new NAF ones), AFPC will give AFRS a list of quotas by career field.  Here is is example of rumored rated quotas from a few years ago.  Basically it will have a list of AFSC’s which need new accessions from OTS, and it will be AFRS’s job to fill them.  Not ALL AFSCs will be on this list, only the ones which are needed.  Additionally, it will be rare for this information to be released to the public.  One because it changes so fast and is needed quickly by AFPC/AFRS and two from a big Air Force perspective it is irrelevant information for applicants.  That being said, sometimes recruiters do have these numbers and they are often shared with recruits.

When you submit your application the administrative staff does an initial check for issues such as missing documents, eligibility, waivers, etc, then your application is ready for board review (board ready).  When the board grades your application, they are not concerned with your AFSC choices.  Their sole purpose in life is to grade all applicants and order them from 1-X.  They will grade each application one at a time and give you a numeric grade for four different areas (or something like that).  Once all applications are graded they placed in order.  If 300 applicants applied, they will be ordered 1-300.

After the board has convened the administrative staff will start going to work matching each application to the available quotas.  Let’s pretend these are the quotas they had available for this board:

10 Security Forces
25 Comm
10 Space
50 Nuclear
1 Intel

  • The applicant boarded as number 1 had Intel as their first choice, so they would get Intel and the Intel quota would drop to 0.
  • Number 2 wanted Intel, Maintenance, Logistics, Comm, and Space.  They would get comm and the quota would drop to 24.
  • Number three wanted AFOSI and intel, that’s all they put.  They would get Nuclear.  It wasn’t on their list, but their preferences were exhausted so they got the one with the greatest need.

So as you can see, the job you get largely depends on how strong your application is and how many quotas are available, both of which are largely out of your control.  The only thing you can do to increase your odds are to pick jobs which generally have a lot of slots available and try to get a pulse for how Big AF allocates quotas.

If you have your heart set on one career field and do not like the above option, one other option is Guard/Reserve.  Guard/Reserve slots are interviewed for first specifically, then you are sent to OTS if selected.  If I wanted to be a 13S at Buckley AFB, CO I could see if there is a Reserve unit up there, and apply for one of their slots through a local recruiter.  If selected, I would know I would absolutely be a 13S out of Buckley once I completed my training.  The difference between active duty and Guard/Reserve are instead of working full time you work one weekend per month and two weeks out of the year, then work a regular civilian job the rest of the time.

I hope this clears up some confusion!  Let me know if you have any questions.


  1. I have a question about the selection board, I am trying to apply the Non-rated one on July 2017, but if my application is rejected, do I have to wait for another 180 days after the board result date to apply for the next selection board?

  2. Things can always change but as far as I know the 180 day waiver requirement is currently waived, so you don't have to wait between applications.

  3. Thank you for the explanation! The system seems so complicated… so if you apply to the AFOTS for active duty, you get to pick your choices when you apply, but you CANNOT find out what you actually get until you graduate, with possibility of getting a job you didn't want? Or will they let you know what job you got when you are accepted BEFORE you leave to the training?

  4. No problem! If you are selected they tell you what AFSC you were selected for in the selection notification, so you will know before you leave.

  5. Anonymous

    Using your hypothetical example, if there were 300 applicants and only 96 open AFSCs, would the remaining 204 applicants be non-selected?

  6. Correct. Historically the selection rate has hovered around 65% though.

  7. Hi, I am going to be applying for the July 2017 board, how soon after do they typically send you off to OTS after selection (Sept)? Do you happen to know how long tech school for officers is on average? I am just curious.

  8. Typically it takes about six months to get a class date after selection, but it can take up to a year depending on a number of factors. Tech schools are usually 3-7 months depending on career field.

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