Key takeaways

  • Some veterans are eligible for tuition aid via the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills.
  • As a veteran, you may also qualify for discounted or free tuition, depending on where you live.
  • You can also apply for a scholarship geared toward veterans to cover some or all your education expenses.
  • Another option for veterans is federal and private student loans.

If you’re a veteran considering getting a college degree to expand your knowledge or career opportunities, you might wonder how you can afford it. After all, college is expensive. Fortunately, you can lower your college-related costs as a veteran in many ways.

As a veteran, you have financial aid options that are unavailable to other students. Here are some options that can help you afford college as a veteran.

Paying for college as a veteran

As a veteran, you have financial aid options that aren’t available to other students. Look into all your options to make college as affordable as possible.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

If you were an active service member for at least 90 days after 9/11, received a Purple Heart and were honorably discharged after 9/11 or served for at least 30 continuous days and were honorably discharged after 9/11, you could qualify for higher education benefits through the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

Offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the bill provides monetary benefits for up to 36 to 48 months for the following expenses:

  • Tuition and fees: You may qualify for up to the full cost of public, in-state tuition and fees. Rates are capped for private or foreign schools.
  • Housing: If you’re in school at least half time, you can receive housing funds based on the average cost of living where your school is located.
  • Books and supplies: You can receive up to $1,000 per year for course materials and supplies.
  • Relocation: If you live in a county with six people or fewer per square mile and you’re moving at least 500 miles to go to college or have to fly by plane to your new location, you’re eligible to receive a one-time payment of $500.

The amount you receive depends on how many months you served on active duty and other factors. You’re eligible for 100 percent of the bill benefits if you meet one of the following criteria:

  • You served on active duty and were awarded a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001.
  • You were discharged for a service-related disability after serving on active duty at least 30 continuous days.
  • You served on active duty for at least 36 months.

If you don’t meet these requirements, the percentage of how much you’re eligible to receive depends on how long you served on active duty. You can apply for the GI Bill on the VA’s website, by mail, in person at a VA regional office or with the help of a VA representative.

Montgomery GI Bill

Another VA-provided aid option is the Montgomery GI Bill. This bill is split up into two sections: Active Duty and Selected Reserve (SR). Note that you can only use one GI Bill.

If you were honorably discharged and meet certain requirements, you might qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD). This program pays you directly each month.

How much aid you can receive from the MGIB-AD depends on your enrollment status.

  • Half-time student: $1,179 per month.
  • Three-quarter student: $1,768.50 per month.
  • Full-time student: $2,358 per month.

You’re eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) if you’re serving six years in the SR or you’re an officer in the SR who has agreed to serve six additional years. You must also meet all these eligibility requirements:

  • You’re in good standing with the SR.
  • You have a high school diploma or GED.
  • You have finished initial active-duty training.

The direct assistance amount you receive with MGIB-SR also depends on your enrollment status.

  • Less than half-time: $116.50 per month.
  • Half-time student: $233 per month.
  • Three-quarter student: $349 per month.
  • Full-time student: $466 per month.

Yellow Ribbon Program

If you qualify for 100 percent of the GI Bill benefits, you could be eligible for the VA’s Yellow Ribbon Program. This program covers expenses that the GI Bill doesn’t, like tuition and fees at a private or foreign school or the remaining tuition past the VA’s cap for attending a public school as an out-of-state student.

If you qualify, your school will contribute the award amount toward your tuition costs in the form of scholarships or grants. The VA will then match the school’s award money. Not all schools offer the Yellow Ribbon Program — to find out if your school has it, you can search for it on the VA’s database.

To apply for this program, you must first apply for the GI Bill. You can then apply through your school’s financial aid office or with a military liaison. Whether you qualify and how much you get depends on a few factors.

  • How many students are already enrolled in the program: Schools have a limited capacity for enrollment in the program. Enrollment is on a first-come, first-served basis, so apply as soon as possible at the start of the academic year.
  • Your tuition costs: Unlike with the GI Bill, your school decides how much aid you can receive. They’ll determine this by adding up your tuition and fees and subtracting any other financial aid you’ve received.

National Call to Service Program

The National Call to Service Program is a program you can choose over the Montgomery GI Bill if you meet certain eligibility requirements.

