Yellow Ribbon Program Explained

Yellow Ribbon Program

There are many different ways to find money for your education when you serve in the military. The Yellow Ribbon Program is one of them.

Not every service member will be able to use the Yellow Ribbon Program.  Here is what you need to know to see if you qualify and if the program will work for you and your educational goals.


What is the Yellow Ribbon Program?

The Post 9/11 GI Bill will pay for all tuition and fees for a public school, and the lower of the actual tuition and fees or the national maximum per academic year for a private school.

However, what happens if you go to a school that costs more than what the GI Bill will provide? That is where the Yellow Ribbon Program can help.

Those who are attending a private school or a public school as a non-resident would benefit from the Yellow Ribbon Program. Your school will need to elect to participate in the program. If they do, the Yellow Ribbon Program will make additional funds available for your educational program without additional charges to your GI Bill entitlement.

Institutions of Higher Learning will enter in a Yellow Ribbon Agreement with the VA and will choose the amount of tuition and fees that will be given. The VA will then match that amount and will issue the payments directly to your school.

Who Is Eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program?

You will need to be eligible for the maximum benefit rate under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, this includes:

  • Have served 36 months (may be aggregate) on active duty
  • If you have received the Purple Heart with an honorable discharge and any amount of service.
  • You were discharged after 60 days with a service-connected disability and also served 30 continuous days after September 10, 2001.
  • You are a child using transferred benefits.
  • If you are a child using transferred benefits and your service member transfer is at the 100% level.

The school must not have also offered the Yellow Ribbon Program to more than the maximum amount of people as stated in the participation agreement.

Your school must also certify your enrollment to the VA and provide Yellow Ribbon Program information.

You do not qualify if you are an active duty service member or their spouse.

How Do I Know If A School Is a Yellow Ribbon Program Participant?

You can view which schools are participating on our Yellow Ribbon Schools list.

Also, within the CollegeRecon School Search tool, you can select Yellow Ribbon as one of your filter criteria.

Do You Automatically Receive the Yellow Ribbon Program Benefits?

Even if you qualify and your school participates, in the yellow ribbon program, the answer may still be, no.

No. There could be a limit to the amount of students that can receive the Yellow Ribbon benefits at your school. It is determined on a first-come, first-served basis, so your best bet is to apply through your school as soon as you can do so.

What Else Do I Need to Know About the Program?

Schools can have the flexibility to designate the number of students and contributions based on the student’s status.  This means that the school could have different availability and amounts for:

  • Undergraduates
  • Graduates
  • Doctoral students

And different amounts for the different schools the institution has – college or professional schools.

Just because you were able to get the Yellow Ribbon Program benefits one year, it doesn’t mean you will 100% get them the next year.

The agreements between the school and the VA need to be in effect for each year. If your school is still a part of the program, then you will need to have these things to continue with the program:

  • Must maintain satisfactory progress in your educational program.
  • Remain continuously enrolled per the school’s policy.
  • Have remaining entitlement with your Post 9/11 GI Bill.
  • If you want to transfer to another school, that school will also need to be participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program and accept your application. Just because the first school let you into the program, that doesn’t mean the second school has to.
  • Not all of your tuition and fees will be covered with the Yellow Ribbon Program. This all depends on the school’s agreement with the VA.
  • The fees included with the Yellow Ribbon Program would be all mandatory fees for the program you are in. Fees such as room and board, or any other non-mandatory fees are not included.
  • You do not have to attend school full-time to be in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
  • In some cases, you can receive funds during the summer term if your school has them available.

How Do You Apply?

After you submit an application for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, and you are eligible at the 100% benefit level, the VA will issue you a Certificate of Eligibility and advise you that you are potentially eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program. You can then apply for the program at your school with that Certificate, and they will determine if there are spots available. Your school will notify you if you have been approved for the program.

The Yellow Ribbon Program can be a great way to get the education that you need and to be able to have everything paid for. See if your school or a potential school has the program, and apply if you are eligible to receive the benefit.

Yellow Ribbon Program: 3 Quick Facts

The Yellow Ribbon Program is great, and you should look at schools that participate in the program.  However, it may not apply to your situation or the school you choose may not participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. But that may not need to be a determining factor necessarily.

