You’ve survived the military and all its joys — there’s only a hint of sarcasm in that — and now you’re ready to tackle your next challenge: College.
Or maybe it isn’t you but your spouse or — gulp — your oldest child is about to graduate from high school. Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place. Dependants deserve a financial break, too, and we’re here to make sure everyone avoids stumbling directionless while navigating looming college costs.
Also, there are other educational resources available that will help introduce you back to the classroom or even pay off student loan debt from past classes. Read on to make sure you’re getting everything you can for your education.
- Military Tuition Assistance
Do you still have a few years left of active duty status? Military Tuition Assistance (TA) is a program that operates outside of the GI Bill. It’s also only for active duty personnel.
If there are classes you’d like to take that would also benefit your military career, the military will provide assistance as long as you sign up for classes during off-duty time. Each branch of the service has its own requirements, so check out their site for details.
- Federal Student Aid
Yes, your military credentials make you a special snowflake when it comes to government assistance. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still apply for other standard forms of government aid. Fill in your Free Application for Federal Student Aid, aka FAFSA. You’ll have to do this when you apply to a college anyway, and see what other sort of aid the government offers.
The FAFSA used to be a huge headache, but if you pay your taxes online, the FAFSA program often can just pull in your tax info — it’ll walk you through the process. One more reason to learn to pay your own taxes — like an adult! This program will pair you up with any additional grants and loans if your income is within certain constraints.
Did you know there’s a scholarship for people under 4’11”? There are also scholarships for the left-handed and for unicycling. Know what that means? Yes. Absolutely. It’s time to learn to ride a unicycle!
Seriously, though, do your research on military-specific scholarships. A lot of people gloss over this because of the GI Bill, but remember the GI Bill might not meet all your financial needs. This goes for dependants as well.
Start simple with a Google search cross-referencing “military scholarships” with the field you’d like to go into. For example, complete with quotes, type “military scholarships” “teacher” and see what happens.
- Yellow Ribbon Program
A part of the GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program helps veterans pay the higher cost of private colleges and graduate programs that exceed the state tuition cap. This program is only for those who were on active duty for 36 months or more after 9/11.
The big catch with this is not all schools participate, and colleges can only offer Yellow Ribbon participation to a certain number of students. You cannot be active at the time of participation, and spouses cannot apply. Get those applications in early to make the cut.
- Military Friendly Colleges
Step one: Don’t just go to college — go to a military friendly college. Yes, they’re a real thing and it does make a difference.
Military friendly colleges have at least one admissions officer or counselor on staff who understands how to work with the GI Bill, which is kind of a big deal. They’ll also be more likely to accept things like training credits and other forms of military experience as college credit. All around, a military-friendly college is a huge form of financial relief.
You’ll also find a larger population of students you’ll be able to relate to. I don’t mean to knock the traditional college-age kids, but we both know you’ll have an easier time making friends if there are other students with a military background. Or at least over the age of 21.
Thinking about transferring your military leadership skills to the classroom? This program is perfect for you. Troops-to-Teachers (TTT) is a Department of Defense program that will help service members choose certification programs. TTT focuses on placing graduates in “high-need” schools, which often means low-income students.
There is funding and financial assistance available, but the biggest bonus with this program is they provide employment assistance once you graduate.
- Veterans Upward Bound Program
Navigated the Rumaila oil fields of Iraq, but nervous about the classroom? Don’t worry, calculus scares me, too. But that’s where the Veterans Upward Bound Program will step in and point you in the right direction.
This Upward Bound Program will help you feel comfortable with your math and science skills before you make the leap into post-secondary education. Instead of stressing over how much algebra you remember from high school — alga-what? — call this program for a bit of backup.
- Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society
Obviously, this society won’t help out everyone, but the Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society will try to assist veterans and active-duty dependants. They do offer grants, but they also have interest-free loan programs for two- and four-year colleges, too.
- Veterans Student Loan Relief Fund
Reading up on military resources a little late in the game? This fund might be for you. If you served in Afghanistan or Iraq and already took your college courses, the Veterans Student Loan Relief Fund is meant to help you pay off loans.
Yes, finally, student loan relief! These guys will help you pay the bills if you’ve really racked up debt, but only up to $5,000. Still, $5k is $5k! Although, since not everyone qualifies, you’ll have to fill in a questionnaire to get started.
- American Council on Education
What if you didn’t have to take every course in a chosen degree program? You’ve worked your tail off for years, and you’ve got more experience than some 18-year-old college freshman. That’s where the American Council on Education (ACE) has your back.
The ACE evaluates military training via military transcripts and recommends college credit to universities.
Colleges generally don’t automatically check on this sort of credit transfer, though. As nice as your admissions officer might seem, ultimately, the college just wants your money. Huzzah, big business! So make sure you push to have your military transcript evaluated.
Research each of the above resources to make sure you aren’t missing an opportunity to cut costs and enjoy your military to college transition. Even for someone as salty as you, college should be a blast, not a burden.