As a service member, you have sacrificed for the sake of your country and are now ready to take the next step in your journey as a civilian. This transition will be a lot easier and more enjoyable if you make the most of college programs designed to accommodate your unique needs and prepare you for a fulfilling career.
There are many resources available, but one of the most iconic should be well within reach: the renowned GI Bill. If you qualify, this will provide valuable access to tuition coverage, plus funding for books and supplies — or even a housing allowance.
This should serve as powerful motivation to pursue a college education and professional training, but there is a caveat: the GI Bill can be confusing to navigate, as its programs are so far-reaching. Thankfully, you're not in this alone. Below, we provide helpful clarification on how to use the GI Bill to earn a college education.
What Is the GI Bill?
Originally known as the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, the initial GI Bill was designed to help World War II veterans train for new careers as they transitioned to civilian life. Many advocates believe that this influential legislation paved the path for prosperity of the 1950s. While this edition of the GI Bill eventually expired, it has since been followed by a variety of similar opportunities that encourage veterans to seek high-level educational training.
Currently, one of the most relevant versions of this program is known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Originally referred to as the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act when it was passed in 2008, this bill aims to shape the professional trajectory and personal lives of modern veterans, much like its predecessor did for World War II veterans. It has already made a huge difference for many hardworking veterans — and it remains a valuable source of support for those who have given so much of themselves for the sake of their nation.
What Can the GI Bill Be Used For?
Good news for military personnel and veterans: the answer to the question "Does the military pay for college" is an unequivocal yes! That being said, there are strict limitations to how the GI Bill can be used. These must be taken into consideration when determining how to use available benefits.
From the beginning, the main purpose of the GI Bill has been to help veterans (and often, their loved ones) cover the costs of education and training so that they can more easily transition to civilian life. These days, several types of training are covered, with the intention of getting all types of veterans prepared for the civilian workforce, no matter their goals, scheduling complications, or geographic limitations. Types of training covered by the GI Bill include:
- College degree programs leading to associate's, bachelor's, and even master's degrees
- Non-degree vocational training, such as HVAC, truck driving, computer repair, or aviation mechanic programs
- Books, supplies, and housing while completing apprenticeships or on-the-job training
- Reimbursements for licensing, certification, and national testing
GI Bill Programs
Currently, most students who seek GI Bill benefits qualify under the previously mentioned Post-9/11 GI Bill. This is intended to assist those who have served on active duty following September 10, 2001, although dependent children can often use benefits transferred by qualifying service members or veterans. Additionally, members of the Reserve who have lost benefits following the end of the Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP) may qualify for restored benefits with the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
In addition to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, service members or veterans may secure assistance through these important programs:
- Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) - Meant for those who were honorably discharged after serving for at least two years on active duty, the MGIB-AD program offers up to 36 months of educational benefits. This differs from the Post-9/11 GI Bill, however, in that it involves a buy-in requirement and involves stricter expiration terms.
- Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) - Similar to the MGIB-AD program, this option provides up to 36 months of benefits for eligible reservists. Eligibility is only possible with a six-year service obligation to the Selected Reserve. What's more, it's necessary to complete the initial active duty for training and remain in good standing with active Selected Reserve units. Eligibility can be extended for those called to active duty.
- Yellow Ribbon Program - While the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides wonderful opportunities to pursue training and higher education, these can still be limited for students seeking enrollment with certain private or out-of-state programs. The Yellow Ribbon Program seeks to bridge this gap by encouraging colleges to enter into agreements with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Typically, this means that, if a particular college waives a certain amount of its standard tuition, the VA matches this to further reduce the student's total bill. Schools can limit the amount waived and the number of students accepted, so check with the financial aid department to verify availability and eligibility.
- Tuition Assistance Top-Up - When college costs exceed GI benefits, the remainder (or a portion thereof) can sometimes be covered through the Tuition Assistance Top-Up program. Available to those who are eligible for benefits through the MGIB-AD program or the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Top-Up program covers the difference between what's paid by DoD Tuition Assistance and the actual cost of tuition. This can be used alongside the Post-9/11 GI bill, but you'll want to chat with certifying officials to clarify where and how various types of benefits will come into play.
