Using Veterans Benefits to Pay for Grad School

Updated: December 24, 2022
In this Article

    There are tremendous veterans benefits available to pay for grad school, and taking advantage of these programs is an extremely wise financial decision. In this article, we’ll outline these benefits and how, exactly, veterans can use them to pay for grad school.

    Using Veterans Benefits to Pay for Grad School Specifically, we’ll cover the following topics related to veterans benefits and grad school:

    • Veteran Benefit 1: The GI Bill
    • Veteran Benefit 1.a: The Post-9/11 GI Bill
    • Veteran Benefit 1.b: The Forever GI Bill
    • Veteran Benefit 2: The Yellow Ribbon Program
    • Veteran Benefit 3: University-specific Military Discounts
    • Using These Benefits to Pay for Grad School
    • Final Thoughts

    Veteran Benefit 1: The GI Bill

    Officially known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the GI Bill constitutes that absolute gold standard of veteran education benefits.

    In its original form, the GI Bill was more of an omnibus benefits package – not the education-specific program we think of today. It included funding for low-rate mortgages (which would eventually become the VA Home Loan Program), veterans’ hospitals, and education.

    The education aspect is the cornerstone of today’s variation of the GI Bill, and it is an outstanding funding option for veterans looking to attend grad school.

    Veteran Benefit 1.a: The Post-9/11 GI Bill

    A variation of the GI Bill – known as the Montgomery GI Bill – became law in the 1980s as a means to assist Vietnam veterans.  While a step in the right direction to supporting veterans, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is now the program of choice for veterans looking to pay for grad school.

    Congress passed the Post-9/11 GI Bill – officially known as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act – in 2008. Following the Sept. 11th, 2001 attacks and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Congress recognized that another massive wave of veterans would require educational assistance as they transitioned from military service.

    Here are the elements of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that make it such an appealing benefit for veterans looking to pay for grad school:

    • Tuition and fees: Assuming you qualify for 100% benefits, the VA will pay for 36 months of the full cost of in-state tuition and fees, more than enough time to go to law school, business school, or most other graduate programs (and multiple, if you get creative!).
    • Monthly housing allowance: In addition to tuition and fees, the VA will pay you, based on location, a tax-free, monthly housing allowance for every day you’re enrolled in classes. For veterans with families to support, this is a key benefit allowing you to take time off work to return to grad school.
    • Money for books and supplies: Grad school books are expensive. To help with this reality, the VA will pay up to $1,000 in book stipends per year.
    • Rural area moving assistance: If you live in a rural area but would like to attend grad school, you may qualify for a one-time payment of $500 from the VA to if you have no choice but to move to attend grad school.

    To qualify for these incredible benefits, veterans must have served at least 90 days of active duty following Sept. 10th, 2001. However, to receive 100% benefits, veterans must have served 36 months or more of active duty or, if discharged due to a service-connected disability, at least 30 continuous days.

    Veteran Benefit 1.b: The Forever GI Bill

    As if the Post-9/11 GI Bill wasn’t already outstanding enough, in 2017, it became an even better option for veterans seeking to return to grad school.  Specific to grad school, here are the ways the 2017 Forever GI Bill improved veteran benefits:

    • No 15-year limit: Prior to this law, there was a 15-year limitation on when veterans could use the Post 9/11 GI Bill. By removing this restriction, the Forever GI Bill allows veterans to return to grad school at any point in time after completing service.
    • Priority enrollment educational counseling: Most veterans have been out of the classroom for a long time when they return to grad school, which can make it a daunting prospect. By establishing this priority enrollment for counseling, the Forever GI Bill helps ensure veterans have the on-campus support they need to succeed in grad school.

    Veteran Benefit 2: The Yellow Ribbon Program

    As outlined above, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay 100% of public, in-state tuition and fees.  But what about veterans looking to attend grad school at a private university or out-of-state public one?  The Yellow Ribbon Program was designed to meet the financial needs of these veterans.

    If you’re a veteran that qualifies for 100% Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, the Yellow Ribbon may serve as a bridging mechanism, covering the tuition gap between the GI Bill and what more expensive private and out-of-state public schools charge in tuition.

    Here’s how it works.  If your university has enrolled as a Yellow Ribbon program participant, it will receive a certain number of eligible Yellow Ribbon slots per year.  If you want to go to grad school and the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover the full tuition, Yellow Ribbon serves a matching function, with participating universities agreeing to pay half the difference and the VA matching the other half.

    You’ll need to check with your specific university to confirm participation, but this is an outstanding benefit to allow veterans to pay for grad school, even if that school happens to be an expensive private or out-of-state university.

    Veteran Benefit 3: University-specific Military Discounts

    This section is less about a specific program and more about knowing the right questions to ask when applying to grad school as a veteran.  While each university is different, most will offer some sort of the following programs to help veterans pay for grad school:

    • Application fee waivers
    • Work-study programs
    • Paid internship placement assistance
    • Graduate student housing support
    • Veteran scholarships

    For veterans, asking for any of the above from a university is not mutually exclusive from using the Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay for grad school.  And, you don’t lose anything by asking your desired grad school what veteran benefit programs it offers.

    Using These Benefits to Pay for Grad School

    While all of the above programs may be used in combination to pay for grad school, the first step veterans should take is applying for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as this is the cornerstone educational benefit.

    To apply, veterans must first confirm that they are eligible for GI Bill benefits.  After doing this, they need to apply directly with the VA. This entails gathering a variety of documents to submit to the VA (online, by mail, or in-person). The VA will review this information and confirm your benefits.

    Once the VA has confirmed your GI Bill eligibility, the next step is actually talking with your specific grad school. While every university is different, most have an Office of Veterans Affairs or something similar that assists veterans with the financial aspects of using their GI Bill.

    And, if you’re planning on attending a more expensive university, these offices can help walk you through the Yellow Ribbon application process.

    Final Thoughts

    Attending grad school can be an outstanding experience for veterans, either immediately after leaving service or years down the road. As this article illustrates, there are numerous benefits available to help veterans pay for grad school, so if you’re considering this path, be sure to take advantage of them!

    About The AuthorMaurice “Chipp” Naylon spent nine years as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He is currently a licensed CPA specializing in real estate development and accounting.

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