Education benefits have long stood out as one of the key highlights amongst all military benefits. Opportunities and funds abound for servicemembers, their spouses and children, as well as veterans.
The challenge is sometimes navigating the various agencies and programs like Department of Veterans Affairs, different branches of the military, National Guard, Reserves, and each state’s separate education benefits along with the dozens of private organizations. The information can be scattered across numerous websites creating a time-consuming and daunting challenge to navigate through them all.
The purpose of this guide is to dramatically narrow the field of searching by compiling a comprehensive, big-picture overview of every major military and VA education benefit program with the appropriate links and resources to learn more.
Consider this a one-stop shop for your search for everything related to military education benefits and how best to take advantage of them!
Active Duty Military Education Benefits
All the branches of the military offer financial assistance active duty servicemembers for college education and continuing education programs.
These educational benefits are voluntary and primarily used by the servicemember during off-duty hours. Each installation should have an education center that provides more information about the different programs that are available online and specifically in that local area.
Military Service Academies
For those who would like to experience a military environment while getting a first-class education, the five Service Academies — the US Military Academy (Army) in West Point, N.Y.; the US Naval Academy (Navy/Marine Corps) in Annapolis, Md.; the US Air Force Academy (Air Force) in Colorado Springs, Colo.; the US Coast Guard Academy (Coast Guard) in New London, Conn.; and the US Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, N.Y. — offer an outstanding education and full four-year scholarships.
In addition to 100% of tuition being covered, students are provided books, room and board, medical and dental care for all four years.
While most of the service academy applicants come from high school, enlisted servicemembers who are unmarried and would be less than 23 years of age by July 1st of the year they would enter the academy are also eligible to apply.
The competition to get in is fierce with stringent admissions criteria including a congressional letter of recommendation (not required by the Coast Guard Academy). Graduates of all four academies receive a Bachelor of Science degree and are commissioned as officers in their respective Service branch. In all cases, there is a service obligation of a minimum of five years. More information can be found at each of the links above.
Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)
ROTC is a college program offered at over 1,700 colleges and universities across the United States that prepares young adults to become officers in the US Military. Students enroll in universities and attend regular classes while also enrolling in ROTC classes including physical training, military academics, and leadership training. In exchange for tuition benefits and stipends along with a guaranteed post-college career, cadets commit to serving in the military after graduation for a defined period.
Again, like the Service Academies, while the majority of ROTC cadets are college students with no prior military experience, ROTC scholarships are available for younger enlisted personnel who seek a path to commissioning. Age and other admission requirements vary by branch. More information can be found in the following links or by contacting a specific ROTC detachment at a university.
In-Residence Professional Military Education (PME)
While outside the scope for almost all servicemembers except a small percentage of senior officers, a comprehensive guide on military education benefits would be remiss to not give passing mention to PME.
Officers attending in-residence intermediate and senior defense education (IDE and SDE) have the opportunity to be awarded Master's degrees in various disciplines. More information can be learned from each branch’s respective personnel departments.
Olmsted Scholar Program
The Olmsted Scholar Program, named after George H. Olmsted, awards scholarships to highly qualified, active duty junior officers in the United States military in order to pursue language studies and overseas graduate-level education. Created in concert with the Department of Defense, the Scholar Program provides one year of foreign language training followed by two years of study at a foreign graduate school.
Army Advanced Civil Schooling
Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS) facilitates the professional development of Regular Army Officers by providing them the opportunity to participate in a fully funded graduate degree program. Many officer positions require graduate degrees as a prerequisite for assignment.
The Advanced Civil Schooling program is designed to ensure that officers meet the educational requirements for placement into these positions. The Advanced Civil Schooling program educates selected officers through recommended civilian universities on a full-time, fully funded basis in their basic branch, functional area, or specialty.
Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT)
The Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) is a graduate school and provider of professional and continuing education both in-residence at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as well as selected opportunities at civilian universities on a full-time, fully funded basis through its Civilian Institution Program.
AFIT's four schools include School of Engineering and Management, School of Systems and Logistics, Civil Engineer School, and School of Strategic Force Studies.
Service Academy Advanced Degree Programs
Although there is some variation between the different branches, each of them offers opportunities for officers to obtain a fully funded graduate degree prior to a teaching assignment at the service academies. Officers interested in these opportunities should talk to their branch’s respective personnel departments.
Military Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP)
For those interested in launching a medical career, the military offers a variety of programs that can help finance graduate-level professional schooling all the way through residency through the Health Professions Scholarship Program. Requirements and benefits can vary slightly between the branches, but the basic principles are the same.
The scholarships cover full tuition at any accredited medical school in the US and all required fees including textbook reimbursement and supplies. Additionally, the branches award monthly stipends of approximately $2,000 - $2,200 a month to help cover living expenses for up to 4 years of medical school. Based on military manning needs, there may also be signing bonuses that currently are offered at $20,000.
HPSP scholarship participants become an officer in the Individual Ready Reserve which has different requirements and benefits in some respects from servicemembers on Active Duty. They will only receive active-duty pay on training orders and are expected to attend officer training when it can fit it into the academic schedule.
