Beyond the GI Bill: Understanding Military Financial Aid
When it comes to paying for college, joining the military or the Reserve Officer Training Corps can save students a significant amount of money. Beyond the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes from serving one’s country, serving in the military also makes you eligible for a variety of educational assistance programs, ranging from the tuition assistance provided by various GI Bills to scholarships, grants and low-interest loans.
Established after World War II to help returning soldiers gain the skills and knowledge they needed to reintegrate into the workforce, the Montgomery GI Bill program has provided millions of dollars to both active-duty and reserve soldiers. Depending on where you go to school and how long you served in the military, you could qualify for up to $1,300 per month to pay your tuition and expenses. An extension of the GI Bill program, designed to reward those who enlisted in the military after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, pays for 100 percent of the tuition and fees and provides a housing stipend for soldiers who serve at least 90 days and meet other requirements. The GI Bill is the military’s major educational assistance program, but there are other options as well, if you’re outside of the eligibility period or need additional funding.
For those veterans who served more than 25 years ago, there are educational-assistance programs that will help defray some of the costs of continuing education. The Veterans Educational Assistance Program and the Reserves Educational Assistance Program help those who served between 1977 and 1985 and made contributions to an account designed to pay for college. If you contributed between $25 and $2700 to your account, the government will match the funds at a rate of $2 to every $1 you contributed. If you enroll in a qualifying program, you can draw on those funds for up to 36 months to pay for school.
Scholarships and Dependent Aid
Many schools, in an effort to attract veterans and active-duty service members, offer financial aid in the form of veterans scholarships, grants or tuition discounts or waivers. For example, some state colleges offer free tuition to those who have served in the military. Other schools also extend benefits to the dependents of those who serve. For example, a college might discount tuition by 50 percent for the soldier, and 20 percent for her spouse. Combined with the money earned via the GI Bill, the cost of a college education for both spouses could be minimal or even free.
The federal government also operates the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Education Aid program (DEA) that offers scholarships to students who have a parent or spouse who served in the military. As a dependent, you might also qualify for additional scholarships or grants through the Federal Student Aid program; for example, the children of service members may qualify for a grant or a loan with a lower interest rate.
Another way military service can reduce your educational costs is through a credit transfer. When you serve in the armed forces, you receive training and education that, in some cases, is equivalent to that you’d receive in a college classroom. The American Council of Education has developed a set of criteria that determines the amount of college credit that can be earned for specific training programs, and some colleges will allow you to submit your military transcript and receive that credit toward your degree. Doing so will reduce the number of courses you need to complete to earn your degree — and the overall cost of your education.
Those who choose to serve their country in the military are entitled to a number of benefits, like the opportunity to get an education. As you begin to explore your scholastic options, determine which program will allow you to maximize your military benefits, and take advantage of all of the programs you qualify for to avoid graduating with both a degree and a great deal of debt.
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About the Author: Tom Gaines is a guidance counselor who has worked with hundreds of high school students to find the right post-high-school opportunities. A military veteran himself, he earned his degree in education thanks to the GI Bill.