Selective Service, the Draft and Your 18-year-old

Frequently asked questions

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There has not been a military draft in the United States since the 1970s, but young men are still required to register with the federal Selective Service when they turn 18 or within 30 days of that birthday. If military conscription is ever resumed again, these men, ages 18-25, will form the draft pool.

If the draft is reinstated, it will be conducted as a lottery.


The draft lottery would be based on birthdays. The first men to be drafted into service would be those that are 20 years old during the year of the lottery drawn. Following this plan, a young man born in 1997 would be first up to be drafted in 2017.  The lottery would continue in this manner, year by year, until young men who are 26, the oldest eligible for the military draft. After the draft had reached those young men who are 26, then men younger than 20 would begin to be called up. 

The lottery is conducted beginning with two large air mix drums, much like any other lottery. One drum is for balls with date and month on them, and the other has numbers 1-365. One ball is drawn from each drum and the dates, paired with a priority of 1-365, are then handed over to the selective service office, who begins the process of drafting young men into service. 

Because this creates a random selection of birth dates, it is an unbiased and fair way to determine the order in which young men are called up.

Most Common Questions About the Draft

As a parent, you probably have plenty of questions, so here are answers to most common queries.

  1. How does one register? Young men may register online at the Selective Service website, by mail, or at a post office, using a Selective Service postcard available at any post office. Your son will need to have his Social Security number handy.
  1. How precise is that 30-day rule? Young men may register up to 30 days after their 18th birthdays, but they can also do it online as early as three months after their 17th birthday. The Selective Service holds them, then processes the paperwork a month before the big birthday and sends out a confirmation card.
  2. What if my son is here on a student visa? If he is not an immigrant, then no. He need not register for the draft. (But all young male immigrants must register, whether they are documented or not.)
  3. What about my daughter? No, young women do not need to register at this time. And yes, that sounds odd, since women serve in the military, but that's the way the law is written. The law underwent a review by the Supreme Court in 1981 and was reviewed again by the Department of Defense in 1994. Doubtless, the issue will be reviewed again at some point, but as of 2013, women need not register.
  4. What happens if my 18-year-old son does not register? It's a felony not to register. The punishment includes fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.
  5. Are there other penalties? The Selective Service and drivers license application systems are linked in 40 states. You cannot get a driver's license if you have not registered. In all 50 states, students who fail to register are not eligible for student loans or college grants, government jobs or federally funded job training. And immigrants who do not register may be denied citizenship.
  1. Is anyone exempt? All men, ages 18-25, must register, including conscientious objectors and the disabled. If the draft is reinstated, they can register their objections or handicaps then. Immigrants, including illegal aliens, refugees and men in this country on green cards, are required to register as well. There are few exceptions, including young men already on full-time, active military duty, and men in hospitals, mental institutions or in jail, but they must register within 30 days of release.
  2. What if we move? You don't need to worry about moves from home to a dorm to a frat, et al. But you should register changes of permanent address at the Selective Service website.