In exchange for these education benefits, one year of service following residency is owed for each year of medical school scholarship. In some instances, after scholarship participants obtain their medical license, rather than going directly into a residency, they can fulfill their service commitment as a General Medical Officer (GMO), which is similar to being a general medical practitioner, except they are attached to a specific unit, air wing, ship or submarine.
To get details and find out which offer would benefit you most, read through the links below and talk to military medical recruiters about the specific details as offers have many variables.
Military Tuition Assistance (TA)
The Military Tuition Assistance Program is one of the biggest and easiest to use educational benefits for members of the active duty military, National Guard, and Reserves.
Each of the services has a tuition assistance program, but the eligibility requirements, policies, and procedures vary between each of them. The Tuition Assistance program is also only available during active military service and is NOT available to veterans. When using Tuition Assistance, each branch of service pays the tuition directly to the college or school.
In general, eligible active duty servicemembers can receive TA at a rate of $250 per semester hour cap with an annual ceiling of $4,500 per fiscal year of the government, which runs from October 1 to September 30. Courses that exceed the $250 per credit hour or $4,500 total limit will be the responsibility of the individual servicemember to pay.
Tuition Assistance is available for use at two or four-year colleges and post-graduate degrees that are accredited and recognized by the Department of Education as well as approved trade and technical schools. There are instances when servicemembers can also use Tuition Assistance for certifications where the certificates supplement a specific degree program.
The Tuition Assistance program is open to enlisted, warrant officers, and officers. To be considered eligible for Tuition Assistance, servicemembers must have a commitment remaining on their enlistment contract remaining in service to complete the coursework. And, officers incur an additional service obligation as a result of receiving the educational benefits from the Tuition Assistance program.
To find out how to enroll in the Tuition Assistance program for each branch of service, visit the local installation or base’s education center. Or, more information can be found at the links below for each service branch:
The Top-Up program is for active duty servicemembers who don’t plan on using the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill after they leave the service. Servicemembers can use the Top-Up program for higher education tuition and fees that are not completely covered by the Tuition Assistance Program.
To be eligible to use the Top-Up program, the individual branch of the military must first approve the use of Tuition Assistance to fund a specific course of higher education. Servicemembers must also be eligible to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill or use Montgomery GI Bill to qualify for the program. Servicemembers must then apply for Tuition Assistance through their branch’s website or through the help of their installation’s education center.
Following that, they must also complete a VA Form 22-1990 to apply for education benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Military Student Loan Benefits
When it comes to military education benefits, they don’t stop at getting funds to pay for school as its happening, but also include help paying off student loans for servicemembers. Among the best of these student loan programs is loan forgiveness and repayment options.
It is important to note that with some these military loan payment programs, payments are subject to federal and state income taxes as taxable income in the year repayment is disbursed. DFAS will send a W-2 Form separate from the W-2 Form received for military pay. Since these loan payments are considered income, a percentage of the payment will be withheld for income taxes to help prevent a large tax bill at the end of the year.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PLSF)
Military service qualifies borrowers for one of the most popular student loan forgiveness programs — Public Service Loan Forgiveness. This program forgives remaining federal student loan debt after the borrower makes 120 (10 years) on-time qualifying payments after October 1, 2007 while working full-time with the military.
Payments made during military service can satisfy part of this requirement if after military separation a veteran enters a job in the public or non-profit sector that also meets the governments’ requirements. For the program, each of the 120 payments is counted individually, so even if there is a gap in qualifying employment, you can still add up the payments to get to 120.
Note that this program only applies to federal student loans, not private loans. As of 2019, loan forgiveness under PSLF is tax free federally, but may have state tax implications.
Military Loan Repayment Program General Qualifications
Each branch has unique military loan repayment programs that can help you repay your student loan debt. And while each branch has slightly different qualifications, here are some general notes.
Not all student debt qualifies for the military’s loan repayment programs. Loans eligible for these programs must be:
The amount of money servicemembers receive from the military loan repayment programs is also partially determined by duty-status, with active duty members eligible to receive up to twice as much as those personnel who join the reserves.
Active duty enlistees are entitled to receive up to 1/3 (or $1,500, whichever is greater) of their loans outstanding principal balance paid for each year of service that they complete. Enlistees in the reserves are entitled to receive up to 15% (or $1,500, whichever is greater) of their loans outstanding principle balance paid for each year of service that they complete.
Additionally, servicemembers need to understand that the loan repayment amount declines each year. That means that 1/3 of the outstanding (or remaining) balance due is paid in the first year, then 1/3 of the remaining balance in year 2, etc.
Active Duty Army Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP)
New enlistees to active duty service in the Army may be eligible for the Army student loan repayment assistance based on their specific Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) which changes based on the needs of the Army. Enlistees additionally must enlist for at least 3 years of service, score at least a 50 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), decline enrollment in the Montgomery GI Bill in writing, and must have Loan Repayment Program guaranteed in writing in the enlistment contract.
Note that servicemembers are still eligible to earn Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits once the time spent completing the student loan repayment obligation is completed. For example, if a servicemember enlisted under a 4 year contract under the student loan repayment program, he or she would have to reenlist for another 36 months to qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The Army Student Loan Repayment will pay up to 1/3 of the principal loan balance or $1,500 (whichever is greater) each year for three years qualifying up to $65,000 in loan assistance. Note that this program only applies to federal student loans, not private loans.
