Thursday, April 18, 2024

Does the Military Pay for College? The Full Guide to Education Benefits

Enlisting in the military is an enormous decision that’s bound to give you a new perspective on life, friendship, and service. The amount of commitment that becoming a recruit entails also comes with plenty of advantages: you can travel, expect a guaranteed paycheck, engage in advanced specialty training, and often, the military pays for college!

If you’re already passionate about becoming a soldier and would like to use your time serving to supplement your education, we’ve got you covered. Read on for a comprehensive overview of how the military can pay for college.

READ MORE: How Much Does College in the US Cost: All You Need to Know [2021]

The Military’s Tuition Assistance Programs

The Tuition Assistance (TA) programs the military offers are incredibly helpful. They can pay for up to 100 percent of the cost of tuition and other expenses. Here’s a breakdown of how the military pays for college through TA programs by branch:

Army Tuition Assistance Program

Am I eligible? Complete one year of service and graduate from Advanced Individual Training and you’ll be eligible as an undergraduate. 

If you’re looking for graduate-level tuition assistance and you already used the program to pay for part of your undergraduate degree, you’ll only be eligible after 10 years of service.

How much does it cover? The Army TA program covers 130 semester hours of undergraduate credit, and 39 hours of graduate credit. This is how it breaks down:

  • $250 per semester hour
  • $166.67 per quarter hour
  • 16 semester hours per year
  • Maximum of $4,000 per year

Navy College Tuition Assistance Program

Am I eligible? If you’re an active duty sailor or officer (including naval reservists), you bet! You become eligible after two years of military service.

What does it cover? The Navy TA program will fund one certificate, certification preparation, or diploma in schools that have signed a Department of Defense Memorandum of Understanding (DoD MoU). The institution you are applying for must also be listed on the Department of Veteran Affairs website

Here’s a quick breakdown of how much the program can cover:

Navy College Program for Afloat College Education (NCPACE) 

Am I eligible? This is for sailors who have been assigned to be more than 150 days away from the office. It offers sailors distance learning courses that do not require ongoing internet connectivity to complete. The rules of eligibility and tuition assistance are the same as the Navy College TA.

What does it cover? The NCPACE will fund one certificate, certification preparation, or diploma in schools that have signed a DoD MoU, provided that the institution you are applying for is listed on the Department of Veteran Affairs website. Here’s a breakdown:

  • $250 per semester hour
  • $166.67 per quarter hour
  • $16.67 per clock hour (for approved certificate/diploma programs only)
US Marines and US Navy Sailors
The military can help you pay for college. Photo: Sgt. Austin Hazard/US Marine Corps

Marine Corps Tuition Assistance Program

Am I eligible? If you’ve completed 24 months of service, you can start applying for the program. 

What does it cover? You’ll either get $4,500 per fiscal year to cover your tuition costs, or $250 per semester hour (whichever is less).

The Air Force Military Tuition Assistance Program

Am I eligible? The US Air Force is a little stricter with its criteria for tuition assistance. You’ll need to pass your physical fitness tests and have zero record of performance reports or unfavorable information files.

What does it cover? The Air Force will pay up to $250 per semester hour and $166 per quarter hour ($4,500 annually). You need to apply for courses in schools that have signed a DoD MoU.

The Army National Guard (ARNG) and Air National Guard (ANG) Tution Assitance Programs

Am I eligible? The ARNG and the ANG tuition assistance programs can be used with the Post 9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty for the same course.

What does it cover? These two programs will pay up to $250 per semester hour and $166 per quarter hour ($4,500 annually).

The GI Bill: Helping Military Veterans Pay for College

Originally known as the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, the GI Bill was started after World War II to support military veterans in their return to civilian life. Years later, plenty of military service members still use the program to fund their college education.

