Among the greatest benefits of serving in the United States military are the education benefits granted. They are offered for service members, veterans, and their families, and they allow you to earn money for school, support for your education, and the means and methods to save time and cash during school.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is instrumental in the handling of military education benefits, as are the Department of Defense and most state departments. Using Military Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill, you can reap as much as $4,500 (if not more) per year in benefits, and then get your books, fees, and expenses paid for on top of that as well.
There are many different programs in the area of education. The biggest ones are mentioned, but you should be cautious about the program you enter. It is very important for you to explain, in detail, your ambitions and educational goals to a counselor. Explain to the counselor and the Veterans Affairs representative what you would like your career path to be and they will present you with options.
Armed Forces Tuition Assistance
The Armed Forces Tuition Assistance can be claimed by any eligible member of Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, or Coast Guard and has the ability to pay as much as your entire education expenses – depending on you and your branch.
You must inquire within your specific branch and go through the application process. Each branch has different requirements, and most often, the money is paid directly to the learning institution. This type of program is not meant to act as a loan. It is an earned part of your service, just as your base pay or your salary.
The GI Bill
The GI Bill is a widely used benefits program that allows active duty, select reserve and National Guard members, and their families to reap the educational rewards of their services.
More well-known than the Armed Forces Tuition Assistance program, the GI Bill has been available to service members for decades. It features a wide array of programs, all of which should be researched before applying for, and must be approached through your branch of service.
Available programs include:
- Tuition Top-Up Program
- Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
- Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)
- Selected Reserve GI Bill
- Veterans GI Bill
- Post-9/11 GI Bill
These programs all provide different benefits for different levels of service members, and are available almost universally to members of the military.
Why Should You Get A Degree?
- The education has already been paid for through your service. The GI Bill has likely been credited around $50,000 for your education, so you have already paid your tuition through your service to the country.
- Career advancement: a degree in any field makes you more qualified for many positions. You will impress potential employers and clients, while getting a leg up on the competition.
- You have the opportunity to expand on the skills you’ve gained in the military, or learn an entirely new skill set.
- GI Bill benefits do run out if not used, usually around the 10 or 15 year mark. Get your education while it is earned and paid for.
- It is likely that you already qualify for an associate’s degree because of your training. This shortens the road to a bachelor’s degree.
- It is important to always learn and grow as a well-rounded person. Continued learning is always a valuable experience.
5 Steps Toward Your Successful Education
1. Decide your future career path
It is important first and foremost to decide what you want to do with your career after leaving the service. You must know about the job market, and know where the jobs are in your location. You must then find out what job fields are hiring and what will make you the kind of money that you are interested in making. One popular option for military members is to get into a civilian version of the job they enjoyed in the military. This is practical because you are already trained for that job. You might even be eligible for a higher paying job in this field than you might find yourself in with other fields.
2. Choose your degree
Once deciding what your career path will be, it is going to be important to decide the right degree to complement that career. You can begin to determine the correct degree path by talking to advisors or counselors at your chosen school, or by seeking out the advice of professionals already established in that field. There are a few questions that you must ask yourself before delving into the world of one particular degree:
- Do I want to stay on my current career path?
- Do I want a quick path to a degree, or can I afford to work at it slowly to get where I need to be?
- Do I want a two-year associate’s degree, a four-year bachelor’s degree, or beyond with a master’s degree or doctorate?
3. Find the right school
Some schools are more military-friendly than others, and some allow you to substitute your past military experience for college credits. It is important to find out a school’s college credit policy, and the manner in which they handle military experience (ACE) credits. You should also make sure that all of your schools and classes tuition, living expenses, and fees will be covered by your certain portion of the GI Bill, the Veterans Tuition program, or by your state department benefits.
4. Manage your time at school
You can do the most to manage your time at school through rigorous research and understanding of the programs that you will go through. You should know what classes you can take concurrently, and which ones you will not be able to. Discover how many semesters it will take you to complete your major (the minimum amount); and do all of the necessary research to fit these classes together with general education classes.
You should also research which schools have the best potential class times, and figure out which ones will allow you to live your life outside of school the way that you want to. Certain schools will allow you to attend classes at night or early in the morning, and other schools may only have morning and afternoon classes. If you are working, would like to spend time with your family, or would like extended free time, you should schedule your classes to fit around these requirements.
5. Use your education benefits
In most situations, your military benefits will be paid directly to the school, and you must leave yourself time in your search to apply to the correct branches and submit the right documentation. You must first know the school’s state tuition assistance, fee reductions, and waivers policies; and then explore federal student aid. Individual schools have tuition assistance that is used in case your military benefits will not cover your entire tuition, or all of your fees or expenses.
An important note: If, or when, you apply for federal education money in any program to attend school, you will need to agree that you plan to maintain a grade of C or better within each class. Failure to do so will ultimately put you into debt to the Department of Veterans Affairs for each class that you withdraw from or get below a C grade. Be absolutely positive that you are willing to dedicate your efforts to achieving decent grades.
Try to track all of your expenses during college, as they can pile up to thousands of dollars beyond your actual tuition. While the money for class is obvious, easy to document, and covered by your GI Bill and other academic benefits, the other financial costs of college may be harder to document. Your books will likely cost you at least a few hundred dollars each semester; and things like rooming, traveling to class, parking on campus, and paying for food on campus can even be covered by your military benefits.
You should keep receipts and documents for all of your parking, books, and other expenses; and research what organizations, scholarships, and bills might pay for these. It can even be useful to delve into college websites and find out who is offering the most for service members and veterans.