Army Reserve Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP)
Similar to new enlistees to active duty, entrants to the Army Reserve can qualify for loan forgiveness based upon their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and criteria above.
One difference is they must enlist for at least six years in exchange for the program paying 15%, or $1,500, whichever is greater, for each year of service. of the loan balance for up to $20,000 for federal student loans.
Army Reserve Prior Service Loan Repayment Program
Based on the needs of the Army Reserve, new Reservists with prior military service can receive up to $50,000 toward student loan payments as part of their recruiting incentives.
This information is variable so the most up-to-date details can be obtained by talking to an Army Reserve Recruiter. Make sure to get an offer in writing in the enlistment contract.
Army Health Professions Student Loan Repayment Program
The Army Health Professions Loan Repayment Program is offered to help doctors, dentists, and other healthcare professionals on active duty or in the Army Reserve. Qualifying borrowers can receive up to $40,000 per year for up to three years for a total up to $120,000 in military loan forgiveness.
National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP)
New enlistees to National Guard service may be eligible for National Guard student loan repayment assistance based on their specific Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) which changes based on the needs of the National Guard and specific units. Enlistees additionally must enlist for at least 6 years of service, score at least a 50 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), must not be dual-enlisting via another program, and must have Loan Repayment Program guaranteed in writing in the enlistment contract.
Members of the National Guard could receive up to $50,000 in military loan forgiveness. Additionally, anniversary SLRP payments will not exceed 15 percent or $500 (whichever is greater) of the initial disbursed amounts that were approved upon the date of enlistment, affiliation, re-enlistment or extension, to include accrued interest. This information is variable so the most up-to-date details can be obtained by talking to a National Guard Recruiter.
Servicemembers with prior experience from any branch may also qualify for the Student Loan Repayment Program if it was not already used. In order to qualify though, new enlistees must join the Guard within 365 days of separating from active duty and must be under 16 years of total service.
Navy Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP)
New enlistees to active duty service in the Navy may be eligible for Navy student loan repayment program based on their specific rating which changes based on the needs of the Navy. Enlistees additionally must enlist for at least 4 years of service, score at least the minimum required score on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) which may vary, decline enrollment in the Montgomery GI Bill in writing, and must have Loan Repayment Program guaranteed in writing in the enlistment contract.
Note that servicemembers are still eligible to earn Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits once the time spent completing the student loan repayment obligation is completed. For example, if a servicemember enlisted under a 4 year contract under the student loan repayment program, he or she would have to reenlist for another 36 months to qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The Navy Student Loan Repayment will pay up to 1/3 of the principal loan balance or $1,500 (whichever is greater) each year for three years qualifying up to $65,000 in loan assistance. Note that this program only applies to federal student loans, not private loans.
Navy Reserve Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP)
Similar to new enlistees to active duty, entrants to the Navy Reserve can qualify for loan repayment based upon their specific rating and criteria above. One difference is the program only pays 15%, or $1,500, whichever is greater, for each year of service. of the loan balance for up to $10,000 for federal student loans.
Air Force Student Loan Repayment Program (LRP)
Due to typically stronger recruiting and retention in the Air Force, eligibility for loan repayment program is usually very limited. As of early 2019, this benefit is only available to Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) members. Check with an Air Force Recruiter for the most up-to-date information.
The Air Force Student Loan Repayment will pay up to 1/3 of the principal loan balance or $1,500 (whichever is greater) each year for three years qualifying up to $65,000 in loan assistance. Note that this program only applies to federal student loans, not private loans.
Air National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program (SLRP)
New enlistees to the Air National Guard service may be eligible for Air National Guard student loan repayment assistance based on their specific Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) which changes based on the needs of the Air National Guard and specific units.
Conditions vary too widely to state blanket conditions here. However, typically the Air National Guard will pay 15 percent of the outstanding principal balance of the loan annually, or $5,500, whichever is greater, for each year of service. Check with an Air National Guard Recruiter for the most up-to-date information.
Coast Guard Student Loan Repayment Program (CSPI-SLRP)
The Coast Guard currently offers student loan repayment program as a path to become a commissioned officer. Eligibility is focused on students currently enrolled or in a bachelor's degree program, recent graduate from a bachelor’s program or enrolled in a graduate program at pre-designated college or institution. Applicants who are accepted are enlisted into the Coast Guard and complete basic training, different operational training, and officer candidate school (OCS) around their school schedule.
Upon graduation and commissioning, servicemembers will receive up to $10,000 per year for six years for repayment of student debt. Note that this program only applies to federal student loans, not private loans.
Sorry folks! Nothing currently offered for members of the Marines at this time. (Program was last seen in 2011 so it’s been awhile)
Veterans Total and Permanent Disability Discharge
For veterans who have suffered a service connected disability, they may be able to have their loans forgiven. This typically just applies to federal student loans, but some private loans may qualify.
