Paying for College through Military Service

To date I have spent 3 years serving in the United States Marine Corp. and have spoken to hundreds of military service members about their reasons for joining. While the promise of a free education is not always the primary reason it never fails to be one of them. The ability to gain a college degree without incurring any student loan costs has always been one of the biggest draws to military service. Unfortunately this amazing benefit often times goes unused by military service members who do not understand how to gain access to and use the programs and services available to them. These services, when used to their fullest extent, can fully pay for a bachelors degree and in some cases even a masters degree.

MILITARY  TRAINING

Just joining the U.S. Military starts a service member on their way to a college degree. Boot camp training as well as follow-on training are in most cases translatable into college credits depending on the degree program. How to determine what credits an individual may have already earned differs from service to service, as well as school to school, but there are several websites available to help.

https://smart.navy.mil allows members of the Navy and Marine Corp. to print out unofficial transcripts outlining completed military training. Official transcripts can be ordered and sent to prospective colleges. http://aarts.army.mil/ can do the same for Army service members while http://www.au.af.mil/au/ccaf/transcripts.asp can help members of the Air Force. Delivering this paperwork to colleges along with high school transcripts begins the path towards a degree. More information on gaining college credits through military training can be found at http://www.helium.com/items/2027676-how-to-earn-college-credits-for-your-military-training.

FREE SAT/ACT TESTING

The education centers on most military bases offer free SAT (Standard Aptitude Test) and ACT (American College Testing) tests. This gives service members the ability to either take the exams for the first time or attempt to score higher then they did in high school. A higher score on one or both of these tests not only helps service men and women get accepted to better quality universities, but increases their chances of receiving additional scholarships and financial aid as well.

TUITION ASSISTANCE

While on active duty service members have access to the Tuition Assistance Program. The monetary benefits differ between the services but the basic principles of the program are the same across the board. Tuition Assistance (TA) will pay 100% college tuition not to exceed $250 per semester credit hour and $4,500 per fiscal year. Costs above these figures remain the responsibility of the service member. Government financial aid can be used in conjunction with the Tuition Assistance Program to cover these excess costs so military members should always remember to update their FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) every year they attend classes. This allows service members to attend the average college half time while serving on active duty. There is no limit to the number of years this program can be used. http://www.military.com/education/content/money-for-school/tuition-assistance-ta-program-overview.html gives an overview of the differences between the TA program for the different military services.

CLEP TESTING

The military education centers on most bases offer free CLEP (College Level Examination Program) testing for service members and veterans. These tests allow service members who have taken the time to further their education on their own time to test out of certain lower level college courses. Service members should take full advantage of these tests in order to shorten the amount of time it will take to achieve a bachelors degree. 

G.I. BILL

The Montgomery G.I. Bill has always been one of the best known benefits to serving in the U.S. Military. Up until recently service members were required to pay a monthly fee of $100 for the first twelve months of their contract in order to reap the benefits of the G.I. Bill. This version of the G.I. Bill provides up to 36 months of education at a monthly rate of $1,426.00 for a full time student. Those attending technical school will be paid a monthly rate based on the length of the training. These benefits are usually available for up to ten years following the end of active duty status.

While this program is usually used after a service member has ceased active duty money from the G.I. Bill can be used to pay excess tuition and fees not covered by Tuition Assistance. To use this “Top Up” benefit service members must have served for a minimum of two years.

POST 9/11 G.I. BILL

The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill is available to all service members who spent at least 90 days on active duty after 9/11/2001. It is now given to all service members automatically and there is no longer any need to buy into it. Certain service members, those who joined the U.S. Military before 9/11 but continued to serve for at least ninety days after the fact, have the option of using either the Montgomery or the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill.

The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill offers tuition and fees paid directly to the school up to the maximum in-state tuition rates. In addition, the individual will be paid the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for the area in which their school resides providing they have chosen to attend school full time.  BAH rates can be found at https://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/bah.cfm.

One of the major benefits to this new G.I. Bill is the ability to pass the benefits onto the service members dependents. If the service member is not going to use their benefits (or a portion of their benefits) they can use the money to pay for either their spouse or their child to attend college. This requires a longer enlistment period, in most cases ten years, before benefits can be transferred.

YELLOW RIBBON PROGRAM

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary program that institutions can choose to participate in through co-operation with the VA. If the college or technical school agrees to fund a portion of the service members tuition and fees that exceed the amounts paid by the G.I. Bill the VA will match that contribution and pay it directly to the school. Service members need to contact prospective schools directly to find out if they participate in this program.

Every service member has the right to use any or all of these programs and should do so as early in their military career as possible in order to receive the maximum educational benefits. If you are an interested service member visit your base’s education center or speak with your education OIC to get started.