How to Pay for College as a Veteran
In America today, there are more opportunities for veterans seeking college education than at any time in history. From education benefits earned through your service, to tuition assistance offered through some states, achieving your education goals is within your reach. Read on to learn more about what is available to you.
Veterans Affairs Education and Training Benefits
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers education benefits to veterans, service members, and their qualified family members. These benefits include paying for tuition, assistance in finding a training program, or even career counseling.
The GI Bill
The GI Bill is one of the most cherished benefits that veterans have when leaving the service. Since 1944, the GI Bill has helped veterans pay for most or all of their education expenses. There are a few different versions of the GI Bill, and you may fall under more than one of them.
The Montgomery GI Bill
When I joined the Army in the mid-1990s, the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) was the education benefit most soldiers selected. It required a deduction of $100 per month for the first 12 months of service, and then continued service for at least two years to confirm your eligibility.
This version of the GI Bill is being phased out and replaced by another one, but it is still an option available to you if you had your pay reduced during your first year of service.
There are four categories within which you could qualify for this education benefit.
You may get up to 36 months of education benefits under the MGIB. The amount you get depends on the length of your service, the type of program you’re enrolled in, and your eligibility category.
The MGIB Selected Reserve
This program offers up to 36 months of education and training benefits. It was designed for members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard Reserve, the Army National Guard, and the Air National Guard.
There are a few eligibility requirements for those veterans seeking to take advantage of this benefit.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill helps a new generation of veterans pay for school or job training. It covers tuition and fees and provides money for housing, books and supplies. Unlike other education benefits, the Post-9/11 GI Bill does not expire if your service ended after January 1, 2013.
It is possible that you may be eligible for the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills. When I joined the service, the MGIB was the only option, so I had my pay reduced each month for the first year.
In 2012, I received word from my command that I had to pick either the MGIB or transfer my benefit to the newer Post-9/11 version. I opted to hold onto the MGIB because I’d already paid into it. I’d also participated in the $600 Buy-Up Program, which was designed to give me more money each month through the GI Bill payments.
Shortly after retiring in 2014, I found out that I was eligible for both benefits, but I was only able to use one at a time. Since the MGIB only granted 36 months of benefit, an additional year under the Post-9/11 GI Bill was authorized to me. Using them together, I was able to complete my degree program.
RELATED: Forever GI Bill
Other Opportunities to Pay for College
Yellow Ribbon Schools
If you have the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the If you have the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program may help pay tuition for a degree or training program. The amount available to you depends on the school, the degree type, and the academic program you’re considering.
This is one program that can make your education benefit last longer, go further, and get you more training.
Please go here for a list of Yellow Ribbon Schools which may help pay tuition for a degree or training program. The amount available to you depends on the school, as well as the degree type.
Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship
This scholarship allows some Veterans and dependents in high-demand fields to extend their Post-9/11 benefit. The Edith Nourse Rogers STEM Scholarship could net you up to 9 months, or $30,000, of added benefits.
Some of the high-demand fields covered by this scholarship include:
- Biological or biomedical science
- Computer science and IT programs
- Various Engineering fields
- Health care or related field
- Mathematics or Statistics
- Medical Residency (undergraduate only)
If you’re enrolled in one of these or other high-demand career fields, do not pass up this opportunity. Here’s a PDF of the full list eligible STEM degree programs.
Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC)
If you seek computer experience to start or advance your career in the IT industry, the VET TEC program could be your best bet.
If you meet the VET TEC eligibility requirements, you could get training in one of the following exciting career fields:
- Computer software development
- Data Processing
- Information Science
- Media Applications
Veteran Readiness and Employment
If you have a service-connected disability that limits your ability to work, or even one that prevents you from working, the Veteran Readiness and Employment may benefit you.
This program helps you explore employment options and address your training needs to ready yourself for employment.
This program has multiple tracks based on your future goals, but one of them does offer assistance with training and education.
The Employment Through Long-Term Services track can help you find training and education that can help you transition into a different field of employment.
Determine your eligibility, then apply for VR&E benefits.
National Call to Service Program
You may qualify for the National Call to Service program if you performed a period of national service. This program allows you to choose an education benefit as an alternative to the Montgomery GI Bill.
The eligibility requirements are very specific:
- You completed Initial Entry Training
- You served for 15 months in a military occupational specialty
- Without a break in service, you served a period of active duty as determined by the Secretary of Defense, OR
- You served a period of 24 months in active status while in the Selected Reserve
- AND, without a break in service, you served the remainder of your obligated service on active duty, in the reserves, in the Individual Ready Reserves, or in AmeriCorps
If you meet the eligibility requirements, then you could receive:
- A cash bonus of $5,000, OR
- Repayment of qualifying student loans not more than $18,000, OR
- Educational assistance equal to the 3-year monthly MGIB rate for 12 months, OR
- Educational assistance equal to 50% of the less-than 3-year MGIB rate for 36 months
The Post-Vietnam Era Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
Under this program, you may be able to continue your education by using part of your military pay to help cover school costs.
If you meet the eligibility requirements for VEAP, then you could secure money for tuition at VA approved schools.
Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program
The Veteran Rapid Retraining Assistance Program (VRRAP) offers education and training for high-demand jobs to veterans who are unemployed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
VRRAP covers education programs which are approved under the GI Bill and VET TEC programs that lead to high-demand jobs. These programs could include associate degrees, non-college degrees, and certificate programs.
For the purposes of this program, the Department of Labor (DOL) determines which jobs are considered high-demand.
If you’re eligible for VRRAP, you can get:
- Up to 12 months of tuition and fees, AND
- A monthly housing allowance based on Post-9/11 rates
Please note, at the time that you apply for VRRAP, you can NOT be eligible for any of the following benefits:
- Post-9/11 GI Bill
- Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E)
- Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)
- Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
States Offering Education Benefits for Veterans
In addition to the federal benefits covered above, many states offer education benefits to veterans. Some even cover the cost of tuition if certain criterion are met.
- States Offering In-State Tuition for Veterans After 3 Years from Discharge
- In-State Tuition for Veteran Dependents
- Military Friendly Colleges Fully Covered by Military Tuition Assistance
If you are a veteran and you are looking for ways to pay for education and training, there are so many programs out there to assist you.
Please look into any and all of these programs to get your journey started.
- College Scholarships for Veterans
- Top 8 Scholarships for Female Service Members & Veterans
- Scholarships for Air Force Service Members and Veterans
About the author
Robert Haynes is a retired Army infantryman who has a squad of kids and is married to an active duty Soldier. He is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, who spent his last few years in the Army as a Drill Sergeant. He is now a full-time dad, freelance writer, and out-of-work comedian.