Eligible veterans can qualify for a TPD discharge by providing documentation from the VA that shows a VA disability determination because (1) of a service-connected disability that is 100 percent disabling; or (2) that the veteran is totally disabled based on an individual unemployability rating.
Veterans can then complete the Total and Permanent Disability Request Form to apply for loans forgiveness. Read our Ultimate Guide To Student Loan Disability Discharge here.
Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) Interest Rate Caps
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act offers interest rate caps on student loans that were taken out prior to entering the military. Interest on student loans obtained PRIOR to your active duty military service is limited to 6% during periods of active duty.
While the 6% cap applies to both federal and private student loans, typically the interest rate cap is most applicable to private loans due to their higher rates. This cap lasts as long as the servicemember is on active duty.
Most servicemembers are provided this benefit automatically by lenders due to loan providers routinely scanning federal databases to determine if those who are on active duty. However, those individuals or loans overlooked may provide a copy of military orders to their loan servicer to cap the interest rate.
And given that the best student loan rates are typically more than that, make sure you follow up to save a little money.
Note that to qualify for this benefit, the loans must have been originated after August 14, 2008. Contact the loan servicer for specific information about SCRA eligibility.
0% Interest During Service in Hostile Fire Pay Area
Servicemembers who are serving in an area designated to receive hostile fire pay (HFP) are eligible to have interest rates reduced to 0% on federal direct loans originated after October 1, 2008. This eligibility can last up to 60 months but is only good for the actual time spent in HFP areas.
For example, a servicemember deployed for 13 months to an area designated for HFP would receive the 0% interest rate cap just for the 13 months spent in the HFP area and the interest rate would revert back upon exit from the HFP area.
Proof of HFP must be sent to the loan servicer and can include a commanding officer’s statement and signature, military orders showing service in HFP area, or a leave and earning statement (LES) showing receipt of HFP.
Military Service Student Loan Deferment
Active duty servicemembers or Guardsmen or Reservists who have been activated for wartime duties, full-time military operations, or national emergencies are eligible for deferring payment on federal student loans.
Serving on active duty during a war or other military operation or national emergency means service by an individual who is (1) a Reserve of an Armed Force or full-time National Guard duty ordered to active duty under 10 USC 12301(a), 12301(g), 12302, 12304, or 12306, or 10 USC 101(d)(5); (2) a retired member of an Armed Force ordered to active duty under 10 USC 688 for service in connection with a war or other military operation or national emergency, regardless of the location at which the active duty service is performed; or (3) any other member of an Armed Force on active duty in connection with the emergency or subsequent actions or conditions who has been assigned to a duty station at a location other than the location where the member is normally assigned. This does not include training or attendance at a service school.
Servicemembers must submit a deferment form signed by an authorized official (see form). Alternatively, servicemembers may submit a copy of military orders or a statement from a commanding or personnel officer proving that they are serving on active duty during a war, military mobilization, or national emergency. Currently, there is no time limit on the military deferment as the previous three year time limit was eliminated in 2007. Eligibility for deferment will end 180 days after the borrower is demobilized from active duty service.
Some Guardsmen and Reservists called to active duty will not be eligible for military deferments. To help address this gap, there is a mandatory forbearance available to Guardsmen who qualify for the post-active duty deferment (see below), but do not qualify for a military or other deferment.
Note that this deferment does not forgive loan balances. It merely keeps the loan from going into non-payment status as payments are deferred. More information can be obtained from student loan providers.
Post-Active Duty Student Loan Deferment
National Guard members and Reservists who are enrolled in school (or within six months prior to the time that they were enrolled in school) and are called to active duty service are eligible to have their federal student loans deferred. These servicemembers may receive a deferment for up to 13 months following completion of active duty military service and any applicable grace period. The deferment period ends when the borrower’s re-enrolls in school or the end of the 13-month period, whichever is earlier.
Similar to the military service deferment, the servicemember must be on active duty to qualify for this deferment. But unlike the military service deferment explained above, activation during a war or other military operation or national emergency is not required to qualify. More information can be obtained from student loan providers.
HEROES Act Waiver
The HEROES Act Waiver isn't a repayment or forgiveness plan. While serving on active duty, servicemembers can waive the US Department of Education documentation requirements attached to federal student loan benefits, which allows them to have their monthly student loan payment amount maintained while they’re away.
For example, servicemembers on an income-driven repayment plan might be prevented by military service from providing updated information regarding family size and income so the HEROES Act allows servicemembers to simply provide a copy of their military orders to their student loan servicer to maintain their monthly payment amount.
This is essential to maintaining eligibility on the secret ways to get student loan forgiveness.
Related: The HEROES Act is the same act that the President has used to pause student loans during the Covid-19 state of emergency.
Other Military Education Initiatives
The following programs aren't quire military education benefits, but they do help bridge the gap between military service, education, and employment. As such, we felt they were important to include and can be a valuable tool for a servicemember, especially as they transition out of active duty.
Free CLEP Exams
The Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) provides free College Level Examination Program (CLEP) examinations in each of the 33 subject areas. These exams provide college credit at over 2,900 college and universities offering large savings of time and money.
