If you are on the hunt for a college and are on active duty, a veteran, qualifying spouse/dependent of a veteran, reservist, or part of the National Guard, you have got to read our guide to veteran-friendly colleges! You’ll also want to do a bit of research on your own so you can find a college that provides services that cater to your individual needs.
Most schools honor government-funded educational benefits like the GI Bill but finding a veteran friendly college that takes care of you, will go a long way in making your college experience one you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
We have created this guide to help you find a college that will help you use your military experience to get you the most college credit or get you the services you are entitled to. From the GI Bill to service-related programs to help spouses and qualifying dependents, we’ll give you the inside scoop on how to make the most of your military experience.
How Do I Know If A School Is Veteran Friendly?
You can start your search by checking out our list of military friendly colleges. If the school you are looking for is not on the list, you can find out what support they provide by visiting their website, review social media sites, or find feedback from former students. One of the best ways to find out if a college is veteran friendly is by talking to their admissions office. Here are just a few things that make a school military-friendly?
They should have:
- signed the VA Principles of Excellence
- a chapter of the Student Veterans of America
- a full-time veteran’s counselor
- campus clubs or associations for veterans
- accept Credit for Military Experience and CLEP Exams
We’ll go into some of these programs in detail later in the guide. Let’s start with ways you can use your veteran’s benefits to pay for your college education.
Financing Your College Education
There are many pathways to paying for your college education. Veterans have the GI Bill, active-duty members have Tuition Assistance, and spouses and qualifying dependents have a variety of programs that will help pay for a college degree or certification program. You can also get financial aid through your school, you may qualify for unsubsidized loans and Pell grants, or you may be eligible to apply for scholarships, some of which are specific to military members.
Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
This is the first step to finding out your financial aid entitlements. The FAFSA gathers information about your income and family size, which is then reviewed by the government to determine how much financial aid you can get. The FAFSA is also used to see if you qualify for state aid, college scholarships, and local scholarships given by small businesses and organizations.
This is where a military-friendly college shines. Many schools are committed to providing an affordable option to veterans by offering discounts on tuition or vouchers for free housing, books, supplies, or fees. Discounts vary by college and based on the degree program or your military status (active-duty, veteran, reservist, spouse, or dependent). Make sure to check the military section of their website. Those discounts should be front and center on their page. If you are unsure of what discounts they offer, just ask.
Military Training Credit
The amount of college transfer credit you may get for military training and experience varies widely by school. If the school is an ACE (American Council on Education) participant, you will have the best chance of getting the most college credits for your military training. Some will award for military training courses but not for military occupational specialties. This is just one of the factors you need to consider when picking a school.
If you don’t transfer in college credits from another school, you are paying for a class twice. You’ll just need to verify that your credits will transfer. Typically, you must have taken the course from a regionally accredited school and earned the equivalent to a “C” or 2.0 in the course for it to transfer.
State Veterans Education Benefits
What Programs are out there to help me Pay for College?
Depending on your current status, there are many programs available to help you finance your college education. Let’s look at what programs are available based on your current situation
The original GI Bill was signed into law in 1944 by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt and named after American Legion National Commander Harry W. Colmery, a champion for veteran’s benefits. Over the years, the GI Bill has gone through a lot of changes, but at its core, it provides educational benefits to qualified members and their spouses by helping with:
- Tuition and fees
- Money for housing (if you’re in school more than half time)
- Money for books and supplies
Forever GI Bill – You qualify for the Forever GI Bill if you were last discharged or released from active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013. If you were discharged before that date, you qualify for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery Era GI Bill.
Post-9/11 GI Bill – You qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill if:
- you served at least 90 days on active duty after Sept. 11, 2001, and were discharged before Jan. 1, 2013.
- you received a Purple Heart after Sept. 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged.
- you served for at least 30 continuous days on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability.
- you are a dependent child who had benefits transferred to you.
If you were last discharged or released from active duty on or after Jan. 1, 2013—you qualify for the Forever GI Bill.
Montgomery-Era GI Bill – The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) is available if you met certain criteria.
Yellow Ribbon Program
The Yellow Ribbon Program can help you pay for out-of-state tuition, private school, or graduate school tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover. You have to meet certain criteria to be eligible, and your school has to participate in the program.
Purple Heart Recipients
If you were awarded a Purple Heart and honorably discharged on or after Sept. 11, 2001, you may be entitled to Post-9/11GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months, no matter how long you served.
Spouses and Qualifying Dependents
Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA)
If you’re a military spouse, the MyCAA program provides up to $4,000 (over 2 years) of financial assistance if you are pursuing a license, certification or an associate’s degree in a portable career field or occupation.
