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Can you get drafted for Selective Service?

The Selective Service System is an independent agency within the United States government that maintains information on those potentially subject to military conscription. All male U.S. citizens and male immigrant non-citizens between the ages of 18 and 25 are required by law to have registered with the Selective Service. This ensures that a fair and equitable draft can be readily resumed if authorized by the President and Congress during a national emergency. Registration with Selective Service does not mean that you are joining the military.

The United States military has been all-volunteer since 1973, meaning there has not been a draft for almost 50 years. However, the Selective Service system remains in place to preserve the capability to enact a draft in the future, if needed. So while a draft is not currently in effect, men ages 18-25 are still required to register with Selective Service in case a national emergency necessitates reinstatement of a draft.

Who is required to register for the Selective Service?

According to the Selective Service website, almost all male U.S. citizens and male immigrants, who are 18 through 25, are required to register with Selective Service. This includes:

  • U.S. citizens living in the U.S. who are 18 through 25 years old
  • U.S. citizens living in the U.S. who are 18 through 25 years old but were born female and have changed their gender to male
  • U.S. citizens living outside the U.S. who are 18 through 25 years old
  • Non-citizens living in the U.S. who are 18 through 25 years old

The following groups are not required to register:

  • Women
  • Men born before 1960
  • Non-citizens who entered the U.S. after turning 26
  • Non-citizens on student or visitor visas
  • Men who are incarcerated, hospitalized, or institutionalized for medical reasons
  • Men who serve in the armed forces on full-time active duty
  • Men attending the service academies
  • Disabled men who are continually confined to a residence, hospital, or institution

So in summary, nearly all men ages 18-25 who are living in the U.S., whether citizens or immigrants, are required by law to register with the Selective Service System. The only exceptions are men who fall into the groups listed above.

When do you register with Selective Service?

Men are required to register with the Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18 years old. Registration is typically required between the ages of 18 and 25.

The Selective Service accepts late registrations up until a man’s 26th birthday. So if you failed to register at age 18 but are still under 26, you can and should still complete the registration process.

Men turning 18 can register in several ways:

  • Online at the Selective Service website (
  • By mail using a registration form
  • In person at a U.S. post office
  • Through a high school registrar’s office (most high schools have a staff member registered as a Selective Service Registrar)

Registering online at the Selective Service website is the fastest and easiest method. The registration process only takes about two minutes to complete. You will need to provide personal information including your Social Security number.

What happens after you register with Selective Service?

After completing the registration process, Selective Service will mail you a Registration Acknowledgement letter confirming that you are now registered. This letter will include your Selective Service number, which serves as proof that you have complied with the registration requirement.

You should keep this acknowledgement letter in your permanent files for proof that you registered. Your Selective Service number may be needed on future applications for federal jobs, loans, grants, and other government benefits.

Other than receiving the acknowledgement letter, nothing else happens immediately after you register. Selective Service simply keeps your registration information on file in case a draft is enacted in the future. Your information sits dormant unless a national emergency makes military conscription necessary again.

Can you get drafted if you register with Selective Service?

Registering with the Selective Service does not mean you are joining the military and it does not guarantee that you will be drafted.

The U.S. currently has an all-volunteer military, meaning there has not been a draft for almost 50 years. The military has been able to recruit enough voluntary enlistees to meet its personnel needs.

However, the Selective Service system remains in place so that a draft could quickly be resumed if Congress and the President authorized it during a national crisis. Men are required to register so that Selective Service has a complete list of potential draftees to draw from in case of such an emergency.

If a national draft was instituted, the actual drafting would be done through a random lottery system. Not all men registered would be called to duty. The available pool of draftees would far exceed the number actually needed for mandatory military service.

So while registration with Selective Service means you could potentially get drafted in the future, the chances are very small during peacetime when the military has sufficient volunteers. Out of the millions of men registered with Selective Service, very few would actually get drafted unless a major war broke out.

What are the penalties for not registering with Selective Service?

It is the law that eligible men must register with Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18. Failing to register is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 if convicted.

In reality, no one has been prosecuted for failure to register since 1986. However, there are still serious potential consequences for not complying with the law:

  • Ineligibility for federal student aid such as grants, loans, and work-study programs
  • Ineligibility for job training under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA)
  • Ineligibility for federal jobs
  • Ineligibility for security clearance required for many law enforcement jobs
  • Ineligibility for U.S. citizenship if you are an immigrant seeking naturalization

Because failure to register can make you ineligible for so many benefits, it’s important to complete the process within 30 days of turning 18. Men who fail to register by their 26th birthday can get back into compliance by registering late. Once registered, they qualify again for federal aid, jobs, and citizenship.

Can you get out of the draft if you are a conscientious objector?

Once you are registered with Selective Service, you could potentially be drafted if a national crisis occurs and the draft is reactivated. However, there are some circumstances where you may be able to avoid being drafted.

If you have a firm moral, ethical, or religious opposition to participating in war of any form, you can file for conscientious objector status. To qualify as a conscientious objector:

  • Your objection must be based on religious, moral, or ethical beliefs about all wars, not just a specific war.
  • Your beliefs must be sincere and deeply held.
  • Your objection must be based on your religious, moral, or ethical principles developed before you were notified of your potential draft.

