College Advice Blog

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Jan 24, 2013

Understanding the GI Bill

ArmyThere are many good reasons for joining the military. The honor of serving your country and the pride that comes from protecting freedom are just two of the many reasons why thousands of people head to their local recruiting office each year.

The opportunity to get an education is another major reason why many young people enlist in the armed services — both in the field, through military training and exercises, and post-service, at colleges and universities; in fact, if it weren’t for the money for college earned via military service, some people might not have the means to earn a degree.

The major program providing money for veteran’s education is commonly known as the GI Bill. Although most people know the bill provides money to cover the costs of education, few realize that there are several different bills. Each offers a different type of benefit, and it’s important to understand the intricacies of each to ensure you get the best benefit for you.


Montgomery GI Bill Programs

There are three different types of Montgomery GI Bills — the Active Duty, Selected Reserve and Post-9/11 bills. Under the Active Duty GI Bill, service members who have served for at least 90 days in active duty and have not been dishonorably discharged qualify for these benefits. These benefits provide up to 36 months of educational funding for up to ten years after you leave active duty.

The Selected Reserve Montgomery GI Bill provides educational benefits for those who enlist but never serve in active duty. By enlisting in the Reserves and agreeing to a six-year commitment, you’re eligible for up to 36 months of educational assistance.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill will pay 100 percent of the tuition and fees, plus a housing and book allowance, to those soldiers who enlisted and served for at least 90 days after September 11, 2001. Unlike the traditional GI bills, which can be used for job training or certification courses, the Post-9/11 bill can only be used to pay for programs at traditional colleges and universities.

 

Choosing a GI Bill

Although the differences between the different GI bills may be subtle, choosing the right program can make a major difference in your out-of-pocket costs for your education. There are several factors to consider when choosing the right assistance program for you.

First, the type of training you plan to seek determines the type of bill you’re eligible for. The Post-9/11 Bill, for example, is only applicable to a traditional degree program at a college or university. The Montgomery GI Bills, though, can be used at a college or for non-college-degree programs, on-the-job training, apprenticeship programs, certificate programs or flight training.

Each bill also differs in the level of benefits it offers. Under the Post-9/11 Bill, your tuition and fees will be paid directly to the school, and you’ll receive a stipend to cover your expenses while you’re in school. The exact amount you receive is based on a percentage of the maximum benefit that you earn according to your length of service.

With the Montgomery bills, however, you earn a benefit based on the educational program and your attendance. The benefit is paid directly to you, and you’re responsible for making the tuition payments to the school yourself.

Because you may qualify for more than one GI program, it’s important to talk with an advisor to explore your options before choosing a program. In some cases, you may be able to extend your benefit by up to 12 months, for example, if you exhaust all of the funding under the Montgomery Bill and meet specific criteria.

Also, keep in mind that your benefits have a limited life span. Under the Post-9/11 Bill, for example, you can only claim benefits for up to 15 years; under the Montgomery Active Duty Bill, you only have 10 years to claim benefits, and Selected Reserve benefits expire when you leave duty.

Navigating the complex array of military educational benefits requires that you have a plan and a good deal of information; however, when you combine your GI benefits with scholarships for veterans and other sources of funding, you could earn your college degree for little to no cost.

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About the Author
Christina Parkhill earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational leadership, which was partially paid for thanks to military-dependent benefits. She works as an admissions counselor for a state university and helps hundreds of students achieve their educational goals.
 

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