Navigating the financial aid waters can feel daunting for anyone – but particularly veterans and service members given the sheer number of options. This guide clears the confusion, helping individuals find the right financial aid programs and avoid dangerous scams. It not only covers the benefits of the Post 9/11 GI Bill® and other federal programs, but also scholarships and grants that can supplement GI Bill® benefits. Each year, thousands of financial aid dollars go unawarded and are turned back to their sponsors due to a lack of applicants. Continue reading to explore all options that may help reduce out-of-pocket college costs.
Many veteran scholarship awards can be used in conjunction with GI Bill funding, but in the case of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, any financial aid earned that must be applied to tuition may reduce the amount the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) pays toward tuition. Here are 25 scholarships for veterans to consider:
Because the Department of Defense sees education as an important part of being a service member, it makes many financial aid programs available to those serving (or who have served) on active duty or in the Selected Reserve. Below is a list of the most prominent programs.
Started on August 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most generous GI Bill yet. Eligible veterans have up to 36 months of funding that can be used to attend a vocational or public/private post-secondary school.
Minimum eligibility for a portion of funds (40 percent) is established by serving for 90 days on active duty. Further eligibility is gained with each additional six months of service; full eligibility is reached by serving at least three years.
One feature unique with this GI Bill is its pay structure. The VA pays tuition and fees directly to VA-approved schools in full (for public schools) or up to $2I,970.46 per year (at private schools) for eligible veterans at the 100 percent tier. Students get a monthly housing allowance (MHA) based on the school’s zip code and number of credits taken. Each semester, students receive a book stipend of up to $500.00. Both the MHA and book stipend are subject to tiered percentages also.
The 36 months of full-time study allowed by the Post-9/11 GI Bill must be used within 15 years from the date of discharge.
To apply, fill out VA Form 22-1990 from the eBenefits website.
A feature of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the YRP is beneficial for students attending private schools where tuition exceeds what the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays.
Students with 100 percent Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program. However, entry into the YRP is not guaranteed. Not all schools have a YRP Agreement with the VA, and the ones that do may have limited slots available.
A school declares how much of the difference between tuition and the $2I,970.46 cap on GI Bill funding they will pay — they can go as high as 50 percent. The VA matches the amount, thus potentially reducing the student’s out-of-pocket costs to zero. However, a school can promise to pay a lesser percentage. In that case the amount the VA pays would also be less and the student would have some tuition costs left to pay.
Because the YRP is connected to the GI Bill, there are 36 months of entitlement, which must be used within 15 years from the date of discharge.
Send a certificate of eligibility to the school being applied to.
This GI Bill served many veterans prior to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, but many veterans still use the MGIB either alone or along with the newer GI Bill.
While there are four categories of eligibility, most veterans fall under Category 1, which means they first entered active duty after June 30, 1985. Also, they didn’t decline Chapter 30 and paid the $1,200 contribution fee.
Generally, a six-year enlistment establishes eligibility. However, reservists must first receive their Notice of Basic Eligibility DD Form 2384-1 before using the MGIB-SR. Unlike active duty, no contribution fee is required.
Current rate of pay for a full-time student is $1,789 per month. Out of that amount, students have to pay tuition, fees, books and other education-related expenses.
The pay structure is less robust — $368 per month as a full-time student.
Eligible veterans get 36 months of entitlement with three or more years of service. Entitlement must be used within 10 years of the date of discharge.
It also provides up to 36 months of entitlement, but the MGIB-SR does not have any residual benefit, meaning entitlement ends on the day of discharge. However, if mobilized while in the Selected Reserve, benefits can be extended for the number of months mobilized plus four months. There are also some other situations that may extend eligibility. Mobilized Selected Reservists could also have some Post-9/11 GI Bill coverage.
The application is the same as for the Post-9/11 GI Bill — fill out VA Form 22-1990.
REAP was the Post-9/11 GI Bill forerunner, and in some ways has been made irrelevant by the latter. Therefore, applicants to REAP may now be given benefits under a different program.