The following groups are funded under contract with DANTES:
- Military personnel (active duty, reserve, National Guard): Army, Navy, Marine Corps, US Coast Guard, Army Reserve, Air Force Reserve, Marine Corps Reserve, Navy Reserve, Coast Guard Reserve, Army, and Air National Guard.
- Spouses of: Coast Guard (active and reserve)
- Civilian employees of the Air Force
Note that the exams are funded for one attempt per exam title, and for testing that takes place off-base there may be administrative fees. Contact the local installation education office for more information.
Joint Services Transcript
The Joint Services Transcript (JST) provides a description of military course completions, including all courses that have been evaluated by the American Council on Education (ACE), with full descriptions and credit recommendations.
This can serve as a counseling tool for academic and career counselors in advising servicemembers and veterans. The JST helps servicemembers save time and money by awarding academic credits, which means less tuition to pay and less time spent in the classroom. Currently, the JST is accepted by more than 2,300 colleges and universities.
The JST is also helpful explaining work history in civilian language. This can aid in preparing resumes by explaining Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, National Guard and Navy work experience to civilian employers.
Verification of Military Experience and Training (VMET)
While the VMET is not a military education benefit, it is a helpful tool that gathers all reported demographics, military training and education, and experience records in one place. Most servicemembers don’t learn about their VMET until they are in the process of leaving the military, but it can be accessed anytime during military service.
One of the primary benefits of the VMET is that it helps document and categorize just how much education and training the military provides. Sometimes, it can be easy for servicemembers to overlook their education, certifications, and knowledge that the military provided. The VMET can also be helpful in translating military-speak into civilian language when examining post-military careers, civilian education, or resume building.
DoD Credentialing Opportunities On-Line (COOL)
Like the VMET, DoD COOL is not specifically a military education benefit. However, it is another tool that servicemembers can use to find information on certifications and licenses related to their military service based on training they have already accomplished (Ex. CDL or welders license).
The COOL program helps translate military training into civilian credentials and speak better to what employers are looking for. COOl also offers resources available to fill gaps between military training and civilian credentialing requirements
DoD Skillbridge is not specifically a military education opportunity, but is a niche opportunity similar to an internship at a civilian company. SkillBridge is a job training and employment program that servicemembers can attend during the closing months of their enlistment.
This program allows servicemembers to develop skills they will need in a specific sector of the civilian workplace by offering to partner with civilian companies that offer internships and apprenticeships. Many companies providing the training go on and hire those same servicemembers that finish their program since they have already been able to train and work with them.
To qualify, a servicemember must have completed at least 180 days of continuous active duty service, have an anticipated discharge date within 180 days, and at least a General Discharge Under Honorable Conditions.
Veteran Education Benefits
These are the military and VA education benefits that can help you after you've completed your service.
Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)
The original GI Bill was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944 to help veterans returning from WWII pursue a college education. The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) provides over $71,000 in cash and numerous support programs including college degree and certificate programs, technical or vocational courses, flight training, apprenticeships or on-the-job training, high-tech training, licensing and certification tests, entrepreneurship training, certain entrance examinations, and correspondence courses.
Through MGIB, servicemembers can receive up to 36 months (36 academic months = 8 semesters) of college aid and can obtain these benefits for 10 years following military service. The monthly benefit paid directly to the servicemember or veteran is based on the type of training, length of service, student category, any college fund eligibility, and if the $600 buy-up program was utilized during military service.
The value of the MGIB is based on the current maximum monthly payment rate of $1,994. MGIB users get the current payment rate no matter when they became eligible or began using it. This "payment rate" automatically adjusts for inflation on the first of October each year.
Eligibility is determined by different categories for active duty and reservists. However, servicemembers must have an honorable discharge after at least 2 years of active duty service and have a high school diploma or GED or in some cases at least 12 hours of college credit. They must also have contributed $100 a month for the first 12 months on active duty or qualify under VEAP conversion.
The VA website offers much more information about eligibility, remaining education benefits, and frequently asked questions regarding the MGIB.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2008 created one of the biggest sweeping changing to military education benefits with the Post-9/11 GI Bill since the original GI Bill was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1944.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill provides up to 100% of education, housing, and fees for college education over 36 months (academic months) and can also be used for certain licensing and certification tests as well.
Veterans who have served at least 90 days of active duty service after September 10, 2001 and received an honorable discharge will qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. To qualify for the full benefit, a veteran must have served at least 3 years of active duty after September 10, 2001. Those who qualify for the Active Duty GI Bill or the Reserve GI Bill will have the option to choose which benefit best suits their need.
Also note that the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, “Forever GI Bill,” changed many aspects of the Post-9/11 GI Bill, some of which went into effect immediately and others on a rolling basis.
The payment rate depends on how much active duty time the servicemember has. Purple Heart recipients, regardless of length of service, are qualified for Post-9/11 benefits at the 100% level.
The vast majority of servicemembers must have completed 36 months of active duty service to qualify for 100% of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, but there is a sliding scale shown in the chart below:
Time Member Served
Percentage of Benefit Payable
At least 36 months
At least 30 continuous days on active duty and must be discharged due to service-connected disability
At least 30 months, but less than 36 months
At least 24 months, but less than 30 months
At least 18 months, but less than 24 months
At least 12 months, but less than 18 months
At least 6 months, but less than 12 months
At least 90 days, but less than 6 months
Note that time served towards earning Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits is AFTER completing military service as payback for other military education benefits like student loan repayment, ROTC scholarships, and Service Academy commitments.
