Do You Still Have to Register for the Draft?

Males 18 Through 25 are Required to Register

Draftee Undergoing Medical Exam
Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

The Selective Service System wants you to know that the requirement to register for the draft did not go away with the end of the Vietnam War. Under the law, virtually all male U.S. citizens, and male aliens living in the U.S., who are ages 18 through 25, are required to register with Selective Service.

While there is no draft currently in effect, men who are not classified as unfit for military service, disabled men, clergymen, and men who believe themselves to be conscientiously opposed to war must also register.

Penalties for Failure to Register for the Draft

Men who do not register could be prosecuted and, if convicted, fined up to $250,000 and/or serve up to five years in prison. In addition, men who fail to register with Selective Service before turning age 26, even if not prosecuted, will become ineligible for:

  • Student Financial Aid - including Pell Grants, College Work Study, Guaranteed Student/Plus Loans, and National Direct Student Loans.
  • U.S. Citizenship - if the man first arrived in the U.S. before his 26th birthday.
  • Federal Job Training - The Job Training Partnership Act (JTPA) offers programs that can train young men for jobs in auto mechanics and other skills. This program is only open to those men who register with Selective Service.
  • Federal Jobs - men born after December 31, 1959, must be registered to be eligible for jobs in the Executive Branch of the Federal government and the U.S. Postal Service.

In addition, several states have added additional penalties for those who fail to register.

You may have read or been told that there is no need to register because so few people are prosecuted for failing to register. The goal of the Selective Service System is registration, not prosecution. Even though those who fail to register may not be prosecuted they will be denied student financial assistance, federal job training, and most federal employment unless they can provide convincing evidence to the agency providing the benefit they are seeking, that their failure to register was not knowing and willful.

Who Does NOT Have to Register for the Draft?

Men who are not required to register with Selective Service include; nonimmigrant aliens in the U.S. on a student, visitor, tourist, or diplomatic visas; men on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces; and cadets and midshipmen in the Service Academies and certain other U.S. military colleges. All other men must register upon reaching age 18 (or before age 26, if entering and taking up residence in the U.S. when already older than 18).

What About Women and the Draft?

While women officers and enlisted personnel serve with distinction in the U.S. Armed Forces, women have never been subject to Selective Service registration or a military draft in America. On January 1, 2016, the Department of Defense removed all gender-based restrictions on military service, thus allowing women to serve in combat roles. Despite this change, Selective serviced continued to register only men, ages 18 through 25. 

However, on February 22, 2019, Senior Judge Gray Miller of the U.S. District Court in Houston, Texas, ruled that the practice of requiring only men to register for the military draft was unconstitutional.

Finding that the male-only provision of the Selective Service Act violated the equal protection provisions in the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, Judge Miller stated that while discriminatory treatment of women in the military may have been justified in the past, it longer was. “If there ever was a time to discuss ‘the place of women in the Armed Services,’ that time has passed,” he wrote, citing the Supreme Court’s earlier decision in the case of Rostker v. Goldberg. In the 1981 case, the Court ruled that requiring only men to register for the draft did not violate the Constitution since, at that time, only men were eligible to serve in combat.

The government is likely to appeal Judge Miller’s ruling to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. However, if Miller’s ruling is upheld, one of three things might happen:

  • Women would have to register for the draft under the same rules as men;
  • Selective Service and the draft would be eliminated; or
  • Registration for Selective service would become voluntary for men and women.

Miller, however, delayed final implementation of his ruling until a special commission appointed by Congress to study the issue of the male-only draft issues its final findings due in 2020. As of now, the Selective Service System continues to register men only. 

Congress Weighs Requiring Women to Register for the Draft

On September 23, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $768 billion 2022 National Defense Authorization Act. The essential annual appropriations bill included an amendment by Pennsylvania Democrat Chrissy Houlahan and Florida Republican Michael Waltz that would require women to register for the draft. On November 17, the Senate voted to take up the bill, meaning it could come to a final vote by the end 2021. 

While some proponents of adding women to the draft are seeking gender equality, others cite the benefits of millions more prospective draftees in the case of global warfare. Some opponents of the move are simply opposed to the draft in general—regardless of gender. Other opponents believe women need to be protected from the potential dangers of military service. Psychologists call this benevolent sexism—the idea that women need to be protected by men—and consider it a factor adding to problem of gender bias. The ACLU has criticized the sexism of a male-only draft, calling the current system, “one of the last examples of overt sex discrimination written into our federal law.”

A March 2020 study by the National Commission on Military, National and Public Service recommended registering women for the draft, stating, “The next time America must turn to a draft, it will need to include everyone who is capable and qualified. It would be harmful to the Nation’s security to leave out the skills and talents of half of the U.S. population.”

What is the Draft and How Does it Work?

The "draft" is the actual process of calling men between ages 18–26 to be inducted to serve in the U.S. military. The draft is typically used only in the event of war or extreme national emergency as determined by the Congress and the president.

Should the President and the Congress decide a draft was needed, a classification program would begin. Registrants would be examined to determine suitability for military service, and they would also have ample time to claim exemptions, deferments, or postponements. To be inducted, men would have to meet the physical, mental, and administrative standards established by the military services. Local Boards would meet in every community to determine exemptions and deferments for clergymen, ministerial students, and men who file claims for reclassification as conscientious objectors.

Men have not actually been drafted into service since the end of the Vietnam War.

How Do You Register?

The easiest and fastest way to register with Selective Service is to register online.

You can also register by mail using a Selective Service "mail-back" registration form available at any U.S. Post Office. A man can fill it out, sign (leaving the space for your Social Security Number blank, if you have not yet obtained one), affix postage, and mail it to Selective Service, without the involvement of the postal clerk. Men living overseas may register at any U.S. Embassy or consular office.

Many high school students can register at school. More than half the high schools in the United States have a staff member or teacher appointed as a Selective Service Registrar. These individuals help register male high school students.

Brief History of the Draft in America

Military conscription—commonly called the draft—has been used in six wars: the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. The nation’s first peacetime draft began in 1940 with the enactment of the Selective Training and Service Act and ended in 1973 with the end of the Vietnam War. During this period of peace and war, men were drafted in order to maintain necessary troop levels when vacancies in the Armed Forces could not be adequately filled by volunteers.

While the draft ended after the Vietnam War when the U.S. moved to the current all-volunteer military, the Selective Service System remains in place if needed to maintain national security. The mandatory registration of all male civilians aged 18 to 25 ensures that the draft can quickly be resumed if needed.

View Article Sources
  1. "Benefits and Penalties." Selective Service System, U.S. Government.

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Your Citation
Longley, Robert. "Do You Still Have to Register for the Draft?" ThoughtCo, Jan. 2, 2022, Longley, Robert. (2022, January 2). Do You Still Have to Register for the Draft? Retrieved from Longley, Robert. "Do You Still Have to Register for the Draft?" ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).