Tips on Using Your GI Bill For Graduate School

Updated: October 10, 2020

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    Due to the GI Bill’s outstanding education benefits, veterans interested in continued schooling often ask whether they can use their GI Bill benefits for graduate school. In this article, we’ll explain how veterans can use their GI Bill to pay for graduate school and the ancillary benefits this program provides.

    Tips on Using Your GI Bill For Graduate School Specifically, we’ll cover the following topics:

    • GI Bill History and Overview
    • Using the GI Bill to Pay Graduate School Tuition
    • Graduate School Monthly Housing Allowance with the GI Bill
    • GI Bill Book Stipend for Graduate Students
    • Final Thoughts

    GI Bill History and Overview

    Though commonly referred to as the GI Bill, these outstanding education benefits actually began with the 1944 passage of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. While this bill included other benefits (e.g. VA home loan predecessor program), it also launched the initial version of the veteran education program we now know as the GI Bill.

    This education program has gone through a variety of changes since its 1944 inception, including major changes following the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks. Today, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most commonly used – and comprehensive – education benefit available to veterans.

    And, in addition to providing veterans the ability to pay for school or job training, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can also be used to pay for graduate school.

    Using the GI Bill to Pay Graduate School Tuition

    Broadly speaking, using the GI Bill to pay graduate school tuition follows the same process as using these benefits to pay for undergraduate studies. Veterans first need to apply directly with the Department of Veterans Affairs to confirm their eligibility.

    Once the VA confirms GI Bill eligibility via a Certificate of Eligibility (COE), the benefits received by veterans will vary depending on:

    • Which school they attend
    • The amount of active-duty service time completed after Sept. 10, 2001
    • The number of credits or training hours they’re currently taking

    This final factor – number of credits – constitutes the major difference between using the GI Bill for undergraduate and graduate programs.

    As an undergraduate, your training time recognized by the VA directly correlates to your enrolled class hours. From 0 to 2 hours counts as ¼ time for the VA, while 12 hours and above qualifies as full-time. As such, an undergraduate only taking 6 credit hours will not receive his or her full GI Bill benefits.

    However, as a graduate student, the VA pays benefits based on the status your university reports.  In other words, if you’re taking three credit hours, but your graduate program reports that as full-time, the VA will pay your full GI Bill benefits.

    For this reason, eligible veterans should discuss with their specific graduate programs what they consider to be a full-time student, as enrolling in fewer credit hours will result in the receipt of less than full GI Bill benefits.

    Assuming full-time status and 100% GI Bill benefits, veterans enrolled in graduate school will receive the full cost of public, in-state university tuition and fees with their GI Bill. And, while the VA caps the rate for attending out-of-state, private, and foreign schools, it adjusts those caps each year.

    Furthermore, veterans attending one of these more expensive universities for graduate school have the ability to apply for Yellow Ribbon benefits, as well, to bridge the gap between GI Bill funding and actual tuition.

    Graduate School Monthly Housing Allowance with the GI Bill

    In addition to tuition and fees, the GI Bill also provides veterans a monthly housing allowance.  This tax-free stipend proves critical to most veterans attending graduate school, as these students are often older and need to support families while enrolled.

    Monthly housing allowance amounts received by veterans fall into three categories:

    • Domestic, in-person graduate programs: For veterans enrolled in “brick and mortar” graduate programs within the United States, monthly housing allowance amounts are adjusted based on the location of the school (not the veteran’s home). In other words, a student will receive a higher monthly housing allowance if attending a graduate school in San Francisco or New York than most other places, as the cost of living in those cities is so high.

    NOTE: The above monthly housing allowance amounts are pegged to the Department of Defense’s basic allowance for housing, or BAH, amount for E-5s with dependents, an amount you can quickly look up for your university’s location with a BAH calculator.

    • Exclusively online graduate programs: Veterans also have the ability to use their GI Bill benefits to attend graduate school exclusively online. For these students, the VA will pay half the national average housing allowance for E-5s with dependents, currently $916.50/month.
    • Approved foreign universities: For veterans attending approved graduate programs outside of the United States, the VA provides a flat GI Bill monthly housing allowance of the national average for E-5s with dependents, currently $1,833/month.

    Lastly, service members should note that graduate students currently on active duty, spouses using transferred GI Bill benefits, and students enrolled on a half-time or less basis do not qualify for the monthly housing allowance.

    GI Bill Book Stipend for Graduate Students

    Though often overlooked, the GI Bill offers a final benefit for veterans attending graduate school.  Due to the expensive nature of graduate school textbooks, the Department of Veterans Affairs expanded the Post-9/11 GI Bill to include an annual book stipend.

    Specifically, veterans enrolled in graduate school can receive an annual, tax-free stipend of up to $1,000 to offset the costs of books. The VA pays a pro rata share of this stipend at the beginning of every enrolled semester, providing veterans the ability to actually use these funds to pay for books.

    Final Thoughts

    For veterans attending graduate school, the GI Bill offers incredible benefits. In addition to the tuition and fees, the VA’s monthly housing allowance and book stipends provide veterans critical financial assistance in their pursuit of graduate degrees.

    And, as the above article illustrates, using your GI Bill for graduate school is not limited to traditional programs. Veterans can also use these benefits to attend online-only and overseas graduate programs, providing a breadth of options for the pursuit of further education, regardless of a veteran’s unique situation.


    About The AuthorMaurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.


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    Written by MilitaryBenefits

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