To utilize the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for college, servicemembers must pursue an education at an accredited institution that grants college degree. It can be used for all post-graduate degrees: from an associate degree and a bachelor's degree to a Master's degrees and doctorate degree.
Servicemembers released from active duty was before January 1, 2013 have a 15-year time limitation for use of benefits. For individuals whose last discharge date is on or after January 1, 2013, the time limitation has been removed.
One of the biggest benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the ability to transfer college education benefits to either a spouse and/or one or more of the servicemember’s children. The request to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents must be completed while serving as an active member of the Armed Forces. The Department of Defense (DoD) determines whether or not the servicemember can transfer benefits as some of the branches have different requirements. Once the DoD approves benefits for transfer, the new beneficiaries can then apply for them at VA.
To find out more, visit DoD's website.
How Much College Aid Can Servicemembers Receive through the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
The amount of money for college depends in part on where in the US the school is and what type of degree being pursued. Also, the cost for college programs cannot be more than the maximum in-state tuition rates at a public post-secondary school. Find maximum costs for in-state tuition and fees.
The Post-9/11 GI Bill program is comprised of multiple payments. All payments and maximum amounts are applicable to individuals eligible for the full benefit (100% eligibility tier). The payment and maximum amounts will be prorated based on the servicemember’s eligibility percentage if he or she is not eligible for the full benefit.
Type Of School
Maximum Tuition and Fee Reimbursement Per Year
All Tuition and Fee Payments for an in-State Student
Private or Foreign School
Up to $23,671.94 per academic year
Base Housing Allowance (BAH): Servicemembers, spouses, and children can also receive a monthly housing allowance based on the location they attend the majority of their classes, an annual book stipend of up to $1,000 and up to $2,000 to pay for tutorial services and certificate exams.
This stipend is based on the DoD's Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents and does not require students to live on campus. However, spouses are not eligible for monthly housing allowance if their sponsor is still on active duty. For servicemembers in rural areas, there is also a $500 one-time benefit if they must relocate or travel by air to the nearest school.
The housing allowance awarded is also based on training time, AND the student must be training at greater than 1/2 time training to receive a monthly housing allowance.
Undergraduate classes training time is determined this way. If 12 credits are considered full-time, a course load of 6 credits yields a training time of 50% (6 ÷ 12 = .50), whereas a course load of 7 credits yields a training time of 58% (7 ÷ 12 = .58). In this scenario, a student would need to enroll for at least 7 credits (such as two 3-credit classes and a 1-credit lab) in order to receive the housing allowance benefits.
For graduate training, the VA will pay benefits based on what the school reports full training time to be. So, if a student is taking 3 graduate hours and the school tells the VA that is considered a full-time student, the VA will pay at the full-time rate.
Once the training time is determined, the monthly housing allowance is paid at the nearest 10% level. For instance, if a student’s training time is determined to be 58% as calculated above, that student will be paid 60% of the applicable housing allowance. If student training time is calculated to be 84%, the VA will pay 80% of the applicable housing allowance.
There are other changes associated with the Forever GI Bill that are being phased in over time so students should review updates from the VA.
Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program
If eligible Post-9/11 GI Bill recipients would like to attend a school in a state and the state maximum for tuition and fees isn’t enough to cover the education costs, the Yellow Ribbon Program is a provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill that can help students attend without paying extra out of pocket. Schools elect to participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program by offering to pay a portion of the additional education cost which the VA then matches with a direct payment back to the institution.
Only veterans (and their children using transferred benefits) who served 36 months and earned 100% of Post-9/11 GI Bill eligibility along with an honorable discharge are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program. Active duty servicemembers and spouses are not eligible for this program. Due to specific agreements that the VA has with each school that participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, check with the VA for the most current criteria.
GI Bill Comparison Tool
The VA offers a helpful GI Bill Comparison Tool to help show which education program and school are best based on different criteria.
Applying for the Post-9/11 GI Bill?
Servicemembers can submit an application through the Veterans ON-line Application (VONAPP) Website. Or, call 888-GI-BILL-1 and ask to have the form (VA Form 22-1990) mailed.
Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
VEAP is an old education program providing two for one matching from the government that was only available for servicemembers who entered active duty between January 1, 1977 and June 30, 1985, and who opened and contributed at least $25 before April 1, 1987.
Furthermore, all the money must be used within 10 years of release from active duty with anything other than a dishonorable discharge. More information about VEAP can be learned at the VA website.
VetSuccess on Campus (VSOC) Program
VSOC aims to help veterans, servicemembers, and their qualified dependents succeed and thrive through a coordinated delivery of on-campus benefits assistance and counseling, leading to completion of their education and preparing them to enter the labor market in viable careers.
Military Spouse and Children Education Benefits
Military service not only qualifies the servicemember for some of the most generous education benefits available in the US today, but also in some cases makes those benefits available to the servicemember’s spouse and children.
