Do you need help with maximizing your GI Bill benefits? The first place to begin making the most of your GI Bill is choosing when and where to use them.
If you are still on active duty you should review your other options for tuition help from the military such as Tuition Assistance (see below) before dipping into your GI Bill. And there are other techniques you can use to get the most mileage out of your GI Bill.
A Few Basics
A portion of the financial assistance you may qualify for as a veteran, active duty service member, dependent, or military spouse may depend on your status–Active, Guard, Reserve, Retiree, Dependent, etc.
Those with service-connected disabilities and VA-assigned disability ratings may qualify for more grants or scholarships, but not all programs require a disability as a condition of approval. State governments provide a lot of resources and information for veterans looking for help with school, training, or career moves. Use your state-level veteran authority resources as much as you can!
You should also review a list of Veteran Service Organizations (see below) to find the current year’s grants and educational scholarships–there are many, but competition for some of them can be tricky depending on volume, demand, etc.
Use All Your Education Benefits
What do we mean by this? Reviewing all your options based on your current status as an active duty service member, a military retiree, a veteran who has not retired but separated from military service, etc.
And let’s not forget Guard and Reserve options that may be offered at the state or federal level. There are plenty of non-GI Bill education resources open to you including grants and loans.
How do you learn what all your options are? Start by determining your status. If you are in the start or in the middle of your military career and are still serving, you have different concerns than those who are about to retire or separate. Break down your options by listing the possible avenues for financial aid or avenues for financial support based on your duty status:
- Active duty Tuition Assistance options are offered by each branch of service
- In-state tuition offered for those on active duty for more than 30 days (regardless of residency as long as you are stationed in the local area initially)
- DANTES and CLEP tests to reduce in-class time spent for subjects you already know
- Reduced-fee classes at military-friendly colleges via remote learning, on-base classes, etc.
- Scholarships and grants for military families, especially those offered by Veteran Service Organizations such as the Tillman Military Scholars program
- Special scholarship programs (often at the state level) for Guard and Reserve members with qualifying service
- Consider student loans only if you have plans to use your GI Bill for a higher degree and it makes sense to do so–give this option some careful thinking time and be sure to calculate how much your loan might cost you over the term of the loan agreement
These options aren’t the only ones–they are meant to help you brainstorm other possibilities. State and local governments have many education programs for veterans that can save you from having to use GI Bill funds to take college courses or get certification while you are still in uniform.
Retired Or Separated Military Members
For those who are not yet retired or separated but are planning to do so, timing is of the essence for some strategies to maximize your GI Bill benefits. If you plan to attend college after your military career is over, why not start taking classes while you are waiting to return to civilian life?
The above-mentioned military Tuition Assistance (TA) programs can help you get a head start.
Once you have gotten out of the military, consider the following options. Some veterans qualify for more programs than others depending on whether they have a VA-rated disability and other variables. In general, retired and separated military members and their families should explore the following avenues for education funding outside the GI Bill:
- State tuition programs–these may cover tuition only, or may provide stipends for books and supplies. It all depends on the program but you should start looking at your state Department of Veteran’s Affairs, State Division of Veterans Affairs, etc. for veteran education options. Most states will offer in-state tuition (see above) to veterans and family members, but in certain cases you may required to be a state resident for a minimum period before you can apply.
- FAFSA–be sure to fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid each year even if you think you won’t qualify for a Pell Grant or a Stafford Loan.
- Just because you are eligible for the GI Bill does not mean you are automatically disqualified from other educational assistance programs–explore as many options as possible.
- Veteran Service Organization Grants and Scholarships: VSOs offer many such college financial aid in the form of a grant or scholarship to qualifying veterans, dependents, spouses, etc. Each VSO has its own approach, so you’ll want to explore the official sites of each Veteran Service Organization to see what options are open in your school year.
Decide In Advance About Online Learning
Getting the most out of your GI Bill sometimes requires some creative thinking. Those who attend all classes online using the GI Bill are offered substantially less of the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing stipend than those who attend at least one class in person.
If you are worried about getting the most mileage out of your GI Bill, decide in advance if you want to combine your distance education with at least one in-person class. You can always save your GI Bill housing money to put toward more classes when your benefits are completely used up. Not every student can afford to plan that way, but those who can, should give it serious thought.
Learn How The GI Bill Works With Your School
Getting more out of your GI Bill means legally taking advantage of certain ways the program is structured.
For example, if this year’s GI Bill program defines full time college attendance as a minimum of 12 hours, but your school allows a higher maximum number of credit hours or better, you do better to take more classes per semester or term (if you can handle the course load) because it hypothetically speeds up your program and lets you graduate earlier.
A student who takes one extra class per term or semester could whittle down their courses to eliminate a semester or term depending on how many hours they carry and how consistently. SHOULD you do this? Some choose to say yes. If you can handle the workload it is a strategy worth thinking about.
A Brief List Of VA-Accredited Veteran Service Organizations
In the article above we encourage students to look up Veteran Service Organizations to see what kinds of military scholarship or grant opportunities exist. Here is a small list of VA-accredited VSOs–this is not an exhaustive list but does provide a good place to start research from:
- African American PTSD Association
- American Ex-Prisoners of War
- American GI Forum
- National Veterans Outreach
- American Legion
- American Red Cross
- American Veteran
- Armed Forces Services Corporation
- Army and Navy Union
- Associates of Vietnam Veterans of America
- Disabled American Veterans
- Fleet Reserve Association
- Gold Star Wives of America, Inc.
- Italian American War Veterans of the US, Inc.
- Jewish War Veterans of the USA
- Military Officers Association of America
- Military Order of the Purple Heart
- NYNational Association for Black Veterans, Inc.
- National Association of County Veterans Service
- National Law School Veterans Clinic Consortium
- National Veterans Legal Services Program
- National Veterans Organization of America
- Navy Mutual Aid Association
- Paralyzed Veterans of America
- Polish Legion of American Veterans
- The Retired Enlisted Association
- Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US
- Veterans of the Vietnam War, Inc.
- Veterans of World War I of the USA, Inc.
- Vietnam Veterans of America
- Wounded Warrior Project
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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