If you’re the child or surviving spouse of a service member who died in the line of duty after Sept. 10, 2001, you may qualify for the Fry Scholarship. You’ll get 36 months of benefits, including money tuition, housing, books, and supplies.
Active Duty Members
Each service offers active duty members the chance to earn college credits or a degree while serving. The programs partner with non-military educational institutions and often are offered online. Here are the most widely used programs administered by the military branch themselves:
GoArmyEd was retired and replaced by ArmyIgnitED. Whether you’re at home or abroad, you have unlimited access to educational opportunities, support, and guidance throughout your desired Education Path, Civilian Path, Credential, or Army ROTC scholarship program.
College of the American Soldier
The College of the American Soldier provides two separate education programs for active-duty Army soldiers, reservists, and National Guard members. The college works with more than two dozen higher education institutions to provide individualized academic tracks for enlisted soldiers and NCOs.
NCO Program: The NCO program is based on civilian degrees that incorporate components crucial to military career advancement. All credits earned are fully transferable.
Enlisted Education Program: This program is perfect for entry-level service members who have little or no college background. It allows them to complete an associate degree during their first enlistment. All credits are fully transferable among the more than two dozen participating schools.
Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)
The Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) is dedicated to the higher education needs of Air Force enlisted members. The CCAF is a federally-chartered degree-granting institution accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. They help airmen achieve their academic goals by using on-the-job training and traditional educational programs as part of a flexible degree program that grants airmen an Associate’s Degree in Applied Science (AAS).
Military Tuition Assistance
This benefit is provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The amount of this benefit can be equal to the difference between the total cost of a college course and the amount of Tuition Assistance that is paid by the military for the course. There are significant differences between Tuition Assistance, Tuition Assistance TOP- UP, and how Tuition Assistance interacts with VA benefits.
- Tuition Assistance is educational payments made by your branch of the Armed Service while you are on active duty.
- Tuition Assistance TOP-UP is educational payments made by the VA, which reimburse you for course charges not paid by your branch of the Armed Service.
Note: Tuition Assistance can’t be used with any VA benefits other than the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty and the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Military Friendly Programs
Here are some programs that you’ll find at veteran-friendly schools:
If you qualify for veteran’s benefits, you will need to have someone in your corner to make sure that you get all of the services you are due. A school that has a veteran’s counselor or office that deals only with military members, veterans, or spouses, can cut through the red tape and bureaucracy. Do your research and find schools that offer staff who are specially trained in military and VA benefits.
VA Principles of Excellence Program
VA Principles of Excellence are guidelines for schools and institutions receiving federal military and veterans educational funding. Participating schools agree to principles and guidelines that provide service members, veterans, spouses, and dependents like you with the information, support, and protection you deserve.
American Council on Education (ACE)
American Council on Education (ACE) ensures that active-duty and veterans like you earn academic credit for the knowledge and training you received during your service. Institutions that participate in ACE are experienced at translating your military learning experiences into college credit. They collaborate with the DoD to review military training and experiences to recommend appropriate college credit. ACE will also provide recommendations for formal courses and occupations based on your military training and experience. Getting college credit for your military experience can help save your hundreds or even thousands of dollars in tuition.
Defense Activity for Nontraditional Education Support (DANTES)
The DoD is committed to you to achieve your educational goals. Through DANTES, you can get college and career training credits through testing. These tests measure and provide credit for the knowledge you acquire through military experience and training. Tests are administered on military bases or at national testing facilities. DANTES provides upfront funding of CLEP test fees for eligible military members taking any exam for the first time. You may be charged a fee if you want to retake the test.
DANTES programs consist of two types of tests that award credit:
DSST exams are college subject tests that you can take to earn college credit for knowledge you acquired outside of a traditional classroom. There are 38 subject exams from which to select in disciplines such as Business, Humanities, Mathematics, Physical Science, and more.
College Level Examination Program (CLEP) Exams
A CLEP exam measures your understanding of the coursework typically taken by first or second-year students. If you pass the CLEP exam, you can earn anywhere from 3 to 12 college credits, depending on how high you scored. The 33 CLEP tests fall into five areas: history and social sciences, composition and literature, science and math, and business and world languages.
Jim spent 22 years on active duty, climbing the ranks from Airman Basic to a decorated Air Force Major. Stationed all over the world, he held many high-level posts, including Chief of Foreign Military Sales at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Jim earned his Ph.D. through the Montgomery Era GI Bill and spent 13 years teaching African Studies in Pennsylvania. Jim is also an award-winning travel writer.