How to Utilize the GI Bill

Sage Crary
Sage Crary
Director of Financial Aid and Scholarships; pursuing an MS in Ethics and Religion
Army jacket on a chair in front of an American flag with a notebook, pencils, and diploma on a table.

If you served your country by being an active military member, there are a number of different financial aid sources you may qualify for as a result of your service, including the GI bill. Depending on your years of service, along with a variety of other factors, your benefits may vary. To get an estimate of your individual benefits and compare different programs, you can check the Department of Veterans Affairs.

What is the GI Bill and Who Qualifies? What Benefits are Available?

In general, there are two different types of Veterans Financial Aid/Educational benefits: the Post 9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill. A little known fact is that both of these programs can be used towards your graduate program if you qualify!

The Post 9/11 GI Bill is specifically for members who served at least 90 days of active duty service after September 10, 2001 and received an honorable discharge. The Post 9/11 Bill can cover up to 100% of your tuition costs and up to $1000 a month as a housing allowance while you are attending school. In order to qualify for the full 100% benefit, you would have to have completed 36 months of service, and the benefit amount is based on your public in-state tuition rate.

If you choose to attend a private college or university, the Post 9/11 benefits can still be used but may not always cover the full amount of tuition or fees depending on the cost of your program. The Post 9/11 Bill can also be transferred to either a spouse or a child upon request of the service member, so it’s possible if your parent or spouse served that you could qualify for this benefit. It is worth noting that if your military service ended prior to January 1, 2013, your benefits will expire after 15 years, and if your service ended after this date, your benefits will not expire.

Many schools also participate in the ‘Yellow Ribbon’ Program. This is an additional program between the VA and the participating schools wherein the school you are attending may cover the entire cost of your program even if your Post 9/11 benefits don’t cover the entire cost of tuition and fees. This not only means that you could not have any costs regardless of what the school may charge other students, but it also means that your benefits could last longer than they would have otherwise. To check to see if your school is a Yellow Ribbon school, check out the current list of participating schools.

Even if your service was prior to September 10, 2001, you may still qualify for the Montgomery GI Bill education benefits. The Montgomery GI Bill Benefits still cover your tuition and related fees, but they do not include a monthly housing allowance. As a Montgomery GI Bill recipient, as long as you served at least two years of active duty and have a high school diploma or GED, you could receive up to $61,000 in educational benefits towards tuition and fees. This amount will vary based on your service record and what type of degree and credentials you are pursuing. If you want to get an estimate of each of your benefits and compare them, the VA offers this helpful tool as well.

How to Apply for Your Benefits

The VA offers a number of different ways to apply for your education benefits: on the phone, by mail, or online. If you apply online, the process is usually faster. You can also work with a trained professional on your application process who can help you with any questions that you have along the way.

While the VA’s current average processing time is around 30 days from application to decision, it’s always best to apply as soon as possible. During peak periods it’s not uncommon for applications to take up to 2 months or longer. If you are applying for VA Education benefits, always notify the financial aid office at the school that you are planning to attend. This way they can assist you in the process and work with the VA on your behalf as needed.

If you are a child or spouse of someone who died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001, you may be eligible to use the GI Bill through the Marine Gunnery John David Fry Scholarship Program. If you qualify, you would be eligible for 100% of the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits for children between the ages of 18 and 22 and spouses who have not remarried for 15 years after the service member’s death.

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