The military generally requires recruits to have a high school diploma or its equivalent, and the average age of those who enlist is nearly 21. A student can enlist as early as 17 with parental consent.
Of the Army’s 80,000 enlistments during the 2008 fiscal year, about 14,000 — or nearly 18 percent — were high school students.
One enlistee, Matthew Tomlin, 17, said Army recruiters called him one night at his home in Arbuckle, Calif., a farming town about 50 miles north of Sacramento.
“They pay for your college, and with the economy the way it is, there’s not that many jobs around. So I figured it was good,” Matthew said.
Officials say not all high school seniors who enlist follow through. Some change their minds and go to college. Others don’t graduate or fail to meet physical requirements.
Douglas Smith, a public affairs officer with the Army, said granting the military access to student contact information and school campuses makes for a more efficient use of recruiters’ time.
“It’s the last time that the population is in one place,” said Mr. Smith, who is based at Fort Knox in Kentucky. “After high school, students graduate, they scatter.”
• AP writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report from Sacramento.