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Question From Our Reader: Financial Aid for Members of the Military

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We got a great question from one of our readers the other day about financial aid for members of the military. Rather than just responding to her, I wanted to share the information on the blog since I thought there might be more of you out there with a similar question.

Here’s what LeeAnn from Freedom, Pennsylvania (how appropriate!) wrote in to ask:

I have a few questions.  My husband is a veteran from the Marine Corp and he was in Desert Storm.  Is there a list of financial aid, grants, scholarships, and loans for these kinds of veterans?  Our son (a dependent) is attending college in the Engineering Field and I am looking for possibilities to help fund his college education.

Can you please respond and let me know what applications I can fill out or what applies to us?

LeeAn, you are wise to ask. Not only are active duty members and veterans of the military entitled to education benefits, so are many of their dependents. Here is a run-down on the types of aid available:

The Montgomery GI Bill

The Montgomery GI Bill is a vast federal program intended to assist service members, eligible veterans and their families with reentry into civilian life. There are housing, medical and education benefits, to name a few. In a nutshell, here are the basic benefits for education:

>> For veterans, the GI Bill typically covers the majority of cost for in-state college tuition.

>> For active duty members of the military, you are entitled to additional benefits, such as the “Top Up” program that covers the remaining balance after military Tuition Assistance (see below).

>> You are entitled to use your GI Bill assistance together with other forms of federal financial aid, such as the Pell Grant, Stafford and Perkins student loans, and various scholarships.

To learn more about education benefits, you can visit the GI Bill website.

Since LeeAnn mentioned that her husband is a veteran, I also wanted to point out that the Financial Aid Finder covers in detail the various forms of military aid for veterans, including the GI Bill.

Military Tuition Assistance

Every branch of the military provides Tuition Assistance (TA) — federally funded education benefits to its active duty members. TA provides up to $250/semester-based credit hour, paid directly to your college or university. If your costs are greater than the TA benefit, you can also apply to the GI Bill for the “Top Up” program.  Each branch of the military has its own application and approval process, so contact your PO for more information.

State Tuition Assistance, Fee Reductions, or Waivers

LeeAnn mentioned that her son is attending college, so I presume she also wants information about military-based education aid for him. In addition to GI Bill benefits, most states provide some form of educational assistance for veterans and their dependents — especially for children of deceased, disabled or MIA veterans. The best place to start gathering information about state-based tuition assistance and waiver programs is through your local Department of Veteran Affairs.

Private Scholarships

In addition to federal and state aid, there are over $300 million in private student scholarships and grants for members of the military, veterans and their families. Even if your tuition is fully covered by GI Bill, you should still consider applying for private scholarships and grants since the benefits can often be applied to the cost of books, fees, and living expenses. Military.com has a great scholarship finder, so you might want to start your search there.

Also, since LeeAnn mentioned needing assistance for her college-age son as well as her husband, I wanted to highlight the Scholarship Fund for Military Children Program. Sponsored by the Defense Commissary Agency, this program provides $1,500 scholarships to the children of active duty, reserve, guard, retired and deceased military personnel. Eligible applicants must be enrolled as full-time students and maintain a minimum GPA of 3.0 GPA. Applications are available through your nearest commissary.

Federal Student Aid (Federal Loans, Grants and Work-Study)

Just like non-military students, members of the military and their dependent may be eligible for federal student financial aid. Awards are made based on need, and can include any combination of:

>> federal loans, such as the Stafford Loans or the Perkins Loans

>> federal grants, such as the Pell Grant

>> federal work-study

Even if you qualify for assistance through the GI Bill (or TA or state assistance), you may still be eligible for additional federal student financial aid.  To find out, you will need to complete the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. You can fill out the FAFSA online as soon as you have your tax returns in hand. Here are some tips for making filing the FAFSA as painless as possible!

I hope that answers your questions, LeeAnn. And thank you for writing in to us!

Post your question in the comments section below.

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