Using the GI Bill to Learn a Language

Updated: October 28, 2020

Table of Contents

    Due to the program’s outstanding educational benefits, veterans frequently ask if it’s possible to use the GI Bill to learn a language. It absolutely is, and in this article we’ll explain how veterans can use their GI Bill benefits to learn a language at the Middlebury Language Schools, the premier language institution in the United States.

    Using the GI Bill to Learn a Language Specifically, we’ll cover the following topics:

    • GI Bill Overview
    • Middlebury Language Schools
    • Using the GI Bill to Learn a Language
    • A Note on BAH and Housing at Middlebury
    • Final Thoughts

    GI Bill Overview

    The predecessor to what we now know as the GI Bill began with the 1944 Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, which aimed to provide troops returning from World War II the housing and education support necessary to transition back into the civilian world.

    Today, the Department of Veterans Affairs administers the latest variation of this education benefit, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This current program offers qualified veterans the following comprehensive benefits:

    • Tuition and fees
    • Monthly housing allowance
    • Annual book stipend (up to $1,000/year)

    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 to learn a language, which we’ll discuss in the following sections.

    Middlebury Language Schools

    Prior to discussing using the GI Bill to learn a language, it’s important for veterans to understand that not all language programs offer the same high-quality instruction. For instance, veterans can attend essentially any university, enroll in language classes, and study a language. And, while this represents a path, it’s certainly not the best path to learn a language.

    To truly learn a language, most students require a fully immersive experience. And, if you want to stay in the United States, Middlebury Language Schools offer the preeminent option for such language immersion.

    Used by academics, the US Government, and the US Department of Defense, Middlebury Language Schools offers students a fully-immersive summer language learning opportunity.  Following arrival, students take written and oral placement tests to determine their level of language proficiency, and the school places them accordingly. Whether a complete language novice or totally fluent, Middlebury will place you in the appropriate skill level within your respective language program.

    And, following this placement, Middlebury truly sets itself apart from other programs by having all students sign the Language Pledge. Following an orientation weekend, students take this Pledge, committing to communicating only in the language of their school for the duration of the program. As such, you enter a 24/7 immersion environment, studying, living, and socializing with A) fellow students of the language, and B) a top-notch faculty and staff of native speakers whose sole purpose is to help you learn their language.

    Furthermore, when not actually in class, each Middlebury language program offers dozens of co-curricular activities designed to reinforce your language learning. With culinary clubs, movies, sports, political discussions, theater, historical studies, and countless other options, students can pick some sort of activity that interests them – and reinforces their language skills.

    Currently, the Middlebury Language Schools offer immersion programs in the following languages:

    • Abenaki
    • Arabic
    • Chinese
    • French
    • German
    • Hebrew
    • Italian
    • Japanese
    • Korean
    • Portuguese
    • Russian
    • Spanish

    Of this list, the Arabic, Italian, and Portuguese Schools are located on the Bennington College campus in Bennington, Vermont, while the others are located on the Middlebury campus in Middlebury, Vermont.

    NOTE: The author attended Middlebury’s Davis School of Russian in 2018, travelling to Ukraine immediately following the program. He found the language program fully set him up for success in navigating this foreign country with his Russian-language skills learned at Middlebury.


    Using the GI Bill to Learn a Language

    After outlining why Middlebury offers such outstanding language instruction, the next question becomes, how can I actually use the GI Bill to learn a language at Middlebury?

    Step 1: Apply for benefits with the VA

    Broadly speaking, using the GI Bill to pay language school tuition at Middlebury 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

    Step 2: Apply directly to the Middlebury Language Programs

    Next, veterans need to apply directly with Middlebury for acceptance into one of the language programs. Though dates vary slightly every year, applications typically open mid- to late-fall for spots in the following summer’s programs.

    Middlebury offers an online application module, and students will also be required to provide the following:

    • $75 application fee (paid via credit card at the time of application)
    • Official transcripts (from post-secondary institutions, if applicable, or from high school, if not)
    • Recommendation letter
    • Additional information regarding A) prior language experience, and B) reasons for wanting to attend Middlebury

    Step 3: Apply for one of Middlebury’s Yellow Ribbon spots

    As a private university, Middlebury’s tuition exceeds the public, in-state university tuition and fees covered by the GI Bill. As such, for veterans to have their full tuition covered, they’ll need to have 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits in order to qualify for Yellow Ribbon support.

    Here’s how it works.  If a university has enrolled as a Yellow Ribbon program participant (which Middlebury has), it will receive a certain number of eligible Yellow Ribbon slots per year. And, as the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover the full tuition at Middlebury, Yellow Ribbon serves a matching function, with the school agreeing to pay half the difference and the VA matching the other half.

    Fortunately, due to the frequency that military veterans attend Middlebury Language Schools, the university employs an Associate Registrar and VA Certifying Official focused solely on helping veterans with both their GI Bill benefits and the Yellow Ribbon application.

    Step 4: Track the status of your application

    With its online application module, Middlebury makes tracking your application status and deadlines an easy process. Stay on top of these tasks and timelines, and you’ll typically receive acceptance confirmation in early spring.

    Step 5: Learn a language!

    Once accepted, you’ll receive detailed logistical information about your arrival at either the Bennington or Middlebury campus (depending on which language you select). Follow these instructions, and then go and learn a new language!


    A Note on BAH and Housing at Middlebury

    Living with your fellow students constitutes a key aspect of Middlebury’s immersion program.  As such, students live on campus in a language-specific dorm. And, while this represents a critical part of the language programs, from a billing perspective, it qualifies as housing, not tuition.

    Consequently, the VA does not pay Middlebury directly for the costs of room and board (as it does for the costs of tuition). But, this doesn’t mean that veteran students are on the hook for thousands of dollars in program-mandated room and board.

    The VA pays veterans studying at Middlebury a monthly housing allowance large enough to cover these costs of the school’s mandated, language-specific room and board programs. But, veterans need to understand that, when this cash gets deposited into their bank accounts, it’s not just free money. Instead, veterans need to work directly with Middlebury’s billing department to use this money to pay for room and board. In other words, it’s not an automatic process.

    If not, several months after the completion of the language program veterans will receive a surprise bill for several thousand dollars to cover their room and board – certainly not ideal.

    Final Thoughts

    Veterans shouldn’t view the GI Bill as simply a means to a traditional college education. As the above article illustrates, the GI Bill can also be used to learn a language at the Middlebury Language Schools, the premier language institution in the United States.

    And, for veterans looking to do both – that is, graduate from a university and learn a language – students also receive college credits for their language program attendance at Middlebury.


    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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