Conscientious objectors may be assigned to noncombatant service within the military or to civilian work of national importance. Simply disagreeing with a particular military action or war does not make you eligible for conscientious objector status.

Only a small percentage of draft registrants qualify as conscientious objectors. However, it is an option for those whose core belief system precludes any participation in war. You would need to provide thorough documentation explaining the basis for your objection.

Can you avoid the draft by fleeing to another country?

During the Vietnam War, many young American men fled to Canada and other countries to avoid being drafted. However, this is no longer a legal or practical option today.

Leaving the U.S. to evade potential conscription is considered draft evasion. This is punishable by up to 5 years in prison and/or a $250,000 fine if you return to the U.S. Even after living abroad for many years, draft evaders can still face prosecution when returning to the country.

Most other countries will not provide refuge to those evading the draft in their home country. Canada, Sweden, and Germany which welcomed draft dodgers during the Vietnam era now prohibit immigration by U.S. draft evaders.

With current technology, it’s also nearly impossible to disappear and live permanently overseas undetected. So while fleeing the country to avoid conscription was an option decades ago, it is no longer a realistic legal or logistical choice today.

Can you get a medical exemption from the draft?

If you have a serious medical condition, you may be able to get a medical exemption from being drafted during a national emergency.

During the military drafts in the Vietnam era, common medical and psychiatric conditions that disqualified men from service included:

  • Diabetes requiring insulin treatment
  • Seizures, neurological disorders, and epilepsy
  • Asthma
  • Heart conditions
  • Testicular or kidney problems
  • Missing limbs
  • Sleep walking
  • Chronic psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis, or dissociative identity disorder

However, having a minor medical issue like correctable vision problems, mild depression, or anxiety was not enough for a draft exemption. Guidelines were stringent, as the military needed combat-ready troops.

During peacetime when the draft is inactive, the medical standards are not defined. If conscription was reactivated, all registrants would go through physical and mental fitness exams to assess deployability. Those who failed the exams could potentially receive 4F medical exemptions from service.

Can you get a student exemption from the draft?

College and graduate students did not receive blanket exemptions from the draft during Vietnam. Draft deferments were granted case-by-case based on areas of study and performance.

Here were some of the draft policies for college students during Vietnam:

  • Students studying medicine, dentistry, and ministry were exempt from conscription until graduation.
  • Law and medical school students could receive deferments but lost them if academic performance was poor.
  • Undergraduate and most graduate students could receive temporary deferments if they showed satisfactory academic progress.
  • Deferments typically lasted one year then had to be renewed based on passing grades.
  • Seniors could often finish their final year of college before being drafted.

However, once a student graduated, left school, or turned 24, deferments ended and they would likely get drafted quickly.

Given this history, full-time students at accredited universities could potentially get temporary deferments from a modern draft. But there would be no guarantee of exemptions for an entire college career. Deferments would be re-evaluated annually and end upon graduation or turning 24.

Could you get drafted if you’re in the National Guard or Reserves?

Serving in the National Guard or Reserves does not make you immune from being drafted during a national emergency.

Members of the reserve components would likely only be drafted after all other draft-eligible men were conscripted. However, the military needs could necessitate calling up National Guard and Reserve members to active duty.

In fact, over 15,000 Reserve and National Guard troops were involuntarily drafted for service during the Vietnam War. If the draft was reinstated, the National Guard and Reserves could once again be utilized to meet military deployment requirements as needed.

So while the draft would tap the Ready Reserves as more of a last resort, Guardsmen and Reservists are not automatically exempt from conscription in a crisis. Their training and experience may make them more prone to being drafted rather than those without military backgrounds.

Could women be drafted in the future?

The Military Selective Service Act which authorizes draft registration only applies to men at this time. Women have never been subject to a draft lottery in U.S. history.

However, debate continues today about whether women may have to register for Selective Service eventually.

Arguments for drafting women include:

  • The male-only draft is unconstitutional gender discrimination.
  • Women are now allowed in all military roles, so both genders should share the burden.
  • Drafting from a pool of both men and women is needed for national security.

Arguments against drafting women include:

  • Women are not required to register currently and tradition should hold.
  • Adding women would undermine military readiness and effectiveness.
  • Drafting mothers would significantly harm families and children.

While only men must register today, expanding the draft to women remains a controversial topic. Whether or when female conscription might be instituted is still unpredictable. But it is a possibility for the future if deemed necessary to provide troops in a time of existential threat to U.S. national security.


While mandatory conscription has not occurred for almost 50 years, the Selective Service system remains prepared to implement a draft if needed. Men ages 18-25 are required to register so the infrastructure exists to resume the draft rapidly in a national crisis.

Simply registering with Selective Service does not guarantee you will be drafted against your will. The chances are low during peacetime. However, refusal to register can result in harsh penalties.

If a draft was enacted, options like medical exemptions, conscientious objection, and student deferments could provide avenues for some to avoid or delay involuntary service. But no one would be automatically exempt.

With military challenges around the globe, the draft remains a remote but real possibility if threats escalate. By being aware of the potential for conscription, you can make informed choices and be ready to exercise your rights if the Selective Service System transitions from standby to full activation.