REAP gave reservists mobilized from September 2001 up to August 2009 some additional education entitlement. Veterans not using this program on November 25, 2015, can no longer receive benefits under REAP. Instead, they may convert coverage to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, if eligible. Those using the program on the November date may continue to do so until November 25, 2019. Remaining entitlement at that time will convert to the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
Funding is determined by amount of service. The monthly REAP payment is $715.60 ( 2015/2016) for reservists with at least 90 days of consecutive service. One year of service boosts the payment up to $1,073.40 for the current academic year. Two or more consecutive years of service increases it to $1,431.20.
Benefits are good for 36 months of full-time study.
The application is the same as for the other GI bills.
This program is designed for active duty military members who want to finish their degree before they are discharged. It is a combination of Tuition Assistance (TA) and the GI Bill. Because TA has a per-credit and yearly cap, Top-Up can be used to pay the difference between TA and tuition cost if reaching the cap early in the year.
This education financial aid program applies only to active duty personnel.
The most that can be paid is the difference between TA and tuition, and the total benefit for active duty personnel is whatever they would receive for regular benefits.
Top-Up reduces GI Bill entitlement. For service members with MGIB-AD, entitlement is reduced one month for each $1,789 paid out. For those using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, entitlement is reduced by the length of the term it was used for. Because a semester is commonly four months in duration, the entitlement would be reduced by that amount, regardless of how much the VA paid for Top-Up.
Request TA from the Education Counselor. Complete VA Form 22-1990 indicating “Top-Up” in Item 1A. Send in TA approval form and VA Form 22-1990 to the VA Regional Office in charge of your area.
VEAP was in effect prior to the MGIB coming out in 1984. VEAP holders were given several opportunities to convert to the MGIB; the last window closed in 2001. Those converting fell under the same rules as the MGIB-AD, but any unused benefit would have expired in 2011. Those who did not convert in 2001 lost any remaining entitlement after the last window closed.
There are at least three benefits to being a member of the military as far as student loans are concerned:
Entitlement from the Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bills can be used for the following types of programs, as long as the training facility is VA-approved:
There are financial aid sources not only for veterans and service members but also their families. The most popular sources are from the federal government and private companies.
There are several programs at the federal level designed to help pay for school. While the amounts awarded and eligibility requirements vary, none of the programs listed here require repayment under normal conditions.
The Fry Scholarship is designed to provide up to 36 months of benefits to each surviving dependent and spouse of a veteran who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001. Benefits paid mirror the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Dependent children must be between the ages of age 18 to 33. Marrying during the eligibility period does not change benefits.
For surviving spouses, eligibility is different. Benefits must be used within 15 years from the date of the sponsor’s death, and remarrying terminates eligibility. Applying for the Fry Scholarship requires filling out and submitting VA Form 22-5490.Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) Program
Sons, daughters and spouses of military members who died in the line of duty are eligible for 45 months of education entitlement. The current rate of payment is $1,021 per month for full-time students. Eligibility for children starts at age 18 and ends at age 26. Spouses remain eligible up to 20 years after the death of the military member. The application process for the benefit is the same as for the Fry Scholarship – VA Form 22-5490.
In certain instances, surviving children can be eligible for both the DEA and the Fry Scholarship. In such cases, total combined entitlement is capped at 81 months of schooling.Iraq and Afghanistan Service & Pell Grants
Individuals wishing to apply for these grants must:
All children meeting the requirements listed above who are eligible for a Pell Grant automatically reduce their expected family contribution to $0, meaning they can get the total allowable amount — currently $5,775 per year. The grant may be received for up to 12 semesters or until the awarding of a bachelor’s degree. The application is the same as for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant.
Those who meet the requirements but lack Pell Grant eligibility can receive a service grant, which can neither exceed the maximum amount allowed for the Federal Pell Grant nor be more than the cost of school attendance. Grants are issued on a year-by-year basis for up to six years. The application for this grant starts with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If students are eligible, it will be listed as one of their financial aid sources.