What do we mean?

Here are a few facts to help you understand how a school’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon program may or may not be important to your situation.

Fact #1: It Simply May Not Apply

Since the Yellow Ribbon program is designed to cover your out-of-pocket tuition expenses it is of no use to eligible veterans or their dependents to you if you plan to attend a state operated or public college or university.

Here’s why: if you you’re eligible and attend a public school, 100% of your in-state tuition is covered under both the original Post 9/11 GI Bill and the current “Forever GI Bill.”

So, you might ask, what if I am an “out-of-state” or non-resident student? Well, there is a law known as the “Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act” which requires ALL 50 states to treat veterans and their eligible dependents as residents when attending public colleges and universities.

Who’s Eligible?

  • Veterans enrolling within 3 years of discharge, or their dependents.
  • Fry Scholarship recipients enrolling within 3 years of their parent’s date of death.
  • 100% online programs at public schools may charge the higher non-resident rate if the GI Bill recipient doesn’t live in-state.
  • GI Bill recipients will lose their eligibility if a second or subsequent enrollment is more than 3 year from the date of discharge in the cases where they:
    • stop using their GI Bill for at least a semester (not a summer semester)
    • transfer schools and lose more than 12 credit hours in the transfer
  • GI Bill recipients who were originally within the 3 year time period when they started school before July 2, 2015 but are now past their 3 year eligibility are not covered or “grandfathered” with this program.  They still have to pay the non-resident rate, unless the school has made an exception.
  • Active duty service members, and their spouses and children are not eligible while they are serving.

The Yellow Ribbon program would apply to your situation if:

  • If you’re attending a private school where the costs exceeds the GI Bill payment limit
  • If you’re attending a public school as a non-resident and are ineligible based on the criteria above where the tuition cost exceeds the GI Bill payment limit.

What this means to you: This means if you’re eligible (basically within 3 years of discharge) you and your family members are not subject to paying out-of-state tuition rates.  In those cases, the school you apply to needn’t necessarily be a Yellow Ribbon School.

FACT #2: The Devil Is In the Details

Just because a private college or university participates in the Yellow Ribbon program doesn’t mean that you will not have to pay a portion of your tuition out-of-pocket.

The Yellow Ribbon program can be very important when choosing to attend a private school (private school, means they are not funded by the state). However, the Yellow Ribbon has some limitations depending on the school you select.

The amount covered by the Yellow Ribbon is predetermined by the VA and the school – it may not cover your out-of-pocket cost. The Yellow Ribbon agreement between the VA and school sets the maximum value of the coverage and the maximum number of veterans that can use the program at any given time.

What this means to you: If you choose to enroll in a private college or university whose annual tuition rates exceed the current the GI Bill limit the Yellow Ribbon can help. (The limit is for the 2019-2020 school year is $24,476.79 for the 2019-2020 school year).  But you need to get more details like:

  • How much of the cost is covered?
  • Are there open slots for you to take advantage of the program?

FACT #3: You May Not Be Eligible

To receive benefits under the Yellow Ribbon Program you must be eligible for the maximum benefit rate under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

You are eligible if one of the following applies to you:

  • Served 36 months on active duty.
  • Received the Purple Heart and an honorable discharge (with any length of service).
  • Were discharged after 60 days with a service-connected disability and served 30 continuous days after Sept. 10, 2001
  • Are a dependent using transferred benefits.

In addition, the school must:

  • Agree to participate in the Program.
  • Have not offered Yellow Ribbon to more than the maximum number of individuals, as stated in their participation agreement.
  • Certify your enrollment to VA and provide Yellow Ribbon Program information.

Active duty service members and active duty spouses are not eligible for the Yellow Ribbon program.

While it is good to ask about a school’s participation in the Yellow Ribbon program; you shouldn’t make it a determining factor when searching for a school. The fact is that you may eliminate an excellent school based on a program that may not even apply.



About the author

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Julie Provost is a freelance writer, blogger, and owner of Soldier's Wife, Crazy Life, a support blog for military spouses. She lives in Tennessee with her National Guard husband and three boys.