How to Pay for College through Military Service

I have been in the United States Air Force for the last 4 years of my life. During that time, I have had a wide variety of experiences, have seen numerous places that I never thought I would see, and have been able to do things that most people will never do. The military has truly allowed me to do a lot of different things, and has afforded me the ability to live my life to the fullest.

Probably one of the best programs that the military has to offer, and one of the major selling points for a large majority of those that join in modern times, is the education benefits. Not only does the military send you through their own training, and teach you a career, which you earn college credits for, but they pay for you to go to school as well. But, there’s a lot to know about the military education program, which I have been taking advantage of for the last 2 years of my career. It really isn’t as simple as they make it sound.

GI BILL
The Montgomery GI Bill is the most famous of all of the methods for paying for college. This is the one where they state they will give you $38,000 to pay for your college. While this is true, there are a lot of conditions that they really don’t tell you about it.

First of all, the GI Bill requires a $1200 buy-in. Once you pay this $1200, you are given $38,000 for college, once you have at least 3 years time in service. But, what most don’t realize is that you can’t take advantage of this right away. In fact, the GI Bill is completely different than they describe. Sure, you get the money to go to college, but the GI bill is really only mean to be used after you get out of the military.

But, you can still use it will in service, through a couple of programs that they really don’t talk about much. You can use it in a program called GI Bill top up, which allows you to use the GI Bill to cover any expenses not including books and fees above and beyond the cost of your Tuition Assistance, which I will describe in a moment. This basically deducts directly from your $38,000 but it has a variety of catches and limitations, so you’ll need to contact an education officer for more information regarding it.

Next, you can use the GI Bill alone, which will give you full time benefits. However, once you start using them, you have to keep using them. This of course can be incredibly difficult while you are Active Duty military. I myself am doing this method, and it’s quite difficult to stay on top of your classes while you are deployed, however most schools are willing to work with the military, so it is important that you attend a military friendly school for this reason.

TUITION ASSISTANCE
This is where the government pays for your schooling while you are Active Duty. You are able to take as many classes as you want, however you have a maximum tuition limit each year, which once you reach, you are no longer eligible for anymore money. You are also only allowed to take two classes at a time, which means that you could find yourself taking 8-10 years to finish a Bachelors Degree program. This is why I am attending two schools at the same time. I am using my GI Bill at one and Tuition Assistance at another.

However, you are most likely going to find that you’ll have a lot of out of cost expenses from this method, so it is recommend that you fill out the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) by doing this, you can also get free money from the government by way of grants. Since only our base pay is taxed, it looks like we make substantially less than we really do and it allows us to qualify for full grant funding, depending upon your rank. This means that not only will you be able to pay for all of your classes and the books, but you’ll have enough leftover that you can apply for classes that you don’t have to tell the military about, which means that you can take more than the 2 class limit. This of course will help to put your degree back on track.

CLEP/DANTES/EXCELSIOR
While many people don’t take advantage of it, the military is able to take all of the tests that they want in order to get out of classes without taking them. By taking Dantes, Clep, and Excelsior classes, you can test out of the majority of your general education classes as well as many of your upper division classes, especially in a business related degree program. The best part is that you don’t have to pay anything for these tests as long as you are military. They are accepted by virtually every college in the country, so it is very beneficial that you take these tests, if you know about a specific subject, and many of them, you could easily pass regardless of what you think you know. The key is to take these and take as many as possible.

OVERALL
While the military does provide you with a great opportunity to get a degree, especially since you almost have an Associates by the time that you get to your first base, it’s up to you to take advantage of the programs that are presented to you. The military is an excellent way to get your education, but many people start with the goal of going to college and never finish with a degree because they just didn’t take the time to educate themselves on the proper steps to take in order to accomplish it. The main thing to do is speak with someone at your education office and they will help you to obtain the degree that you want and help you find the best possible school for obtaining that particular degree as well.