Approximately 1.3 million individuals currently serve in the U.S. armed forces, and 20 million veterans and retirees have concluded their service. Nearly one million current and former service members use education assistance programs administered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The number of service members and veterans using military benefits to seek higher education continues to grow, and more military members are enrolling in higher education than ever before.

There are many ways for individuals with a military background to finance their education. Options include tuition assistance programs, discounted tuition rates, and flexible payment options. Military-friendly colleges honor federal programs such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill® and the Montgomery GI Bill®. The Post-9/11 GI Bill assists active-duty military personnel who served after September 10, 2001, while the Montgomery GI Bill rewards both active-duty and inactive-duty personnel. These programs help students pay for a variety education-related expenses, including tuition and books.

The Importance of Military Status

The federal government offer various financial aid programs to military personnel and their families. Benefits such as tuition assistance, work-study, grants, and scholarships assist different students based on their service. Here’s a breakdown of different military statuses and how they relate to a student’s eligibility for education benefits.

Active-Duty Military

Active-duty personnel serve in the military on a full-time basis. They often live on base or in military housing. Active-duty personnel may be sent on deployment at any time. After 90 days of aggregate service, active-duty personnel can receive the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Montgomery GI Bill.

Inactive-Duty Military

Inactive-duty military may be deployed or called to service in times of need. However, they do not serve full-time. They may work for the reserves or National Guard. For instance, many experienced soldiers serve in the Individual Ready Reserve. Reserves have access to various education benefits, including tuition assistance, student loan repayment options, and the Montgomery GI Bill-Selected Reserve.

Discharged Military

Discharged military members have been released from their obligation to serve. Discharge is based on various factors, including exceptional performance, medical reasons, disability, and dishonorable or poor conduct. Many veteran education benefits assist those who receive an honorable discharge or a discharge under other than dishonorable circumstances. Options include the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill.

Retired/Veteran

Veterans are former members of the military who receive an honorable discharge after completing time in the service. Veterans include those who received a discharge due to disability. Retired service members are veterans who served in the military for a minimum of twenty years. Several educational benefits specifically assist veterans and retired military.

Government Benefits for Military Students

The Post-9/11 GI Bill®

Managed by the Veterans Benefits Administration, the Post-9/11 GI Bill assists service members who served after September, 10, 2001. The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers up to the full cost of tuition at the most expensive in-state public university in each student’s state of residence. Students can use this educational benefit to pay for college, on-the-job training, vocational training, licenses, and certifications. In addition to tuition, the Post-9/11 bill covers housing, books, supplies, tests, and tutorial assistance. Students may use the GI Bill for 36 months, which equates to approximately eight semesters.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill encompasses several other programs and benefits. For example, the Marine Gunnery John David Fry Scholarship Program helps children of veterans who died as a result of service on or after September 11, 2001. The Yellow Ribbon program helps students pay unmet tuition and fees associated with private and out-of-state military-friendly colleges. Yellow Ribbon schools volunteer to offer additional funding to students. The VA then matches these contributions. The Post-9/11 GI Bill also allows service members to transfer their benefits to their dependents, including a spouse or children.

To be eligible for the Post-9/11 Bill, military members must serve on active duty for a minimum of 90 aggregate days or receive an honorable discharge after 30 days. To be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon program, students must qualify for the maximum benefit rate under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Yellow Ribbon recipients cannot be on active duty. To apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon program, students must complete VA Form 22-1990. Applicants must submit their bank account numbers, social security numbers, detailed military background, and education history.

The Montgomery GI Bill®

The Montgomery GI Bill assists active-duty service members, reservists, and veterans. Students receive a monthly stipend that can help pay for tuition, books, housing, tutoring, or other educational costs. The Montgomery GI Bill assists students attending a military-friendly online college, on-campus university, vocational school, or training program. The program also covers certification tests and licensing fees.

Like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill helps students for up to 36 months. To qualify, students must serve on active duty for two years or agree to a six-year commitment with the Selected Reserve. Candidates should also hold a high school diploma or GED. Applicants must complete the VA Form 22-1990, submit bank account numbers and direct deposit information, describe their military background, detail their education history, and provide social security numbers.

Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges

Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) network includes approximately 1,900 military-friendly colleges and universities. Coordinated by Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support, SOC ensures service members can continue their education even when they move duty stations.

SOC schools feature reduced residency requirements for military students, simplified credit transfer policies, and flexible distance learning programs. SOC programs are available to members of the Army (SOCAD), Navy (SOCNAV), Marine Corps (SOCMAR), Coast Guard (SOCCOAST), and National Guard (SOCGuard). SOC also offers the ConAP program for Army and Army Reserve members. Through ConAP, students can select a college at the same time as they enlist in the service. The Air Force does not operate its own SOC program. However, Air Force members qualify for the Community College of the Air Force.

What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military-Friendly?

There are a number of important factors to take into consideration when searching for the best place to earn an accounting degree. All service members and veterans should choose a military-friendly college that accepts VA benefits. By attending a military-friendly school, students also gain access to funds, resources, and opportunities. Other benefits include:

Tuition Discounts for Military

Military students should look for schools that offer financial assistance and reduced tuition rates for service members, veterans, and their families. Look for a military-friendly college that does not impose a cap on the number of students who can receive financial aid.

Credit Opportunities

A military-friendly school should allow service members and veterans to receive credit for their time in the armed forces. Military students should choose schools that grant credits for work experience, training, and military service.

Financial Aid

Yellow Ribbon schools offer exceptional financial aid and assist with expenses not covered by the GI Bill. Other schools may offer special scholarships, grants, and work-study opportunities for veterans, dependents, and active-duty personnel.

On-Campus Benefits

Military-friendly colleges and universities host a strong military community and support network. Military students may receive on-campus benefits such as discounted housing, healthcare, counseling services, military student organizations, post-graduation job resources, and an extensive military alumni network.

Academic Programs

Many colleges and universities offer academic programs geared towards veterans and service members. For example, some schools offer a major in military history or military studies. A best-in-class military-friendly college offers semester-by-semester check-ins with military students to ensure they stay on track with their studies.

Flexibility

Military-friendly schools understand that service members must work around demanding schedules, deployments, and other obligations. Military students should choose schools that offer adjustable schedules, online and distance learning opportunities, and asynchronous classes. Students should have the opportunity to work with their counselors to resolve schedule conflicts. Many schools also offer flexible benefits; for example, some service members can transfer their benefits to dependents.

* 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 http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.