This guide offers a comprehensive, big-picture overview of every major military education benefit program for spouses and children with the appropriate links and resources to learn more. Consider this a one-stop shop for your search for everything related to military education benefits and how best to take advantage of them!
Post-9/11 GI Bill For Spouses and Dependents
One of the biggest benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the ability to transfer college education benefits to either a spouse and/or one or more of the servicemember’s children.
The request to transfer unused GI Bill benefits to eligible dependents must be completed while serving as an active member of the Armed Forces. The Department of Defense (DoD) determines whether or not the servicemember can transfer benefits as some of the branches have different requirements. Once the DoD approves benefits for transfer, the new beneficiaries can then apply for them at VA.
To find out more, visit DoD's website.
Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance Program (DEA)
The Survivors' and Dependents' Educational Assistance (DEA) program offers education and training opportunities to eligible dependents of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled due to a service-related condition or of veterans who died while on active duty or as a result of a service-related condition.
DEA financial support is intended to be used as supplemental income for dependents seeking degrees, certificate programs, apprenticeships, or on-the-job training. Note that this program is separate from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Dependents of service members who died in the line of duty or served adequate time to be able to transfer their GI Bill benefits can also be eligible for the DEA program. However, both programs may not be used concurrently.
Currently the DEA monthly payment benefit for full-time training is $1,224 (2018-2019 DEA Payment Rates - these rates are effective October 1, 2018). Children may use benefits between the ages of 18 and 26 while spouses must use it within 10 years from the date VA finds you eligible or from the date of death of the veteran. DEA is a flexible program allowing children of fallen or disabled service members to be married, use the money for colleges or job training programs, and use DEA at varying rates for part-time or full-time schooling.
Under the recent Forever GI Bill, the number of months of entitlement will be changed from 45 months to 36 months which will now be consistent with other GI Bill programs that provide 36 months of eligibility educational assistance. This change took effect on August 1, 2018 and will apply to those who become eligible on or after that date.
In order to apply, dependents must complete VA Form 22-5490 and submit it to the VA for consideration.
Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship
Children and surviving spouses of a servicemember who died in the line of duty on or after 9/11 are eligible to receive a scholarship through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. Through this scholarship, beneficiaries receive up to 36 months of college benefits with up to 100% of tuition covered and have up to 15 years to use these benefits, between age 18 and 33. Spouses do not have a time limit with which to use their benefits, but they will lose eligibility to this benefit upon remarriage.
Beneficiaries that are eligible for both Fry Scholarship and DEA must make an irrevocable election between the two programs at the time of application. Dependents are not eligible to receive both DEA and Fry Scholarship based on the same event (like a Servicemember dying in the line of duty) unless he or she is a child whose parent died prior to August 1, 2011. A child whose parent died before August 1, 2011, may be eligible for both benefits but he/she may only use one program at a time and combined benefits are capped at a total of 81 months of full-time training. In this situation, the two benefit programs cannot be used concurrently.
Surviving spouses are eligible to receive Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) while using the Fry Scholarship. Children, over the age of 18, in receipt of DIC will relinquish DIC payments upon the start of using VA education benefits such as the Fry Scholarship.
In order to apply, dependents must complete VA Form 22-5490 and submit it to the VA for consideration.
Iraq & Afghanistan Service Grant (FAFSA)
Children and surviving spouses of a servicemember who died as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan may be eligible for an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. The grant is similar to a Pell Grant, but is not limited by family income like a Pell Grant is.
Students must meet some eligibility requirements including meeting the remaining Federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements except family income and must have been under 24 years old or enrolled in college at least part-time at the time of their parent's or guardian's death.
The grant award is equal to the amount of a maximum Federal Pell Grant for the award year, but cannot exceed the cost of attendance for that award year. For the 2018–19 award year (July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019), the maximum Federal Pell Grant award is $6,095.
A student must submit a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form to begin the application process. To maintain eligibility for federal student aid including this grant, students must fill out the FAFSA form each subsequent year in school.
Make sure you also pay attention to the FAFSA Deadline.
Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA)
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) Scholarship is a workforce development program that provides up to $4,000 of tuition assistance to eligible military spouses. These scholarships help military spouses pursue licenses, certificates, certifications or associate degrees necessary to gain employment in high demand, high growth portable career fields and occupations. Spouses may use their MyCAA funds at any academic institution approved for participation in the MyCAA Scholarship.
The program is open for active duty spouses whose servicemember is in the pay grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2 and O-1 to O-2. Spouses must be able to start and complete their course of study while their military sponsor is still on Title 10 military orders which primarily impacts members of the National Guard and Reserves. Unfortunately, MyCAA is not available for Coast Guard spouses.
MyCAA provides a maximum education benefit of up to $4,000 with an annual fiscal year cap of $2,000 to assist eligible military spouses in acquiring a professional credential needed to meet their Portable Career goal. Annual cap waivers are available if there is an upfront tuition cost that exceeds $2,000 (up to the maximum education benefit of $4,000).
All military spouses may also take advantage of employment readiness counseling, not just those eligible for MyCAA. Counseling services help military spouses identify additional sources of federal, state, and local financial assistance expanded career choices and opportunities, and necessary support resources (e.g., child care, transportation, books, computers, equipment, supplies, etc.).
