How To Use Your GI Bill For Grad SchoolUpdated: December 23, 2022
The GI Bill is one of the most important military benefits, but it’s easy to assume this VA education benefit is either intended only for undergraduate work or that your GI Bill benefits will be completely used up before you apply for graduate school.
That sort of thinking doesn’t take into account state-level military and veteran education benefits such as TexVet or the Hazelwood Act (just to name two of the hundreds of programs that operate at the state level). It also fails to account for those who attended school prior to joining the military, who have the opportunity to go farther with their degrees in a graduate-level program.
The GI Bill Can Be Used For Graduate School
Like undergraduate GI Bill use, grad school applicants have the option of having 100% tuition paid for at a public university, or up to a specific cap at a private university. These caps are subject to change, and it’s a bad idea to rely on past information without exploring what is currently offered at application time.
You do not have to have 100% of your GI Bill benefits when applying for grad school; any remaining entitlement (as long as you have enough remaining months to do so) can be used.
Attending Private Grad School On The GI Bill
If you want to apply for a graduate program with a private university, the GI Bill may not cover 100% of your costs, which is why it’s very important to explore your Yellow Ribbon Program options. There may also be state-level assistance-check with your state’s Veteran Affairs office.
GI Bill For Grad School Basics
Today’s military members, dependents, and veterans use GI Bill options which vary depending on when they signed up, which GI Bill option they use, and whether the service member opts or opted to upgrade to a newer version such as upgrading from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Basic Differences Between The GI Bills
In general, there are two different versions of the GI Bill active today for most beneficiaries. Your benefits are determined by the program you signed up for, but also by modifications made by changes in federal law known as the Forever GI Bill (see below):
The Montgomery GI Bill offers no housing stipend and does not permit transfers to family members unlike the Post-9/11 GI Bill. There are other differences, but for those exploring their grad school options those are the two most commonly asked questions.
There were substantial changes to the GI Bill program through the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, also known as the Forever GI Bill. The Act changed many aspects of the GI Bill program, including the elimination of a previous 15-year time limit to use GI Bill benefits, expanded ability to transfer benefits to spouses and dependent children, and more.
The Forever GI Bill generally changes and improves benefits in other programs and there is an extensive list of upgrades associated with this Act.
GI Bill Benefit Amounts Depend On Time Served
The amount of your benefit depends on whether you served the minimum 36 months on duty or left military service before that minimum was met. You may be eligible for a percentage of the full benefit based on the actual amount of time served below 36 months.
Talk to a VA rep or a college admissions rep who knows the GI Bill well to learn what your specific circumstances may entitle you to be paid.
How The VA Calculates Your Attendance As A Full-Time Or Part-Time Student
The biggest financial question about attending school on the GI Bill is generally related to your school commitment as a full-time or part-time student. All your payments are determined initially by whether you draw full or part-time benefits.
The VA official site advises future grad students that payment of GI Bill benefits depends greatly on how the school classifies full or part-time attendance. The VA bases payment on:
- Number of classes
- Number of class hours
VA literature says that for “most” undergraduate degrees, colleges and universities have the following structure:
- 12 or more hours = full time attendance
- Between 9 & 11 hours = “three-quarter time” attendance
- Between 6 & 8 hours = half time attendance
- Less than 6 hours = Student is reimbursed for tuition and fees
The Graduate School Version
However, for graduate school, attendance requirements are much different. The VA makes concessions for this, stating on its’ official site, “The school decides how to rate each hour.” And that means that if your institution considers a two hour graduate-level class to be full time, if you attend those classes on the GI Bill you will be paid at the full-time rate.
GI Bill benefits are generally paid monthly, after each month’s classes are over.
Grad school students can expect to be paid a housing stipend under the Post-9/11 GI Bill similar to those who attend as undergrads. The housing allowance is paid based on the Basic Housing Allowance authorized for E-5 service members who have dependents.
The rate you are paid depends on the location of the school where you attend classes. Online-only students are paid at a reduced rate compared to full-time attendance in person. The VA GI Bill benefits will pay housing allowances for classes taken within the United States, outside CONUS for authorized schools, and online classes.
The actual amount of your allowance will vary depending on your full or part-time schedule, the current amount approved under the GI Bill program, additional legislation, etc.
Tips For Using Your GI Bill Benefits For Grad School:
Some information can make all the difference in your school choices. Don’t apply for GI Bill benefits for graduate school before considering the following:
- One important consideration for your GI Bill benefits is whether or not you attend school as a student classified as an in-state resident or an out-of-state student. In-state fees are lower than for out-of-state college applicants. You don’t want to use up your GI Bill funding at a private school, for example, being billed the extra out-of-state fees. Check with your public and private graduate school options since many states permit active duty, Guard, Reserve, veterans, and spouses to attend as in-state students regardless of their actual status.
- Graduate school attendance while on active duty is definitely possible under the VA Post 9/11 GI Bill, however just because you are technically eligible to do so does not mean the student does not have to get permission from their chain of command to do so depending on circumstances. When does this apply? In general, first-term military members may have restrictions on things including off-duty employment or other issues including off-duty education. Not all commands have such restrictions, but some may.
- You are permitted to attain more than one degree with your GI Bill benefits, but you may not be permitted to repeat classes.
- GI Bill students at the graduate level are expected to make academic progress in a similar fashion to undergrads. Failure to maintain your GPA can affect your benefits the same as with undergraduate students.
- The Forever GI Bill permits those awarded a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to apply for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits at the 100-percent benefit level for up to 36 months.
- Private college attendance under the GI Bill may require the use of the Yellow Ribbon program to cover the costs left over after the GI Bill benefits have been exhausted for the current round of tuition. Public schools generally don’t need the Yellow Ribbon program, but if you are considering a pilot school, law school, medical school program or even a private vocational college such as an art college, design school, coding program, etc. explore your Yellow Ribbon options with your admissions advisor.
- Taking classes at more than one school may be permitted IF the classes both count toward your degree.
How To Apply For GI Bill Benefits For Graduate School
Use the online application tool on the VA official site to apply directly, but you may also get assistance from a Veteran Service Organization (VSO) such as the DAV, USO, AMVETS, or a state-supported VSO or similar program.
You can also call the VA at 888-442-4551 to request a paper application, or show up at a VA Regional Office to apply in person.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News