  • After completing initial entry training, you served for 15 additional months in a military occupation designated by the secretary of defense.
  • Next, without taking time off, you served an extra 24 months in active status, approved by the secretary of defense, in the SR.

Plus, you must have continued your service without a break in one of the following capacities:

  • Member of AmeriCorps or other approved national service program.
  • As an active duty member of the Armed Forces.
  • Member of the Individual Ready Reserve.
  • In Selected Reserve.

If you qualify, you can choose one of these benefits:

  • Repayment of one of your student loans up to $18,000.
  • A $5,000 bonus.
  • Aid up to 50% of your MGIB-AD rate for one year.
  • 50% of the under-three-year MGIB-AD rate for 36 months.

Veterans Educational Assistance Program

The Veterans Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) allows you to pay for school by matching your military pay. For every $1 you pay into the fund, the government matches it with $2 up to a maximum limit of $2,700.

That said, this program is not available to new service members. You can only qualify if you funded a VEAP account prior to 1987.

Tuition waivers and discounts

Many states offer tuition waivers and discounts for veterans, allowing you to save your VA program funding for advanced degree courses.

  • Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Montana, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Each state offers varying waiver amounts and has its own set of eligibility and application requirements. For application information, visit your state’s Veterans Affairs website or contact your school’s financial aid office.

Scholarships and grants

Scholarships and grants are a great way to fill the funding gaps after exhausting your VA and state higher education benefits. There are hundreds of scholarships and grants offered to veterans that are sponsored by federal, state and local governments, nonprofit organizations, private corporations and military associations.

First, you should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will give you an idea of any federal and state grants you qualify for. In your financial aid award letter, your college may also list institutional scholarships you qualify for.

However, you can also conduct your search for free funding. One of the best ways to find scholarships is through a scholarship search engine. Search engines can help you sift through millions of scholarships to find those tailored to veterans. You can also apply for scholarships specific to your degree, field of study, specific hobbies or niche interests.

Student loans for veterans

Student loans are a common form of financial aid that can cover educational expenses, like tuition, room and board, technology, books and supplies.

Federal student loans are offered by the U.S. Department of Education and should be the first place you turn if you’re interested in borrowing money. These loans are available through the FAFSA and come with low interest rates, many repayment plans and benefits specific to members of the military and veterans.

Private student loans, on the other hand, are available through online lenders, banks and credit unions. To qualify for most private loans, you need to be in good financial standing or have a co-signer who is. The interest rate you’re offered is based on your creditworthiness, so it’s best to shop around with a few lenders before applying. The main benefit of private loans is that these interest rates can be extremely low if you have good credit, and most don’t have borrowing limits.

If your credit isn’t in the best shape, and you need to opt for private loans, you’ll want to shop bad credit student loan rates to find the best deal for your finances. It will take some extra research, and these loans should be treated as a last resort.

Work-study programs

While work-study is available to many students who fill out the FAFSA, the VA offers its own work-study program for veterans. With veterans work-study, you get to work a VA-approved part-time job while attending school. You’ll earn an hourly wage — either the federal minimum or the state minimum, whichever is higher — and you can work a total number of hours up to 25 times the number of weeks in your enrollment period.

To qualify for the program, you must meet the following criteria:

  • Be enrolled at least three-quarter time in a college degree, vocational or professional program.
  • Have found an open job at a VA facility or in a VA-related role at your school.
  • Are able to fulfill the work-study requirements while you still qualify for education benefits.
  • Are enrolled in an approved VA education benefits program to help pay for your college degree. This could include the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program, the National Call to Service and more.

To apply for the program, fill out an Application for Work-Study Allowance (VA Form 22-8691). For more information about the program or application, contact your VA regional processing office.

The bottom line

As a veteran, you have unique financial aid opportunities that no other students have. That’s why it’s so important to first take advantage of the VA and school-sponsored programs available exclusively to you; not only will they have a smaller application pool, but they’re your best bet at significantly reducing higher education costs.

If you don’t qualify for these benefits, consider other types of aid, such as scholarships and grants. Once you’ve exhausted those options, investigate maxing out your federal loan eligibility. As a final choice, you can compare private student loans to fill in any funding gaps.