This guide is intended to provide options for enlisted personnel and veterans regarding finding and paying for college. Numerous military-friendly colleges work with enlisted and retired service members to make attending college easier both on campus or online.
Service members have a variety of options when it comes to choosing, and paying for, a military-friendly college degree. The federal government offers the Montgomery GI BIll® and the Post-9/11 GI Bill® through the Department of Veterans Affairs, both of which can cover a significant portion of tuition and fees. The Department of Defense helps fund the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges (SOC), an association of over 1,900 schools that work together to make attendance easier for service members and their families.
Aside from the federal government, many military-friendly online colleges offer discounted tuition rates and other benefits to enlisted personnel and veterans.
Programs and organizations which help veterans transition into civilian life, find jobs, and deal with college also exist for both online and on-campus students. Scholarships intended for current or former military personnel can also help your and your family afford to attend military-friendly colleges.
The Importance of Military Status
Different types of military status may receive opportunities specific to their status, including financial aid. It is important to verify which form of military status you fall under before applying for college. Types of military status include active or inactive, discharged, and retired or veteran.
Most military-friendly online colleges offer a tuition discount to active-duty service members, their spouses, and their children. Active-duty personnel can also qualify for assistance from one of the GI bills as well as SOC programs, available for members of most branches except Air Force personnel.
As members of a military branch, inactive-duty service members benefit from access to discounted tuition at many schools, GI Bill education benefits, and more time to study.
Discharged (multiple types)
Personnel who were honorably discharged or discharged due to service-related disability qualify for the Post-9/11 GI BIll. Military-friendly colleges that offer tuition discounts to service members may consider these individuals to be veterans and classify them as such when it comes to discounts and credits for experience.
Veterans have access to several options for paying for school, including the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills. Veterans may qualify for discounted tuition or other benefits at a military-friendly college, though this varies by school.
Government Benefits for Military Students
The Post-9/11 GI Bill®
The VA administers the Post-9/11 GI Bill in order to help service members pay for their education, including undergraduate and graduate degrees, vocational training, and distance learning. Qualifying service members can earn up to 36 months of education benefits, including full tuition and fees for public, in-state education. The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides up to $23,000 per academic year for private or foreign institutions.
A military-friendly college outside of your state of residence might participate in the Yellow Ribbon program and offer additional funds. Active-duty service members who have served at least 90 days, or those honorably discharged or have received a service-connected disability discharge after 30 days are qualified for the program. Personnel who have served for at least 36 months are eligible to receive 100% of the maximum benefit payable. This is also true for those who have served 30 days on active-duty and were discharged due to a service-related disability. Military personnel discharged before January 1, 2013 have a 15-year deadline in which to utilize Yellow Ribbon funds. All branches of the U.S. military qualify for the program.
Qualifying service members can also take advantage of the Transfer of Entitlement option, which allows transfer of some or all education-related military benefits to a spouse or children. Doing so requires 10 years of service or a service of six years and commitment to serve an additional four years.
The Montgomery GI Bill®
The Montgomery GI Bill can provide up to $1,900 a month toward tuition and fees for up to 36 months for qualifying service members. This program has four categories of eligibility, dependant on date on enrollment in the military and whether or not you have been discharged, honorably or otherwise. The Montgomery GI Bill is geared more toward older service members.
The amount of money awarded each month toward your education can also be affected by whether you're attending vocational training or a traditional university. Additionally, the $600 Buy-Up Program, in which service members contribute $100 a month for the first six months in service, is required to receive the maximum award.
Servicemember Opportunity Colleges
Many military-friendly colleges have joined SOC with the goal of making it easier for active-duty service members and their families to attend college. Funded by the Department of Defense and incorporating over 1,900 schools, SOC aims to reduce the difficulty of transferring credits from one school to another, and reduce residency restrictions on credits so military personnel don't have to retake courses each time they move.
There are SOC programs specific to the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard. The Air Force is covered by the general SOC program because that branch already has access to the Community College of the Air Force, a global campus geared toward Air Force personnel.
What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military-Friendly?
Military-friendly colleges operate in ways that can specifically benefit military personnel. There are a lot of ways this can come about, including offering flexible online courses and specific tuition discounts for veterans. Below are some common military college benefits. Please note that not all schools with such programs identify themselves as military-friendly, so you may have to go looking for these benefits.
Tuition discounts for military
Some schools offer tuition discounts to military personnel. Generally these are awarded to active-duty personnel, though veterans and military families are sometimes eligible to receive the same benefits.
Some schools, especially those focused on technical or career programs, offer credit for previous work experience, including occupational training within the military. While there are limits to how many credits can be earned this way, each credit helps.
Some scholarships and grants are designed with military personnel, veterans, or their families in mind. These options help military personnel more easily access college and transition into civilian careers or support the families of active duty or deceased personnel.
Some schools have courses or program offerings tailored to military personnel looking to improve the skills learned while enlisted.
Many schools offer flexibility in their courses, allowing students to take them during evenings, weekends, or even online. Active-duty personnel in particular benefit from online courses, as they allow you to pursue education while still upholding your commitment to work.
* 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 https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/.