What is the Selective Service System?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 10 December 2018
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The Selective Service System (SSS) is an independent American agency that registers all men between the ages of 18 and 25, in the event that the United States Congress authorizes a draft for military service. The SSS also maintains a database of healthcare workers, in the event that people in this vital field are needed. The agency claims to be able to have inductees ready within 193 days of a draft authorization.

This agency was founded in 1917 by an act of Congress that was passed in response to concerns about manpower for World War I. It is responsible for registering all eligible American men, establishing a lottery system if a draft is authorized, calling men by lottery number for physical examinations to determine whether or not they are fit to serve, and processing deferment requests and conscientious objector applications. The system ensures that the United States will have manpower available in the event of a major military conflict.


By law, every American male must register within 30 days of his 18th birthday, regardless of any intent to apply for conscientious objector status or physical problems. Women are not allowed to register, a policy that has been criticized by some people. The practice of conscription is somewhat controversial in general in the United States, causing some people to resent the Selective Service System. Some people choose not to register, potentially facing prison time and fines. The program also penalizes people who do not register by restricting their access to federal jobs and financial aid for education.

In the event that a draft is authorized, the SSS is able to mobilize a large number of regional draft boards that remain dormant until they are needed. These boards oversee the administration of the draft in their regions, and they process deferments and other issues that arise in the course of mobilization. When a draft is authorized, the Selective Service System sets up a lottery based on birthday, calling 20 year olds first and then 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 19, and 18 year olds, respectively.

When a man's lottery number comes up, he must report to a regional draft board. The draft board administers a physical examination and also evaluates potential inductees for mental and moral fitness to determine whether or not they would be a good fit with the military. After this evaluation, the man is given a classification such as 4F for unfit, or 1A, meaning that he is available for service. The potential inductee has ten days to appeal the classification or he will be required to report for service.

Appeals can take a number of forms. Some people are automatically exempt from service, such as ministers. Others can apply for a hardship deferment, arguing that military service would place strain on their families, and some request conscientious objector status. A conscientious objector can fall into a number of categories, including someone who is opposed to all military service or someone who is opposed to carrying weapons, in which case he will be required to fulfill alternate service duties.


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Post 24

I am 18. Do I need to be a high school graduate to register?

Post 21

This law is illegal, unconstitutional and should be eliminated immediately to avoid ethics charges. Not to mention your mandatory registration requirements contradicts itself multiple times within its terms. Which raises the question about secure private information being given to a private agency.

Post 20

I came to the united states at the age of of 17 years old. Now I'm 18 and getting ready to graduate from high school and I also need to fill out the FAFSA paperwork. Do I still need to register for Selective Service?

Post 19

I was born in Hawaii with both parents legal as well and I just got one today. Dad was in the Navy at the time. Why would I get this if I was born in the US?

Post 18

This doesn't seem very constitutional.

Post 16

i came to usa illegally when i was 24. i got a green card through labour certification 245i. I am applying for the citizenship. do I need to register SSS?

Post 15

If I join the selective service, can I not join the military when chosen? And what is alternate service system?

Post 13

Guys, if you came to the country when you're over 26, you don't have to register. So if the first time you enter the US you're at least 26, you don't have to register.

@anon56725, you must register with the selective service. It's the law. You can register online or at the post office.

It's important to realize that registering with the selective service doesn't automatically mean that the man will be drafted. In the event of a crisis or a national emergency, the selective service will call up men based on lottery numbers who will then be required to report for induction.

18? Ensure your future. It's the law!

Register online now! It's the law!

Congress is contemplating passing legislation that would allow one to be sentenced to death if he was caught even attempting to dodge the draft by failing to register with the selective service. Register now or face the consequences.

Post 11

i came to this country illegally and i turned 18 a couple of months ago. i have just gotten a letter from sss. do i need to register since I'm not in a legal situation in the country?

Post 10

I registered with the selective service when I was 18. I am now 30. What is the possibility of me being drafted?

Post 9

no, you don't.

Post 8

i came to this country this year when am already 25 years old and will be 26 years in nov this year. am a permanent resident. do i have to register for selective service?

Post 6

I came to this country as an immigrant in 2007 when i was 36 years old.I am now 38 years old. Do i have to register or not?

Post 5

I came to this country as an immigrant in 2009 and i was born in so I am 32 years old. Do I have to register for the SSS or not?

Post 4

My son just turned 18. Reluctantly we searched for an online avenue to register; however, the apparent site is a broken link that does not work. Does the selective service has a website, and if not, does it still exist?

Post 3

I came to this country illegally and i am not being asked to fill out this form. Does it really apply to me?

Also this should have been done when i turned 18. i am not 21 and barely receiving this form. what do i do?

Post 2

i came to this country illegally but am now married to an American. I am over 30 years old. Do I still need to register with the SSS?

Post 1

I came this country in 2000 and I was 30 years old. Do I have to register for the SSS or not?

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