Eligible spouses can establish a MyCAA Account by visiting the MyCAA website. Once spouse profile information is provided, MyCAA will verify spouse DEERS benefit eligibility. From there, eligible spouses will be allowed to create their Career and Training Plan and request funding when they are within 30 days of course start dates. Additionally, spouses are responsible for applying to their selected school or program and enrolling in each course included in their approved MyCAA Career and Training Plan.
Servicemembers Opportunity College (SOC) – Branch Specific
Spouses are eligible for the SOC schools in some situations. SOC is an association of approximately 1,900 colleges and universities that was created to ensure servicemembers are given plentiful educational opportunities through the challenges of the PCS cycle and active duty lifestyle.
The association of schools has agreements in place simplifying credit transfers and reducing the number of credits students needed to earn a degree from a given school. SOC is funded by the Department of Defense (DoD) and coordinated through Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES). Students can typically choose between traditional in-person classes, distance learning, or learning assessment options to test out of class requirements.
Scholarships, Grants, And Special Loans For Military Spouses And Dependents
There are numerous scholarships, grants, special loans, and other education assistance available to military spouses and children of servicemembers.
Most of these programs are offered by various private organizations and their requirements and information are too varying to list all of them. The following is a brief shortlist of most of the major scholarship programs currently available. If you recognize a program is missing, leave a comment below!
- Navy-Marine Corps (NMCRS) Education Assistance Program offers interest-free loans and grants to children of active duty, retired or deceased Sailors and Marines; and for spouses of active duty and retired Sailors and Marines.
- General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program offers Grants ranging from $500 to $4,000 are awarded to eligible Air Force dependents each year. The specific amount awarded correlates to a student’s particular level of financial need.
- Medal of Honor Foundation Scholarship supports the Society's scholarship program for the children of Medal of Honor Recipients, the Foundation, working with its partner, the Armed Forces Communications-Electronics Association Education Foundation, awards eight scholarships each year to students enrolled in Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps ROTC programs.
- National Military Family Association offers awards that can be used for a variety of educational and employment pursuits. Scholarship funds on average are $1,000 and can be used towards degrees, certifications, licensure, clinical supervision for mental health licensure, CEUs, business expenses and more! Any spouse eligible to hold a valid military ID is eligible.
- AMVETS Scholarship is offered to veterans, active duty, Guard/Reserves, and children/grandchildren of Veterans, Active Duty, Guard/Reserves who are currently High School seniors.
- Scholarships for Military Children Program offers 500 scholarships each worth $2,000 in recognition of the contributions of military families to the readiness of the fighting force and to celebrate the role of the commissary in the military family community. It is the intent of the program that a scholarship funded through contributions be awarded annually for each commissary operated by the Defense Commissary Agency worldwide.
- Society of Daughters of the United States Army Scholarship Program offers a scholarship to the daughter or granddaughter of a career warrant (WO 1-5) or commissioned officer (2nd & 1st LT, CPT, MAJ, LTC, COL, or General) of U.S. Army who (1) is currently on active duty; (2) retired from active duty after at least 20 years of service; (3) was medically retired before 20 years of active service; (4) died while on active duty; or (5) died after retiring from active duty with 20 or more years of service.
- The Enlisted Association (TREA) Memorial Foundation’s Scholarship Program offers scholarships for child or grandchild of a member in good standing (deceased or otherwise) of TREA.
- Veterans United Foundation Scholarship creates opportunities for family members of service members and Veterans to achieve their educational dreams. The Veterans United Foundation Scholarship will be awarding up to 10 one-time scholarships for up to $50,000 for this upcoming semester.
Paying for college and dealing with student loans are complex. There are a lot of options, tools, and resources out there to find the best ways to make it happen.
Luckily, if you're in the military, are a spouse or dependent, or are a veteran, there are a lot of options to help further your education. Sadly, the military doesn't make it easy to find - these resources are scattered across dozens of websites, very few have a clear understanding of them, and they all require some type of paperwork.
Hopefully this guide helps make it clear what your options are for you and/or your family.
If you find value in the guide, the best thing you can do is share this with others who need it - a friend, family member, your command, anyone.
Daniel Kopp, CFP®, an Air Force veteran and fee-only financial planner who created Military Life Planning as a resource to help inform, educate, and advise servicemembers and their families on the best ways to use their military benefits. He is a fiduciary financial planner focused on serving the needs of widowed spouses and servicemembers.
Daniel was an active-duty officer in the Air Force where he served as an Air Battle Manager. During his time on active duty, he served as a volunteer financial counselor helping servicemembers and their families use money as a tool to accomplish their goals and live out their values. He has an MA in Strategic Studies, a BS in Economics, and an MS in Financial Planning along with being a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).
Daniel is also an occasional freelance writer on topics that relate to military life and he has been quoted in Business Insider, Forbes, USA Today, Yahoo News, Air and Space Power Journal, Stars and Stripes, Military.com, MOAA, and numerous other publications.
Editor: Robert Farrington Reviewed by: Claire Tak