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How can students gain valuable career experience and earn a free ride to college?


Paying for college with military service

Today’s students are often looking for a way to serve others and their community. In addition, they are thinking about how to pay for their education. Military service in one of its many forms can meet both needs–paying for college and providing a much needed service to our country. You may want to take a closer look.

Since World War II, our nation has recognized the importance of helping our veterans attend college. The new Post 9/11 GI Bill continues that tradition for those veterans who have served on or after September 11, 2001. It covers up to the full cost of an undergraduate education at any public university in the country as well as many private schools.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides upfront tuition payments to the school, a monthly living allowance, and a book stipend of $1,000 per year. Benefits are available up to 15 years after active duty if your service ended before 2013. For those whose service ended after 2013, the Forever GI bill removes the benefit expiration. The monthly living allowance for those going to school more than half time will be based on the cost of living where your school is located.

The amount of the benefits available to a veteran is calculated on a percentage based on the length of active duty service: 100% for 36 months, 90% for 30 months, 80% for 24 months, 70% for 18 months, 60% for 12 months, 50% for 6 months, 40% for 90 days, and 100% for service connected discharge.

Those in the Reserve or National Guard can receive benefits as well based on their amount of active duty. A description of what qualifies as active duty can be found here.

If the veteran attends a public institution, the annual 100% benefit is not to exceed the actual cost or if they choose a private college, the maximum benefit is as shown from US Department of Veterans Affairs–note some states have different amounts.

If your actual costs at a private college exceed these amounts or additional costs apply because of attending an out-of-state college, then the Yellow Ribbon Program may help. The colleges themselves enter into an agreement with the VA to provide additional funds towards the education. Yellow Ribbon Program amounts are set by the institution itself and the GI Bill matches those amounts. To qualify for the Yellow Ribbon program, a veteran must be eligible for the 100% benefit. To see a list of Yellow Ribbon Program universities, click here.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill covers a wide range of higher education opportunities (not just college) including: correspondence training, cooperative training, entrepreneurship training, flight training, independent and distance learning, institutions of higher learning undergraduate and graduate degree, licensing and certification reimbursement, vocational/technical training, non-college degree programs, national testing reimbursement, on-the-job training, tuition Assistance top-up, tutorial assistance, and vocational/technical training. To see more detailed descriptions of these visit the VA website.

If a service member does not use all or part of their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, they have the option to transfer that benefit to a dependent or spouse (or a spouse and dependent combination). In order to transfer benefits, certain conditions must be met including at least six years of service and commitment to serve four more years. For complete details on the transfer of Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, click here.

For those who equate military service with combat, think again. Today’s military service has jobs across a wide range of career fields to fit any specific skill set and interest–accounting, communications, engineering, and health care to name a few. You can explore some of the career categories here.

Beyond active duty service…

A student can consider attending a military academy or joining the ROTC to serve their country and help pay for college. This piece contains detail on how to apply to a service academy. Joining the ROTC does not automatically pay for college. Students compete for scholarships. For example, information about Army ROTC can be found here.

If a college-bound student is a good fit for military service, they could end up getting valuable career experience and going to their dream school for free after serving three years in the military. Something to think about! When thinking about paying for college, we must look at all the options to find the best fit.

Originally published 3/2017
Updated 6/2020

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