When The GI Bill Won’t Cover College

Updated: November 3, 2020

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    Do you know what to do when your GI Bill won’t cover the full cost of your college education? There are many reasons why your GI Bill might not cover the full cost of your college experience including:

    • What to do When the GI Bill Won't Cover College Not enough time served to earn 100% GI Bill benefits.
    • The student has used GI Bill benefits prior to the current enrollment and does not have full entitlement remaining.
    • The student needs to repeat failed or incomplete coursework–the GI Bill does not pay for repeat classes.
    • Not all programs have the same time commitment–some run longer than others.

    One of the big questions to ask yourself about the possibility of running out of GI Bill before your education is complete? When that will happen. And that’s not the only question to ask–are you a brand-new user of your GI Bill benefits? Have you used them before? What are your educational goals?

    These issues play a major role in how your GI Bill benefits–and other state, local, and college-offered programs can help you complete a college career.

    GI Bill Basics

    Under the GI Bill, veterans who serve at least 36 months of active duty are eligible for coverage of up to 36 months of college or career training. The Montgomery GI Bill offers a buy-up option to allow for more than $5000 in additional benefits for a $600 contribution from the servicemember.

    The Post 9/11 GI Bill does not feature this, but does provide something called the Yellow Ribbon program offered to those who attend VA-approved private institutions that cost more than the approved in-state rate for GI Bill payments–the Yellow Ribbon program offsets the additional expense. Not all schools participate, but those that do help GI Bill beneficiaries get more mileage out of their benefits.

    Why Won’t The GI Bill Cover My Full College Career?

    The answer to this question depends on a variety of other factors including how far you want to go in school, what the terminal degree might be for your course of study, and whether or not you will need to continue to a graduate or postgraduate level program.

    We’ll examine those issues in a moment but there is another reason some veterans can’t fully pay for their college programs using the GI Bill–they didn’t serve enough qualifying time to earn 100% of the benefit.

    Partial Service, Partial Benefits

    Those who serve less than 36 months time-in-service receive a percentage of the maximum benefit rather than the full amount. An example from the VA official site describes a situation where the veteran served a minimum of 18 months but less than 24 months of active duty–that person qualifies for 70% of the GI Bill.

    Not having the full amount of your GI Bill to use can definitely require some additional research to pay for the remainder of your education (see below).

    GI Bill benefits can reasonably be expected to cover most or all of an undergraduate program. GI Bill options allow you to choose a public university, qualifying private colleges, technical schools, boot camps, and more.

    Applying For College With Partial GI Bill Benefits

    When applying for college, it is always recommended that active duty and veteran students fill out the Free Application For Federal Student Aid or FAFSA to determine whether other financial options are open to you.

    There are grants, government-supported loan programs, private student loans such as Sallie Mae…but there may also be veteran-friendly work-study programs at the college of your choice and there are also grants offered by Veteran Service Organizations (USO, DAV, Red Cross, AMVETS, and many others) that can also help. The GI Bill does not disqualify you from seeking other financial aid.

    Using Your GI Bill Creatively

    The real question is how to use the benefits you have to their maximum effectiveness. Doing so depends on which version of the GI Bill you use–the Montgomery GI Bill does not pay a housing stipend, for example, but those attending college online won’t be as affected by that as those who want to attend in-person.

    The Post 9/11 GI Bill and its enhancements under the Forever GI Bill do provide a housing stipend based on the zip code where you attend the majority of classes. Those who use the Post 9/11 GI Bill can maximize their housing benefit by taking at least one in-person class–the reason for doing so involves a lot more for our discussion than simply collecting the bigger payout.

    GI Bill funds likely won’t cover both undergraduate and graduate work in full. However, recognizing this fact is the key to creatively funding your college career.

    Think Ahead For Best Results When Planning College

    Thinking long-term helps. For example–a college student who uses the Post 9/11 GI Bill and attends classes both online and in person will draw the higher housing allowance.

    Those who can afford to do so have the option of saving a portion of that higher housing allowance in a fund they can potentially use later on when GI Bill options have run out. Yes, we are suggesting that those who can afford to do so use their housing allowance to continue paying for tuition. It’s a solution some can manage easier than others but for those who are able, this is a good strategy to consider.

    When The GI Bill Won’t Cover College: Look To Your State Government

    When planning your education, it’s best to do some research on state programs that can enhance your GI Bill benefit. For example, the State of Illinois offers the Illinois Veterans Grant (IVG), which is a non-taxable benefit for qualifying service members attending approved schools.

    IVG covers all tuition for undergraduate and graduate school, leaving the student free to save GI Bill benefits for education at a higher level. While not all states offer this program, many have similar options or other cost-cutting assistance that may help.

    Disabled veterans, plus spouses and dependent children may all qualify for some level of state financial aid in addition to or in replacement of the GI Bill.

    You can find such programs at your state’s official Veterans Affairs website. The office name may vary from state to state; some states have a Division of Veterans Affairs, some have a state-level Department of Veterans Affairs that is not operated by the federal government, etc.

    Don’t Rely On Old Information

    It is best to start researching all over again whenever you need to learn more about how to stretch your GI Bill benefits. One reason for this is because such benefits change because of program requirements, demand, new legislation, and other circumstances.

    The programs change but old and later-inaccurate information abounds. One example from a respected financial advice website warns, “If your school closes or is no longer approved by the VA, your benefits won’t be reset.” That same website advises, “To continue your education and use any remaining GI Bill benefits, you’ll need to transfer.”

    But that information, from a 2017 blog post, is no longer true thanks to the Forever GI Bill which included recourse for veterans who used GI Bill funds in programs that later closed or had their VA approved status revoked. Always check for the newest information about GI Bill benefits and all enhancements to them at the state or federal level.

    Not Sure Where To Start? Call The VA

    It can be very helpful to call the VA directly at their toll-free number (1-800-827-1000) to ask for help understanding your GI Bill benefits, the most common options for extending them and getting the most out of your educational experience.


    About The AuthorJoe 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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    Written by MilitaryBenefits

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