Spouses of military members (excluding Coast Guard) on active duty are entitled to up to $4,000 to use toward licensure, certification or an associate degree at participating schools. The benefit has some limitations: First, it is only for spouses of service members in pay grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2 and O-1 to O-2. Second, it does not pay for liberal arts degrees or other general course of studies because it is designed to lead directly to an employable skill. Lastly, there are specific stipulations of what the money can be used for.
Some private scholarships for veterans and active duty military also accept applications from their spouses or children, while others are earmarked specifically for family. Here are five examples of what’s available.
|Name||Sponsoring Organization||Who Is Eligible||$ Awarded||Deadline||Subject Field||Enrollment Level|
|AFSA Scholarship Program||Air Force Sergeants Association||Dependent children of enlisted Air Force members||$1,500 to $2,500||March 31st||All||Undergrad|
|AMVETS National Scholarships||AMVETS||Children and grandchildren of veterans, reservists and active duty military||$4,000||April 30th||All||Undergrad|
|Scholarships for Military Children Program||Fisher House Foundation||Military members’ children who are under 23 and unmarried||$2,000||February 12th||All||Undergrad|
|SDPHS Scholarship||Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors||SDPHS members who are enrolled full time||$1,000||May 6th (every other year)||All||Undergrad|
|Veterans United Foundation Scholarship||Veterans United Foundation||Financially needy surviving spouses or children enrolled or planning to enroll in a degree program||Up to $20,000||March 25th||All||Both|
Most veteran and military financial aid benefit programs are the same whether the student attends school online or on campus. However, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is an exception. If a veteran (or family member using transferred entitlement) attends school online, that person only receives up to $805.50, or about half of the (MHA) average authorized for students attending classes on campus.
Hybrid classes, which are a mix of online and on campus, can fall either way depending on the number of times they meet during a term. The VA rule to be classified as an on-campus class is “the total number of hours of classroom instruction (based on 50 minutes of instruction per hour) must equal, or be greater than, the number of credit hours awarded for the course multiplied by the number of weeks in the term.” For example, a three-credit class meeting over a 16-week semester would have to meet on campus at least 48 hours during that semester for it to qualify as an on-campus class. Anything less is considered online, and the student would receive the online MHA rate for that class.
Veterans (and their families) can be easy targets for con artists. Beware of these scams when searching for education financial aid:
No legitimate provider will make you pay to apply for financial aid. Most victims don’t realize it is a scam; they believe they were just not selected to receive a scholarship.
Filling out the application is free and straightforward, but there are individuals who try to convince you it is too complicated a process to do alone and promise to do it for a fee. Some people pay a fee from $100 to $1,000 only to never hear back from the provider.
This scam promises financial aid pre-approval. Know there is not any pre-approval process in any of the legitimate financial aid programs. Approval is based on information provided; if none is provided, approval in advance is not possible.
Nobody can “guarantee” you’ll get financial aid. Scholarships are based on merit, and grants are based on need. Because of the large number of applicants and limited pools of money, not every applicant will get awarded financial aid, so it is impossible for someone to tell you otherwise.
Many times veterans or their families are invited to financial aid, scholarship or grant seminars. Even if the sales pitch sounds legitimate, don’t agree to anything at that time. Instead do some research after getting home and see what kind of reputation the presenter has. Usually, high-pressure selling of anything is not good, so beware.
There are too many professional organizations, websites, government and private sources helping veterans and their families to name them all here, but this is a small sampling of what is available:
Run by the Department of Defense, the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) provides veterans and families with opportunities to take exams and, if they pass, get credit for courses without enrolling in them.
By selecting data from each drop-down menu, users can compare GI Bills to see which one maximizes their benefits.
This website is maintained by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and is a good place to go for up-to-date information concerning the new GI Bill.
SVA maintains chapters on many college campuses to help veterans work through education and service-related issues.
Users can see what their state offers in the way of education benefits.
Choosing a school is made easier with the information in this handy guide. Funded by JPMorgan Chase, VCTP lets veterans and their families take free classes that focus on transitioning into civilian education or the working world.
* GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.