The U.S. has more than 21 million veterans and active-duty military personnel. Most of them are eligible to take advantage of the educational benefits that the government owes them for their service. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), roughly one million current and former military service members receive some form of VA-administered aid to continue their education. Many of these individuals also receive discounted tuition or other forms of financial aid form military-friendly colleges and universities throughout the country.
The Montgomery GI BIll® and the Post-9/11 GI Bill® represent the two largest educational assistance programs for military students. Both provide up to 36 months of financial aid to help you pursue your postsecondary education, and you can generally transfer benefits from both programs to your spouse or dependents upon meeting certain service requirements. While the Post-9/11 GI Bill generally provides higher levels of support, the Montgomery GI Bill offers more flexibility in how you can use your educational benefit.
You may also benefit from attending a school in the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges (SOC) network. These institutions commit to accepting transfer credit from other member schools. They also work to reduce residency requirements and provide other forms of support to military students and their families. SOC schools offer an easier path to earning a degree, especially for those who must relocate frequently.
The Importance of Military Status
Your military status directly affects whether or not you qualify for educational benefits. For example, you cannot receive a monthly housing allowance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you currently serve on active duty. This may limit the number of schools you can attend in-person, so you may instead choose to enroll in a military-friendly college online. To ensure you receive the benefits the government owes you, make sure you understand your status and its implications.
- Active-duty Military: Active-duty personnel work full-time for a branch of the military. As such, the government may deploy them anywhere at any time. If you serve in the National Guard or the Reserves, you likely are not currently on active duty. However, the military may call you to active duty in response to a national emergency.
- Inactive-duty Military: Members of the National Guard and Reservists often serve on inactive-duty, either as part of the Ready Reserve, the Standby Reserve, or the Retired Reserve. They may live at home and work other jobs, but the government can call them to active duty when needed. If you only have inactive-duty service, you may not qualify for certain educational benefits, especially those offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
- Discharged (Multiple Types): The government may discharge you or release you from your commitment to their armed services in one of eight ways. Your discharge status also affects your eligibility for benefits. You must receive either an honorable discharge or general discharge under honorable conditions to qualify for most forms of financial aid.
- Retired/veteran: According to the VA, retired military personnel serve for 20 years in the military and then transfer to the Retired Reserve. Veterans may serve for any period of time on active duty, though they must receive a discharge under any condition other than dishonorable to maintain that distinction.
Government Benefits for Military Students
The Post-9/11 GI Bill®
The Post-9/11 GI Bill enables thousands of current and former members of the U.S. military to continue their education. Originally created as a replacement for the Montgomery GI Bill, the two programs now work in tandem to help veterans and their families pursue postsecondary degrees.
You may qualify for the program if you served an aggregate of 90 days on active duty after September 10, 2001. You may also qualify if you received an honorable discharge from active duty prior to serving 90 days due to a service-connected disability. To check your eligibility and apply, you can visit the VA website or contact your regional VA office.
The program covers up to the full cost of tuition at the most expensive public university in your state for up to 36 months. This funding goes directly to the accredited educational institution where you are enrolled, though you can also receive a variable monthly housing allowance, a $1,000 annual stipend for educational expenses, and a $100 monthly stipend to help pay for tutoring services. If you meet certain service requirements and elect to do so while still on active duty, you can usually transfer these benefits to a spouse or dependent. Remember, you or a member of your family must use your benefits within 15 years of your last day of military service.
If you attend a private or out-of-state school, the Post-9/11 GI Bill may not cover the full cost of your tuition. Schools participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program voluntarily make additional funding available to individual military students. The VA then matches the amount of money the school provides. Check with your school to learn about how to apply for Yellow Ribbon funding.
The Montgomery GI Bill®
The Montgomery GI Bill caters to individuals who served in the military prior to September 10, 2001. However, if you qualify for both programs, you may still choose the Montgomery GI Bill option because of the greater flexibility it affords.
To qualify for this program, you must have at least a high school diploma or GED and receive an honorable discharge from duty. You must also contribute at least $100 per month for 12 months or make a one-time payment of $1,200 while you serve.
Like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill program provides 36 months of educational benefits. Your monthly allotment varies based on a variety of factors, such as the length of your service, the kind of educational institution you attend, and your enrollment status, but it typically does not exceed $2,000 per month. The government sends you this money directly, and you then use it to pay for your tuition and related educational expenses.
If you choose to enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill, you do not receive a stipend for housing or books. Instead, you must pay for these using your monthly allotment. However, you may still receive a small stipend for tutoring.
Servicemember Opportunity Colleges
SOC takes a number of steps recommended by the Department of Defense to make it easier for veterans and military families to continue their education. The SOC network, made up of roughly 1,900 military-friendly colleges and universities across the country, all commit to accepting transfer credits from other member institutions.
Additionally, SOC schools pledge to reduce or eliminate residency requirements. A military student may complete all but one course needed for a bachelor’s degree at their local college before they must relocate due to a new deployment. Some schools may require this student to take more than the one necessary course in order to receive a degree from their institution, though SOC schools make exceptions to these requirements for military personnel and their families.
What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military-Friendly?
Military-friendly colleges create learning environments that help veterans, service members, and their families succeed by offering financial aid or creating cohorts exclusively of military-affiliated students. When you begin searching for an online medical assistant certification, try to find a school that provides one or more of the benefits and services detailed below.
- Tuition discounts for military: Military-friendly schools often use tuition discounts to attract veterans and their families. Rates vary from school to school, but some colleges offer discounts as high as 25% for current and former members of the military. Other colleges may opt to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, which allows them to provide additional funding to military students on an individual basis.
- Credit opportunities: If you attend a military-friendly college, check to see if you can receive course credit for your military experience. Some schools also offer military students the opportunity to test out of general education and other introductory-level courses. SOC schools also strive to make the transfer of credit across institutions as simple as possible.
- Financial aid: In lieu of tuition discounts, some schools use scholarships to recruit talented veterans. Schools typically award scholarships based on a student’s prior achievement or future potential, and members of the military can often point to previous leadership experience. Remember, you typically must apply for these awards through your individual school.
- On-campus benefits: Military-friendly colleges understand that supporting veterans means more than just offering financial aid. Schools can also help students find housing or part-time jobs. They may offer specialized healthcare services, including mental health counseling. Others may organize events or support groups for students who have served and their families.
- Academic programs: If you want to continue your career in the armed forces, then you can find a military-friendly college that offers degrees in fields like military science or military history. If you plan to leave the military but want to remain in public service, then you can seek out programs in criminal justice, law, or public administration. You can also use your education benefits to explore an entirely new field as well.
- Flexibility: Flexibility is one of the most important considerations when choosing a program. For example, military-friendly online colleges can allow you to pursue a degree on your own schedule and from any location. If you need to balance other obligations but still prefer to study in-person, try to find a program that offers night and weekend courses.
* GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.