How many degrees can you get with the GI Bill? That depends on a variety of factors but the short answer is, more than one.
The key to getting the most credit hours out of your GI Bill benefits is to review your entitlement, review the school’s degree program requirements and/or your educational goals to structure a course of study that takes full advantage of your benefits and the time allotted to complete the classes.
That sounds fairly simple, but no two schools are alike and some veterans find they have to learn and understand new approaches to academics in order to get the most from their benefits.
Planning Ahead To Get Multiple Degrees With Your GI Bill
Those who serve and have not retired or separated from active service are in the best position to plan for more than one degree. The key is to use other tuition assistance offered to you while serving rather than using your GI Bill.
The Department of Defense offers Military Tuition Assistance to active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members. This program pays 100% of the tuition expenses for education billed for $250 or less per semester hour.
Under Military Tuition Assistance, you can attend two-year or four-year institutions on-base, off-base, remotely, or in a traditional classroom. Each branch of the military including the Coast Guard offers to pay this tuition assistance directly to the school.
Tuition assistance can be used for:
- Vocational/technical programs
- Undergraduate programs
- Graduate programs
- Independent study
- Distance-learning programs
Starting your program while still in uniform and using funding sources like these instead of your GI Bill is a great first step toward earning multiple degrees. The GI Bill funds you save here can be used for a Bachelors or Graduate-level program instead. Or both, one after the other.
Veterans don’t have access to Military Tuition Assistance once they retire or separate; it is useful to see if there are state or local programs aimed at veterans that may offset some of your costs before using the GI Bill.
Getting The Most Mileage From GI Bill Benefits To Earn Multiple Degrees
Some students don’t realize that having the GI Bill does not mean you can’t apply for other financial assistance in the form of grants, loans, state-operated veteran benefits programs, etc. It’s best to fill out a FAFSA form and determine what other financial help you may be entitled to. Doing so can stretch your GI Bill money even further for multiple degree programs.
Once you begin using your GI Bill benefits, you will need to determine what is possible under your program. For example, the Montgomery GI Bill does not feature access to the Yellow Ribbon Program–an agreement between participating schools and the VA that provides additional funds (provided by the school) to cover the gap between the VA GI Bill benefit and the final cost of tuition for private institutions.
However, the Post 9/11 GI Bill does include the Yellow Ribbon program, and that is an important factor in school choices, program choices, and how aggressively to approach your college career. The Yellow Ribbon program helps extend GI Bill benefits, but not for all programs or applicants.
The Montgomery GI Bill also does not pay a housing stipend, unlike the Post 9/11 GI Bill. But those who plan to attend remotely or online-only are not penalized under the Montgomery GI Bill, and those who attend online only classes using the Post 9/11 GI Bill are subject to greatly reduced housing stipends unless at least one class is taken in person.
Knowing the limits of your program will help you make more informed choices about how to stretch your benefits.
Attending Multiple Schools
Some GI Bill students need to take classes at more than one school in order to meet certain academic requirements or to speed up progress in the program. This is permitted under GI Bill rules as long as the attendance meets certain criteria.
Going to more than one school is sometimes needed to complete a degree program on time, especially if the student’s “main” college only offers a key class once per year.
VA rules for attending more than one school at a time state classes at more than one school may be approved when both of the following apply:
- The classes at both schools count toward your degree, and
- The school granting your degree considers the classes at the second school to be required in order to get your degree
What You Need To Know About Multiple GI Bill Degrees
There are things you cannot do with your GI Bill benefits. For example, GI Bill money can’t be used for the same class twice, “unless you get a failing grade in a class that the school requires for graduation” accordion to VA.gov.
You cannot use the GI Bill for classes that don’t count toward your stated degree. However you can use Post 9/11 GI Bill funds to pay for licensing fees related to your professional program, certification tests, SAT testing, LSAT, and others.
Depending on the nature of your degree, you may wish to earn a second Bachelor’s degree; this may or may not be possible depending on the nature of the second degree. A degree too similar to the first one earned may not qualify.
That’s not the same as applying for a graduate-level program in the same field–a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology, for example, followed by a Masters’ degree in the same discipline would not be rejected.
The Process Is Simpler Than You Think
Earning more than one degree with your GI Bill benefits does not require you to sign a statement of intent to do so, or otherwise commit to the VA to proceed with more than one; all you have to do is have enough remaining GI Bill benefits to enter your program and structure your attendance according to your needs.
What does this mean? Basically, going through the process of applying to the school, going through the school’s Veterans Affairs office or veteran rep to get your GI Bill benefits moving forward, and decide how to attend.
If you have never used your benefits before you will have your full entitlement. If you have, you will need to check to see how much of your entitlement remains. Then the real work begins.
No two schools may run exactly the same. Some measure classes using terms, the semester approach may be used, or some other unit of measure. The key to maximizing your GI Bill benefits includes knowing what constitutes full-time attendance versus part-time and how you can use that to your advantage.
Your VA benefits are paid based on your status as a full-time or part-time student. But you get more mileage out of your benefits if you take the most number of credit hours you are allowed to take as a full or part-time student.
If full time attendance is between 12 and 15 hours, you get more from your benefits taking the full 15–reducing your overall degree program length. This doesn’t work at all schools, but where and when it does you may find it helpful. These are the little details you’ll need to know about your school, your program, and how your version of the GI Bill will pay for it and the program you select afterwards.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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