Here’s what you need to qualify for the GI Bill:

  • Have served at least 90 days of active duty, or at least 30 days if you’ve been discharged with a service-related disability 
  • In most cases, you will need to sign up for eight years of military service. The most common arrangement involves four years of active duty, and four years of reserve duty

Military vets can choose between the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill. Both paths offer a number of benefits, so it’s up to you to make your decision based on your educational goals and service history. 

The Post 9/11 GI Bill

The Post 9/11 Bill is available to all vets who served after September 10, 2001, with at least 90 days of continuous service. For most vets, this is the preferred way to pay for college, with more than 80 percent of those taking advantage of their GI Bill benefits doing so through the Post 9/11 Bill. 

The Post 9/11 Bill pays all public school in-state tuition and fees, and the maximum benefit that a person can receive will cover the following:

The actual benefit amount received will vary based on how long the military vet has been in service. For example, if you rendered more than 90 days but less than six months of service, you’ll receive only half of the maximum benefit. 

However, if you’ve served at least 36 months or 30 continuous days prior to discharge for a service-related disability, you’ll get the maximum tuition and fees, a monthly housing stipend, and an annual stipend for books and supplies. 

Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you can also apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program (we’ll discuss this more below) to supplement the funding you need to attend a private institution, go to college out-of-state, or enroll in graduate school.

The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)

The MGIB sends monthly checks directly to eligible students for their schooling; however, students under this program do not qualify for housing allowance or book stipends. They cannot apply for additional funds through the Yellow Ribbon Program either.  

MGIB Active Duty (MGIB-AD)

For vets who have served at least two years of active duty, the military pays for college through the MGIB-AD. If you qualify, you’ll receive up to 36 months of education benefits. The amount you receive depends on:

The $600 Buy-Up program is an opportunity for active-duty service members to increase the benefits from their MGIB-AD. You can make additional contributions in $20 increments, with each $20 increment resulting in a $180 increase to your total 36-month benefit. This could increase your total benefits by $5,400!

Female soldier holding books, with USA flag on background
The army can help you make your educational dreams come true. Photo: Africa Studio/Shutterstock

MGIB Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)

Vets who have chosen the MGIB-SR can receive up to $384 per month for tuition, up to 36 months. This path is open to members of the reserve and National Guard forces who have met the following criteria:

  • Finished a six-year obligation to serve in the Selected Reserve or Guard
  • If you are an officer, agree to serve six years in addition to your original obligation
  • Complete your initial active duty for training (IADT)
  • Receive a high school diploma or equivalency certificate before completing the IADT
  • Remain in good standing throughout your service in an active Selected Reserve unit 

The Military’s ‘Top-Up’ Program

Still need a little more cash to fund your college education? Another way the military pays for college is through their “Top-Up” Program. This program allows participants of the GI Bill to obtain additional funding for schools that cost more than what the GI Bill can cover. 

If you’ve applied for the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the amount you receive depends on the number of classes you are taking, which is referred to as your “training time.” These rates change from year to year, so it’s important to stay updated

When it comes to the Montgomery GI Bill, the top-up program is only available for Active Duty (MGIB-AD) members, You’ll receive the difference between what the Department of Defense pays for the course and the total cost of the course. Unfortunately, the Top-Up program is not available for Selected Reserves (MGIB-SR) members.

How the Military Can Help With Your Past Student Loans

But wait, does the military pay for college if you’ve already attended and taken out loans? They do! The military offers plenty of student loan repayment programs across the different branches.

