Marine Corps Education BenefitsUpdated: December 23, 2022
The United States Marine Corps relies upon dedicated volunteers to fill its ranks. As an incentive – and thank you – for this service, the Marine Corps provides its troops a number of outstanding benefits, particularly in education. We’ll use this article to outline these Marine Corps education benefits.
Specifically, we’ll discuss the following:
- An Overview of Marine Corps Education Benefits
- VA Education Programs Open to Marines
- Marine Corps Voluntary Education Programs
- Bachelor’s Degree Commissioning Programs
- Marine Corps University
- Final Thoughts
An Overview of Marine Corps Education Benefits
Depending on an individual’s unique situation, his or her available Marine Corps education benefits will differ. For instance, some bachelor’s degree programs provide a source for commissioning as an officer in the Marine Corps. Therefore, these benefits are available to certain individuals prior to actually becoming a Marine. On the other hand, many Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) education programs available to Marines are typically used after military service.
Due to this variety, we have divided the Marine Corps education benefits discussed in this article into distinct categories. First, we’ll discuss the VA education benefits available to all Marines. Next, we’ll address education during service, outlining the voluntary education programs Marines can complete in their free time. In the final three sections, we’ll discuss education benefits pertaining to careers as Marine Corps officers.
VA Education Programs Open to Marines
As mentioned above, eligible Marines can receive education benefits through the VA. While these are not Marine Corps education benefits, per se, the fact that Marines can – and do – use them mean they’re worth explaining here.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
This VA education benefit constitutes the gold standard of post-service education benefits. While Marines can use their GI Bill benefits during service, most use them following separation from the military.
While full eligibility percentages typically require three years of active duty service, you may be eligible for a reduced benefit percentage if you’ve served on active duty for at least 90 days after Sept. 10th, 2001.
Assuming 100% eligibility, Marines can receive 36 months of the following benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill:
- Tuition and fees (paid up to the in-state, public school maximum)
- Monthly housing allowance
- Book stipend up to $1,000 per year
Yellow Ribbon Program
This program serves as a bridge financing mechanism for Marines using their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to attend a more expensive, private university. For these schools, the standard GI Bill payments do not cover the full tuition. To fix this gap, the VA created the Yellow Ribbon program.
Schools with tuitions greater than the GI Bill maximum can enroll as Yellow Ribbon participants. Marine veterans with 100% GI Bill eligibility can apply for a Yellow Ribbon slot at these schools. And, as Yellow Ribbon participants, the schools offer to pay a set amount, above and beyond the GI Bill contribution, and the VA matches this contribution, meaning Marines need to pay less – or nothing – out of pocket to attend these schools.
Marine Corps Voluntary Education Programs
Next, the Marine Corps offers voluntary education programs. These benefits include the options available to Marines to pursue education in their free time. In other words, the benefits in this category must be completed concurrently with primary military assignments.
Prior to using most of these programs, Marines should complete education counseling at their base’s Voluntary Education Center. These counselors will help develop a concrete academic plan, helping to ensure that all college credits earned via these programs work towards a degree.
Joint Service Transcript (JST)
This military standardized template assesses your prior military education and training, and it outlines how that experience can translate into college credits. For Marines beginning their degree paths, reviewing your Joint Service Transcript (JST) allows you to – potentially – identify classes for which you can receive credits without actually completing them.
CLEP and DANTES Testing
CLEP and DANTES tests, which the Marine Corps will pay for, allow Marines to take an exam in lieu of a college course. In other words, if you know or are willing to study for a particular subject (e.g. college algebra, statistics, world history, etc.), you can take these exams. If you pass, you can then apply the passing grade as a credit towards your degree. This has the benefits of A) speeding up your degree journey, and B) letting your other education benefits go even further.
Tuition Assistance Program (TAP)
Each branch of service offers its own version of TAP, and the Marine Corps’ tuition assistance program allows eligible Marines to use the program to pursue college degrees in their free time. Specifically, after completing the requisite administrative requirements for the program, the Corps will pay a certain amount of tuition every year.
For motivated Marines, combining JST credits, CLEP and DANTES testing, and college classes via TAP can absolutely result in a college degree over the course of an enlistment. While this can be challenging in certain fields and with multiple deployments, it’s not uncommon for a Marine to enlist with no college experience, use these benefits, and complete his or her service with a bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor’s Degree Commissioning Programs
The education benefits in this section pertain to two categories of people: 1) civilians seeking to commission as Marine Corps officers, and 2) enlisted Marines seeking a college degree and commission to become an officer.
Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps (NROTC)
Of note, the Marine Corps does not have its own ROTC program. Instead, it partners with the US Navy and its program.
Qualified high school students apply for a scholarship and, if accepted, spend four years at university training in its NROTC program. From an education perspective, this scholarship means that NROTC students attend university for free. However, by accepting this benefit, these students commit to a minimum of four years of service following graduation.
Furthermore, students attending NROTC must also attend the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School (OCS) during one summer at university. Upon successful completion of both OCS and their bachelor’s degrees, students commission as Marine Corps officers.
Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Program (MECEP)
This program provides outstanding enlisted Marines the opportunity to commission as Marine Corps officers. After completing a rigorous application and selection process, qualified Marines attend college full-time at an institution with an NROTC program. Upon successfully completing their bachelor’s degrees and OCS, these Marines commission as officers.
United States Naval Academy (USNA)
United States Naval Academy (USNA) serves as the official service academy for commissioning Marine Corps officers. Similar to NROTC, students who are accepted and receive an appointment to USNA spend four years at the institution, completing both military training and their bachelor’s degrees. Upon graduation, they commission into the Marine Corps. However, USNA mandates five – not four – years of mandatory service following graduation in return for this education.
Additionally, the Marine Corps reserves a certain number of slots available to prior-enlisted Marines for every USNA class. This provides another education and commissioning route to enlisted Marines.
Marine Corps University
This final education benefit provides eligible mid-career officers and senior enlisted Marines the opportunity to pursue a master’s degree at the Marine Corps University, which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges to provide master’s degrees.
A variety of routes within the Marine Corps exist to secure spots at Marine Corps University. However, once accepted, Marines can complete one of the following degrees:
- Master of Strategic Studies
- Master of Operational Studies
- Master of Military Studies
Depending on your unique situation and goals, the Marine Corps likely has an education benefit program for you. However, as with everything in the Marine Corps, you will not be given anything. All of these benefits still require a tremendous amount of work to succeed. But, if you possess this drive to further your education, the Marine Corps has plenty of options to help you on your journey.