Understanding Military Statuses for College Student Recruiting

Understanding the Military: The Different Military Statuses

The military community is a microcosm of American society, and as such has just as much diversity. A look at the Army Chaplain Corps is a great example; Army Chaplains serve Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist troops.

Cultural differences aside, there are many important considerations to think about when reaching out to military students. There are different concerns for enlisted members compared to officers, and there is a wide range of issues that apply to members of the Guard and Reserve. 

Even something as basic as the branch of military service a student has chosen may be a factor. Did you know that the Army’s student loan repayment program may go farther than other branches of military service if you serve in a war zone? This is just one example.

CollegeRecon hopes to assist you in better understanding prospective military students, their differences, similarities, needs, and considerations for selecting a school.  We hope that this will help you in your military recruiting efforts by being able to better understand and address their needs.

Active Duty

A person who is on active duty is in the military full-time. They work for the military full time, may live on a military base, and can be deployed at any time.

Primary Funding Sources:

Active duty troops can use the GI Bill but are advised to use up their service-specific tuition assistance first. Active duty troops do NOT get a Post 9/11 housing stipend as they are already paid BAH.

Primary Considerations:

  • Flexible and convenient class offerings
  • Avoid out-of-pocket costs
  • Rules for tuition refunds for duty-related interruptions in education such as active duty deployments, PCS moves, Temporary Duty (TDY)


Active duty military are looking for a college using the DoD’s Tuition Assistance (TA) program.  This program is only available to them only while serving on active duty. They typically seek flexible and convenient class offerings as they are still working or deployed while going to school.

Tuition assistance will cover up to $250 per credit for undergraduate and $350 per credit for graduate degrees.

CollegeRecon recommends that schools guide active duty military students to use their TA before tapping into their G.I. Bill® benefits. FAFSA/ Pell Grants can also be used in conjunction with TA to further support students financially and to prevent them from using the G.I. Bill until they have no other alternative. Generally, servicemembers with a rank lower than E-6, will typically qualify for Pell Grants; this will vary depending on household size and income.  Schools should provide this information to be seen as trusted and transparent.

Requesting TA can take extended periods of time so schools should encourage service members to have their paperwork ready as soon as possible to ensure everything is funded well before the start of courses.

There is no housing benefit for active duty servicemembers using TA, therefore a housing allowance (Basic Allowance for Housing, BAH or MHA) is not applicable.

There are additional restrictions for Active Duty Servicemembers to utilize TA. Each respective service branch will have their unique requirements.

Not All Service Members Are “Soldiers”

Army, Guard, ReserveSoldier 

Navy, Navy ReserveSailor 

Air Force, AF ReserveAirman 

Space ForceGuardian

Coast Guard, Coast Guard ReserveCoast Guard member (informal – Coastie) 

USMC, Marine ReserveMarine



Veterans are those who have previously served in the active military.  Veterans may not have been dishonorably discharged from service.

Primary Funding Source:

Primary Considerations:


Veteran students have transitioned out of service and are typically looking to use the G.I. Bill® for themselves. The Yellow Ribbon program is important to these students. If using the G.I. Bill®, BAH will be an important factor for them to consider. Their BAH is determined by the ZIP code where the school’s campus is located and the student attends the majority of their classes (varying cost of living figures), as well as by the nature of attendance (part-time, full-time). Schools offering hybrid, on-site and night courses are attractive options for adult learners looking to maximize their benefits.

It is common that Veterans will look to earn academic credits for their military experience and or prior college enrollment. Schools that offer quick reviews and evaluations of JSTs (joint service transcripts, or CCAF Transcripts as they’re known in the Air Force), are important to these students during the enrollment process.

In order to receive full BAH coverage, Veterans will need to take classes in person at least 50% of the time to qualify.  It is important to note that the G.I. Bill® must be certified prior to a Veteran receiving a housing stipend. Students have to provide permission to certify for classes. The school then sends a class schedule for certification to the V.A.  BAH is not paid during holiday breaks, summer breaks, or any other time period where classes are not held.

It is vital that schools let these students know:

  • Tuition coverage deadlines
  • Out-of-pocket costs
  • Class drop dates
  • Credits earned for service or previous academic experience


Military retirees are veterans who have typically served 20+ years in the military prior to leaving service.  It’s important to note that they may be very different than civilian retirees.  While civilians typically retire at 65+ years of age, military retirees may be much younger.   For example, if they joined at 18 and served 25 years in the service, they would still only be 53 when they retired from the military.