READ ALSO: How to Apply for Federal Student Aid (and Get Approved)

Military Student Loan Repayment Programs

Provided your loans are in good standing, the military may pay off some or all of your student loan debt. Your eligibility depends on which military branch you have enlisted in. Here’s a glimpse of the branch-specific programs:

  • Active Duty Health Professions Student Loan Repayment Program: Health professionals who are on active duty can qualify for $40,000 per year towards their student loan debt for up to three years. This program applies to those serving in the dental, medical, allied health, nursing, or veterinary corps. If you’re in the reserves for these professions, you may also be eligible for up to $50,000 in total loan forgiveness, spread over three years. 
  • Army Student Loan Repayment: The military pays for college loans if you’re in the Army too — up to 33.5 percent, or $1,500, towards the unpaid principal balance of your student loans for each year of active duty. 
  • Navy Student Loan Repayment Program: Members of the Navy who served a minimum of three years on active duty during their first enlistment may be eligible for this program. It offers the same rates as the Army: 33.5 percent, or $1,500, toward your principal balance, whichever is greater. As long as your loans are not in default, you can receive as much as $65,000 in loan forgiveness.
  • National Guard Student Loan Repayment Program: This program offers individuals the chance to earn up to $7,500 yearly, with a maximum of $50,000, toward qualifying student loan debts. 

Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)

Anyone serving in the military is eligible for the PSLF Program. The program forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have finished 120 qualifying monthly payments under an eligible repayment plan working full-time for a qualifying employer like a US federal, state, local, or tribal government or not-for-profit organization. 

Deferred Student Loan Payments for Active Duty

Need a breather from paying off your loans? You can choose to have your student debt deferred while you’re out on active duty, and for 13 months after you return. The government will pay any interest on your Direct Loans and Federal Stafford Loans. 

READ MORE: Types of Loans for College: The Easy Guide

Warning! Before entering into any agreement or shelling out money, make sure that you are transacting with a legitimate representative of the military to avoid falling victim to loan scams.

The Yellow Ribbon Program

If you’re planning on going to a private university, a college out-of-state, or graduate school, then the Yellow Ribbon Program is for you. It covers tuition fees in institutions that the Post 9/11 GI Bill does not cover.

Certain schools have entered into an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and part of the agreement is to allow vets to attend more expensive private schools at a lower cost. The amount that they waive depends on two factors: first, the student’s status (whether you are enrolling as an undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral student), and second, the type of school (college or trade school).

Additional Resources for Military Education Support

If you’re considering attending school during or after your service, plenty of questions will come up along the way, even beyond how the military pays for college. Your main source of information for all things related to military education is the US Department of Veterans Affairs. These links to the military branches and other sources regarding the military may also be helpful:

It can be challenging to reintegrate into civilian life after service, and the military pays for college as a way to help with the adjustment. The decision to enlist comes with loads of responsibility and life changes, but if you are absolutely sure the military is for you, rest assured that your academic dreams are possible too!

If you want to get a college degree but remain unsure about joining the military, consider going for other affordable options in higher education: you can look into community colleges, public colleges, trade schools, or cheap universities around the country.

READ MORE: How to Apply To College: 9 Steps to Application Success

Frequently Asked Questions About Whether the Military Pays for College

How long do you have to be in the military to have your college paid for?

The amount of time you need to serve before the military can pay for college depends on the program that you’ve signed up for. Under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, you will need to serve at least 90 days of continuous service before you can make use of the benefits. 

With the MGIB-AD, you’ll need to render two years of active duty; while in the MGIB-SR, you’ll have to finish six years in the Selected Reserve or Guard.

Are military dependents eligible for education benefits?

Individuals enrolled under the Post 9/11 GI Bill can transfer their benefits to their dependents. If you’ve served at least 90 days of active duty since September 10, 2001, then you or your dependent can already receive tuition and fees, in addition to a stipend for housing and books. 

Family members who have survived a military member’s passing after September 10, 2001, may also be eligible for the Fry Scholarship, which offers the same benefits.

Should I enlist in the military to pay for college?

Enlisting in the military is a life-defining decision that only you can decide for yourself. You’ll need to go through strenuous training as a recruit before you become a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine. After that, you may find yourself enlisted in new locations that are far from home. 

Although the military does pay for college, that’s certainly not reason enough to join. You can also consider other affordable options for your education. From finding grants and scholarships to minimizing your college expenses, there are plenty of alternative ways to pay for college

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