How to Use GI Bill for College
While the GI Bill provides access to many types of training and benefits, its predominant use involves tuition assistance. Specific payment amounts are determined based on the number of classes attended and the amount of time spent in those classes. Payments are typically issued after each month's classes and, with the Post-9/11 GI, these are paid directly to the college at which these classes were taken.
In addition to covering tuition, the GI Bill can also be used to pay for several other expenses related to attending college. These include housing allowances (paid at the end of the month) and money for textbooks and other materials (provided at the beginning of the term). This may be calculated based on the location of the program, although there is a standard rate when courses are completed exclusively online.
How to Apply for GI Bill Benefits
You have determined that you are eligible for the GI Bill and that you want to make the most of this opportunity as you seek additional training or a college degree. This decision spells an exciting start to your academic journey, but there will be much more effort needed along the way.
To start, you will need to navigate a frustratingly complex application process so you can qualify for benefits. The time dedicated to applying will more than pay off, plus, there are plenty of helpful resources to guide you through this process. Follow these key steps to get started:
1. Apply for Eligibility
If you have examined the criteria highlighted above and determined that you are eligible for one of the GI Bill's many programs, you can move forward with your application. Begin by gathering relevant documents and details to verify your eligibility. These include:
- Bank account information (including direct deposit details)
- Social Security number
- Educational background
- Military history
- Details about the college or training program you hope to attend
2. Obtain Your Eligibility Certificate
To proceed with the GI Bill, you will need documentation from the VA. Known as the Certificate of Eligibility, this verifies that you qualify for tuition coverage, as well as provides insight into the extent of those benefits and any limitations you may need to keep in mind.
Your Certificate of Eligibility will not be available until you have successfully applied for the GI Bill. To view it or obtain a copy, visit the official VA website. Create an account if you haven't already or be prepared to sign in with the self-service DS Logon.
Be patient, as it typically takes the VA around 30 days to process education claims. If you receive a favorable decision, it will be sent in the mail, but you also have the ability to download the letter online.
3. Review Benefits You Can Receive
The GI Bill Statement of Benefits is an important resource that you should continually examine throughout your college journey. This document will reveal whether you have benefits in the first place and, if so, will explain the funds you have available for your education as well as when you need to use them. Keep in mind that this statement will not be available until the VA has finished processing your application.
4. Submit Certificate of Eligibility to School
Once you are thoroughly familiar with available benefits and are confident in your ability to cover tuition, housing, and other costs through the GI Bill, the final step involves submitting your Certificate of Eligibility to your preferred college.
In some cases, colleges will request that your Certificate of Eligibility is accompanied by the DD214 — the Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty. This is simply used as proof of your military service, including a summary of when you served, the type of discharge, and any commendations you may have received along the way.
Transferring Your Benefits
While the GI Bill is primarily intended for service members and veterans, it can also prove beneficial for family members. There are a few limited opportunities to transfer your benefits to your spouse or dependent child. This is worth taking advantage of if you have unused benefits and you believe that your loved ones could benefit from college-level training.
Spouse and Children Benefits
With the Post-9/11 GI Bill, select transfers of benefits are possible upon completing six years of service and agreeing to an additional four years. These service requirements can be waived for those who have earned Purple Hearts.
To qualify for transferred benefits, the person receiving those benefits must be involved in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). From there, the Transfer of Education Benefits (TEB) form must be completed. If approved, up to 36 months of benefits can be transferred. Additionally, children may be eligible for a stipend, with spouses and children also given coverage for necessary books and supplies.
Take the Next Step with Lindenwood Online!
Ready to take the next step in your civilian career? Look to Lindenwood Online for excellent training. We offer a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs for students from all walks of life. Designated as a Military-Friendly School, we are proud to support military personnel and veterans. Reach out today to learn more.