Under the GI Bills and other programs, active duty and veteran service members can receive financial assistance for getting an education, whether through traditional means or through online schools. However, not all schools accept veterans' benefits, so prospective military students will want to focus on military-friendly colleges that do.
The Veterans' Administration provides a search tool that will tell you which schools accept veterans' benefits.
These benefit programs allow current and former military service members to pursue accredited associate, bachelor's, and master's degrees in all subjects — as well as certificates and vocational training — on a full- or part-time basis. Funding may also be used for continuing education courses needed to maintain professional certification or licensure.
Not only does the government offer assistance with tuition costs, it may also provide funding for school supplies and other expenses, including fees for college entrance exams, such as the SAT, ACT, GMAT, or LSAT, and certification exams. Many service members are eligible for housing stipends — known as the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) — as well, although these stipends are reduced by half if the student is pursuing an online degree.
It's important to note, however, that there are caps on how much money the government will provide. For example, the current maximum amount of annual tuition at a private school that is reimbursable under the Post-9/11 GI Bill is over $26,000. This will not be enough to cover the annual tuition costs at many of the more prestigious private universities, such as Ivy League schools. If students wish to attend schools like Harvard, Princeton, and Columbia, they may need to apply for additional federal financial aid and other sources of college funding.
Enacted during World War II and administered by the Veterans' Administration, the original Montgomery GI Bill was established to encourage veterans to go to college or pursue formal job training. The terms have been revised and updated over time, and an additional program, known as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, was signed into law in 2008. Today, some veterans are eligible for benefits under just one of these bills, while others are eligible under either one. Active duty military personnel, reservists, and National Guard members may also be eligible for GI Bill funding. Benefits typically cover tuition, books, housing, and other expenses.
Your eligibility for benefits under either GI Bill, as well as the amount of benefits, depend on when and how long you served. In general, if you have served on active duty for at least 90 days since September 10, 2001, and you received an honorable discharge, you are eligible for benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Veterans who have served for more than three years, received a Purple Heart, or served for less time but were discharged due to a service-related disability are all entitled to 100% of the available benefits. Veterans should contact the VA directly to determine their exact benefits before applying to online military-friendly universities or trade schools.
If you are eligible for GI Bill benefits, you'll find you have many options for pursuing an education at a military-friendly college. You can study full-time or part-time at online schools or on traditional college campuses, and you can enroll in an associate, bachelor's, master's, or certificate program in any subject you choose.
If you are eligible for either the Montgomery or Post-9/11 benefits, you may want to consult with a VA advisor. Both programs are complex, yet distinctly different, and you may want to get input from an informed advisor before determining which one best fits your plans and goals. You can only use one at a time, and you cannot switch once you've made your choice.
Active duty, National Guard, and Reserve service members are also eligible for the Department of Defense Tuition Assistance (TA) program. As with the GI Bill programs, service members must meet certain requirements to be eligible for TA.
Here's what you need to know about the TA program:
- Benefits can be used at accredited online and bricks-and-mortar schools for courses leading to academic or technical degrees or certificates.
- The program covers up to 100% of tuition expenses and course fees at schools charging a maximum of $250 per credit hour.
- TA can only be used while you are still on active duty, although you can use it in conjunction with any GI Bill benefits you may be eligible for.
Additional Funding Through Yellow Ribbon Schools
Due to the limits on how much funding is available, some military students may find they face a gap between their military benefits and the total cost of attending their school and program of choice. To address this issue, many military-friendly colleges participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Yellow Ribbon schools provide additional benefits to military students that may include tuition discounts and scholarships in varying amounts, depending on the school. Military students may also be eligible for federal financial aid, such as Pell grants, state-sponsored scholarships, and school-funded grants and scholarships.