If you are currently serving in the military or are a newly transitioned veteran, you may — like approximately 95 percent of your peers — be eager to enroll in college and earn your degree. Your G.I. Bill benefits, especially those benefits under the 2008 Post 9/11 expanded G.I. Bill, can help you do just that. But there are two other equally valuable resources that can also provide additional financial assistance for paying for college. To maximize all of your education benefits, it can be useful to learn more about all three resources: the G.I. Bill, Military Tuition Assistance, and FAFSA (the Free Application forFederal Student Aid).
Use All Your Benefits for Maximum Reimbursement
While the G.I. Bill is specifically set up to support servicepersons and veterans from all military branches with obtaining a college education, the military also encourages eligible students to investigate all avenues to qualify for additional benefits, such as a military scholarship or work-study programs. Depending on where you choose to attend college and how long your education takes, one assistance program may not cover all of your education costs. But combined, you may find yourself paying little to nothing to earn your college degree!
The G.I. Bill
The G.I. Bill is the gold standard for military personnel who wish to earn a college education. Your benefits under the G.I. Bill are linked to your aggregate days of service. In the newly revised 2008 Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, any service person who has served 90 aggregate days after September 10, 2001, is eligible for tuition reimbursement under the G.I. Bill. This is an overview of your basic benefits under the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill.
- Up to full reimbursement for tuition and fees
- A monthly stipend toward housing and living expenses
- A maximum payment of $1,000 annually toward books and study supplies
- A relocation allowance (one-time only)
- A benefits transfer option to eligible spouses and family members
- Reimbursement for expenses to take tests toward licensure and certification
Military Tuition Assistance
If you are an eligible member of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force or Coast Guard, you can have up to 100 percent of your tuition expenses reimbursed. Military Tuition Assistance, commonly called “TA,” is its own program separate and apart from the G.I. Bill. Each branch of the military outlines its own eligibility criteria. As such, the applications procedure will differ by military branch as will the required service prerequisites. Instead of issuing payment to you, the TA program typically issues payment directly to the higher education institution of your choice. The TA program is not to be thought of as a loan, but rather as accrued service benefits that accumulate over time.
It is not commonly known that the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is for a program that is open to veteran as well as civilian students. As such, if you are already receiving education benefits through military sources such as TA or the G.I. Bill, you should not report those as “income” when completing your FAFSA. These benefits are viewed as resources, not income, so as not to count against what you may be eligible for under the federal programs. There will be a separate place on the FAFSA to note veteran educational benefits you may be receiving. Perhaps most importantly for FAFSA eligibility, all veteran students are considered to hold “independent” status for FAFSA purposes. This means you do not have to provide your parents’ or guardians’ financial data when completing the form, which can impact your eligibility to receive funding. As well, when applying for FSA funds, it can be important to be aware that the definition of “veteran” under the Higher Education Act (HEA) of 1965 differs from the definition used by the Veterans Administration (VA). For instance, under HEA, a single day of service is sufficient to qualify, while 90 aggregate days after September 10, 2001, are required to qualify for G.I. Bill benefits.
By tapping into these three essential resources you may find you pay little or nothing for yourcollege education.
About the Author: Sergeant Andy Hall had always wanted to pursue a career in engineering. After serving in the Army, he was able to earn his master’s in engineering for free using a combination of civilian and military financial aid resources.