Primary Funding Source:

  • Post 9/11 Bill
  • Montgomery GI Bill
  • State-level veteran education programs such as the Illinois Veterans Grant
  • Yellow Ribbon program

Primary Considerations:

  • 2nd bachelor’s degree or graduate-level opportunities
  • Schools with strong academic standing
  • Opportunities to graduate quickly
  • Yellow Ribbon Program for Private Schools

Someone who retires out of the military and is generally 40+ years old looking for a second bachelor’s degree or graduate-level opportunities. These individuals are looking for schools with strong academic standing and opportunities to graduate quickly. The G.I. Bill® will be the primary benefits tool for Retirees unless it has already been exhausted in pursuit of an earlier degree or transferred to a family member.

Military Spouse / Dependents

Primary Funding Source:

  • MyCAA
  • Chapter 35 benefits
  • Post 9/11 GI Bill (transferred benefit)
  • Scholarships and Grants
  • Out-of-pocket
  • State-level veteran education programs for spouses and dependents. Some of these may require the veteran to meet certain qualifications like wartime service or having a VA-rated disability

Primary Considerations:

  • Affordable, flexible and accelerated class offerings
  • Online programs, or ones that align with at-home lifestyles
  • Avoid out-of-pocket costs
  • Scholarships and Grants
  • Transferability of classes should the military spouse have to relocate the family for a PCS move

There are important considerations when discussing spouses and dependents; some benefits are offered through the VA Chapter 35 program but these are for those who had a parent or spouse who died on active duty or died as a result of a service-connected disability. Other qualifying criteria may apply. 

The key here is to remember that there are “typical” education benefits for spouses and dependents, and there are “death benefit” type options that may require further development. Helping spouses and dependents in the aftermath of the veteran’s death or disability requires extra consideration–you may be dealing with someone who has only recently lost a loved one but still needs to determine their benefits while managing those issues.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill transfer option is a major consideration for spouse education, but the problem is that the transfer requires a new service commitment from the service member. Transferring GI Bill benefits is not possible without committing to a new four-year active duty commitment. For some families, this may be a serious dilemma. For others, it’s an obvious choice.

Someone who will most likely be using the G.I. Bill®, MYCAA or seeking scholarship opportunities. Spouses move frequently, may live by or on military installations, and will most likely be looking for online degree programs.

Spouses are typically seeking affordable, flexible, accelerated completion programs that align with at-home lifestyles. Messaging to this audience should focus on these topics.

Spouses of service members on active duty in pay grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2 and O-1 to O-2 who have successfully completed high school and have the ability to request TA while their military sponsor is on Title 10 military orders are eligible for MYCAA. Spouses married to members of the National Guard and reserves in these same pay grades are also eligible.

Note on MYCAA: This program financially covers up to a specific limit annually and can be applied to certificate and associate’s programs.


National Guard & Reserves

The National Guard is a state-based military force that becomes part of the reserve components of the United States Army and the United States Air Force when activated for federal missions.

Reserves – a military reserve force is a military organization whose members simultaneously hold military and civilian occupations. Their main role is to be available to fight when their military requires additional manpower. Reserve forces are generally considered part of a permanent standing body of armed forces.  Whereas active duty is comparable to working at a full-time job, Reserve duty is similar to a part-time job — you keep your civilian job while receiving military training near where you live, and only serve part-time.

Primary Funding Source:

Primary Considerations:

  • Scheduling to accommodate for military duties and assignments
  • Flexible start dates and ensured readmission
  • Online programs

Someone who is looking for class schedules that accommodate for military assignments and duties. Such duties may require the student to be gone for one full weekend a month and two full weeks per year for training. They may also be deployed or called to active service with minimal lead time.  These students can drop classes at any time and will require flexible start dates, possible online classes, and ensured re-admission. It is important to use this in your admissions marketing to this type of prospective student.


Conclusion & How to Implement

Make your Case

It’s critical that you highlight what makes you different and focus on the financial coverage (GI Bill, Tuition Assistance, Yellow Ribbon, Grants, Reduced Tuition, etc) when speaking with the military community. Out-of-pocket cost reduction will be the #1 deciding factor in most cases. These men and women earned invaluable financial benefits and they will look to get the most out of them. 

Some things to think about: 

  • Scholarships offered by the college 
  • Special military/spouse tuition rates 
  • Career development/career placement resources
  • School-specific policies surrounding military-connected students (Eg. waived fees, rolling admissions, extended class add/drop deadlines)