Ways veterans can pay for college

Educational assistance for veterans is one way the United States helps reward veterans for their military service. Understanding the programs available can help you make the most of the opportunity this reward represents.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill

The centerpiece of educational benefits for U.S. military veterans is the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This provides financial assistance for a variety of academic and vocational programs, with eligibility and the amount of assistance based on the length and nature of your service.

Eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill

A basic requirement for eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill is that you must either be on active duty currently or an honorably discharged veteran who served in the military any time after September 11, 2001.

The degree of assistance available depends on the length of your service Typically, full eligibility is available for people with at least 36 months of service. For service members with less service time, a reduced amount of assistance may be available based on a percentage of the full benefit. For example, if you served for at least 90 days but less than 6 months, you are entitled to 50 percent of the full benefit. That percentage ramps up for various service lengths until reaching 100 percent for 36 months of service.

What it covers

Assistance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill includes up to 36 months of tuition for college degree and graduate programs, as well as financial aid for a variety of vocational and licensing programs. Tuition assistance for college programs is based on the in-state resident tuition rate for public schools in your state if you are attending a public school. If you choose to attend a private or out-of-state school, there is a national cap on tuition assistance which will vary over time. For example, for the 2017 academic year, this cap is set at $22,805.34.

In addition to tuition assistance, the program offers college housing assistance (the amount varies based on location) and up to $1,000 per year for books and supplies.

Expanded coverage

In 2017, Post-9/11 GI Bill coverage was expanded in some cases.

Traditionally under the GI Bill, veterans had 15 years after discharge in which to exercise their educational benefits. Now, veterans discharged on or after January 1, 2013 will have an unlimited amount of time in which to use their benefits, though the limit on the actual amount of time covered by those benefits remains.

Another noteworthy change in 2017 was that veterans who received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001 can now be eligible for 100 percent of the educational benefit with as little as 30 days of service time. This change will become effective on August 1, 2018.

Finally, veterans who have seen their schools close or courses of study discontinued any time after August 1, 2015 can apply to have benefits reinstated for time lost in those programs.

The Yellow Ribbon Program

If you choose to attend a private school, you might find that the national maximum tuition assistance provided under the Post-9/11 GI Bill does not fully cover the cost of tuition. However, if you are eligible for full tuition benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you may qualify for additional assistance under the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Not all schools participate in the Yellow Ribbon, but those that do agree to provide additional tuition assistance above the maximum allowed under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In turn, the VA will match that amount of additional assistance. At more expensive schools, this additional assistance can help close the gap between the school's tuition and the GI Bill's tuition cap.

Applying for benefits

You can apply for federal education benefits for veterans through the Veterans Benefits Administration (the VA), either online at www.va.gov or in person at your local VA office. If you are not sure about your eligibility or which program is best for you, it might be worth a visit to a VA office for advice.

Other programs

There are also educational assistance programs for active service members. These vary by each branch of the military, but if you haven't yet completed your service it might be worth checking out these benefits before you leave the military. Planning ahead in this way might give you a head start towards your degree before you have to start drawing on your veteran's benefits. Examples include:

  • State and local governments, along with some colleges, may also have educational assistance for veterans. While you won't be allowed to double up on benefits in amounts exceeding your actual educational costs, these additional programs can be valuable for filling in the gaps left by federal programs.
  • New York has a program which gives in-state veterans assistance for up to four years in a standard undergraduate degree program. This can help you pursue your education beyond the three years covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and can also help you make up the difference if your eligibility for federal tuition assistance is less than 100 percent.

For information on state and local programs contact your state's department of higher education or similar agency, and also use college financial aid officials as a resource -- they may know the options available in each case better than anyone.

Article Sources
Article Sources
  • Tuition Assistance, www.marines.mil, http://www.marforres.marines.mil/General-Special-Staff/Marine-Corps-Community-Services/Marine-Family-Services/Voluntary-Education-Program/Tuition-Assistance/; accessed September 2017
  • Education and Training, Forever GI Bill, www.va.gov, https://www.benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/FGIBSummaries.asp; accessed September 2017
  • Education and Training, Post-9/11 GI Bill (Chapter 33) Payment Rates for 2017 Academic Year, www.va.gov, https://www.benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/resources/benefits_resources/rates/ch33/ch33rates080117.asp; accessed September 2017
  • Education and Training, Yellow Ribbon program, www.va.gov, https://www.benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/yellow_ribbon.asp; accessed September 2017
  • Education Programs, www.va.gov, https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/education_programs.asp; accessed September 2017
  • Veterans Tuition Awards, www.hesc.ny.gov, https://www.hesc.ny.gov/pay-for-college/financial-aid/types-of-financial-aid/nys-grants-scholarships-awards/veterans-tuition-awards.html; accessed September 2017