With the cost of college skyrocketing, many students are getting creative about financing their higher education. For some, this may mean active duty enlistment, ROTC or service in the National Guard.
For others already serving their country, pursuing higher education can be an important foundation for a lifelong career – either in or out of the armed forces. But funding that education on a service member’s salary can be difficult if not impossible. Whether you are motivated by a desire to subsidize the funding of your educational goals or by the opportunity to earn classroom knowledge that will complement your experience in the field, this Guide to Military Student Aid offers a wealth of helpful tips in finding funding sources for your degree.
Who is Eligible?
There is a wide range of government and private assistance programs designed to help members and veterans of the armed forces and their dependents to pay for undergraduate and graduate school.
Aid may be available to you if you are:
- An active duty service man or woman of any rank in the US Armed Forces
- A reservist of any rank in the US Armed Forces
- A member of the National Guard
- A veteran of the US Armed Forces
- A spouse or family member of an active duty service member, reservist or veteran of the Armed Forces, living, disabled or deceased
Forms of Assistance
There are a host of education benefits available to members, veterans and family members of those serving in the US Armed Forces. Most can be used in tandem, while some are exclusionary – meaning that utilizing them precludes you from qualifying for additional assistance.
Below follows a brief description of the various forms of assistance that may be available to you.
For more detailed information, you can see the education benefits section (http://education.military.com/getting-your-degree/step-4-use-your-benefits-to-pay-for-school) of military.com at or contact your service branch’s education liaison.
The Montgomery GI Bill
The Montgomery GI Bill is a vast and varied federal program designed to assist service members and eligible veterans in covering the costs of education and job training. The GI Bill has several different programs that you may qualify for, depending on your eligibility and duty status.
Typically, GI Bill benefits will cover about three-fifths of the average cost of an in-state college education. If you receive assistance through the GI Bill, you may still be eligible to apply for student loans, scholarships, and Pell Grants, as well as Tuition Assistance.
For more information about specific programs within the GI Bill, see the Education Benefits section of the GI Bill website at http://www.gibill.va.gov/.
Military Tuition Assistance
Tuition Assistance (TA) is a federally funded education benefit for members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. Eligibility criteria, qualified expenses and application processes differ for each service.
Tuition Assistance can be used to cover up to 100 percent of your total educational expenses, although benefits may not exceed $250/semester-based credit hour. Your individual branch of the Armed Forces usually pays the money directly to your college or university.
If your college or university charges more than $250/credit hour, you can use your TA benefit in tandem with the GI Bill’s “top up” program to cover the difference in tuition.
There is over $300 million in private student scholarships for college and grants available for members of the military, veterans and their families.
Even if the cost of your tuition is fully covered by Tuition Assistance or TA plus the GI Bill’s top up program, you can still qualify for scholarships and grants to assist with books, fees, and living expenses.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of dollars in scholarships go unclaimed, often because service members simply do not know they are available – or don’t know where to look. On-line scholarship finders (hyperlink: http://offers.military.com/v/scholarships/flow/)
like the one at military.com are a great place to start your search for private assistance.
State Tuition Assistance, Fee Reductions, or Waivers
Most states provide some form of educational assistance for veterans and their dependents, especially for children of deceased, disabled or MIA veterans.
For instance, the state of California, through the California Department of Veterans Affairs, offers a college fee waiver program for children and dependents of disabled veterans or veterans killed in the line of duty. For California state residents, the waiver will cover the cost of tuition and fees at any in-state university or community college.
For more information about state-based tuition assistance and waiver programs in your state, start by contacting your local Department of Veteran Affairs.
Federal Student Aid (Federal Loans and Grants)
Members of the military, veterans and their families are eligible to apply for federal student financial aid (FSA), just like any non-military student. FSA is based on need, and includes a combination of federal loans, such as the Stafford or Perkins Loans, and federal grants, such as the Pell Grant.
To qualify, you must be a US citizen with a high school degree (or GED), working toward a degree or certificate in an eligible college or university. Even if you qualify for assistance through the GI Bill or from Tuition Assistance, you can still take advantage of Federal Student Aid.
Your school’s financial aid office can provide a copy of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which will require you to provide information about your income and expenses. You will need to provide supporting evidence of your financial need, such as previous W-2s and bank statements.