Transitioning from the military to the private sector can be a challenge. But many service members find that going to college helps ease the transition because it helps set them on the right course for a new career. And luckily there are some excellent tuition assistance programs that help veterans and their families pay for school.

Whether you are a veteran who wants to use the skills you gained in the military for a new career or a dependent of a veteran who is ready to get your degree, you will find some excellent tuition assistance programs on our list. Are you prepared to change your life by getting a college degree?

Why Go to College?

The Pew Research Center published a study that looked at the income levels of Millennials ages 25 to 32 to determine the impact of a college degree in their lives. What they found should make you sit up and take notice. Going to college will significantly improve your financial life.

The study found that college graduates earn $17,500 more than those with a high school education or some college. The rate of employment between the two groups is significant. High school graduates experience a 12.2 percent unemployment rate, while college graduates only have a 3.8 rate of employment.

Those with some college or a two-year degree have an 8.1 unemployment rate. And to highlight the importance of college even further, the same study shows that while only 3.8 percent of college graduates live in poverty, an astounding 21.8 percent of high school graduates do. Can you see why it’s important to learn about the tuition assistance programs that will enable you to join the ranks of college graduates? But before you apply for tuition assistance, you will need to choose a school.

How to choose a school

Before we talk about the tuition assistance available to veterans and their families, let’s talk about how to choose the right school for you or your family. Deciding which college you will attend is one of the most important decisions you will make, and it pays to approach the task with a plan.

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Start by thinking about your skills and interests. As a veteran, you have access to CareerScope, which is a self-administered aptitude test you can use to determine which field of study is best for you. Once you determine your best area to study, you should then use My Next Move for Vets. This tool allows you to search for occupations in your field of study.

Finally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics offers an Occupational Outlook Handbook you can use to search the projected demand for the career.

Once you have narrowed down your career choice, it’s time to choose your school. Start by locating the schools that offer the career training you need. If you want to attend a veteran-friendly school, Veteran’s Magazine provides a handy list. Many of these school are familiar with the various tuition assistance programs.

You will need to decide between a two-year community college, a four-year university, or a combination of the two. You can also choose between a public school and a private one.

Seven Tuition Assistance Programs for Veterans and Their Families

Are you ready to learn about the many tuition assistance programs for veterans and their families? Here are seven diverse programs to choose from.

Tuition assistance through the GI Bill

The GI Bill has a few variations, depending on when you served. Here are your options.

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The Montgomery GI Bill

If you served between 1985 and 2011, you signed up for the Montgomery GI Bill. Under this bill, you contributed $100 a month for a total of one year. That entitled you to 36 months of the Montgomery GI Bill. The Bill pays a flat rate for the school year but does not help with books, housing allowance, or any tuition costs over and above the flat rate.

Unfortunately, the Bill is only good for ten years after your Expiration of Terms of Service (ETS) date. If you are still serving or served after 9/11, you can still use the Bill. That means for many the time has passed to use this tuition assistance program. If you are eligible to use the Montgomery GI Bill, you should complete the VA-1990 form to apply for benefits.

Post-911 GI Bill

If you served 36 months or more after 9/11, you are eligible for this Post-911 GI bill in full. If you served less time, the VA will prorate the Bill. The Bill offers more benefits than the previous GI Bill. It not only pays all tuition costs for an in-state student going to a private or foreign school, but it also gives you a housing allowance. This housing allowance is equivalent to an E-5 BAH in the zip code of the school you attend. Even if you attend school online, you will receive a housing allowance that is equal to half of the national average for an E-5.

But if you only carry a half or less than a full load, you will not receive a housing allowance. If you want to use this GI Bill for your tuition assistance program, you should complete the same VA-1990 form. In some instances, you can transfer your Post-911 GI Bill benefits to your spouse or dependents.

VFW student veteran support

According to their website, the VFW has been supporting veterans for more than a century and were instrumental in passing the first GI Bill. Their goal is to help support veterans and give them the knowledge and resources needed to complete their educational goals.

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The VFW student veteran support provides cash incentives to veteran students who enroll in college. The organization contributes $5,000 per student (one per family) that goes towards tuition assistance and fees. It pays the tuition directly to the college.

To qualify for this tuition assistance, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a citizen of the U.S.
  • Be a retired, honorably discharged, active duty, or a member of the Reserve or National Guard
  • Completed basic training and follow-on training
  • Currently hold a rank of E-5 or below or were separated with the same rank
  • Need financial assistance — and can demonstrate it
  • Enroll in a VA-approved school or program at an accredited post-secondary school

FAFSA and the Pell Grant for tuition assistance

Pell grants are available to the general public, but there are special Pell Grant programs only available to some dependents. To apply for a general Pell Grant, you should first go online and fill out the FAFSA application that allows you to apply for federal aid. Currently, the maximum amount you can get is $6,095 a year. The amount you receive will depend on the following factors:

  • Whether you go to school part-time or full-time
  • The cost of attendance
  • Your long-term enrollment plans
  • The amount of money your family will contribute to your tuition

If your parent died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11, you are eligible for even more tuition assistance. You are qualified to receive this additional aid if you were 24 years old or less at the time of your parent’s death, and had already enrolled in school at least part-time. If you are enrolled less than part-time, you may still receive benefits, but they will be adjusted downward.

Under this grant, your family contribution is zero, which will increase your Pell Grant tuition assistance. And if you don’t qualify for a Pell Grant, you may receive an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, which is the same amount as a Pell Grant.

Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP)

This tuition assistance program is available to veterans who contributed towards it from 1977 to 1985. In addition, you must have opened your VEAP account and contributed toward it before April 1, 1987. You should have put in at least $25 — or the maximum contribution allowed of $2,700. If you received a dishonorable discharge, you are not qualified for the program.

If you are qualified, the tuition assistance program will match your college contributions two to one. In other words, for every dollar you contrite to your education, the VEAP program will contribute two. The amount you contributed will determine how many months of tuition assistance you receive. And like most veteran tuition assistance programs, you have ten years after separation to use it. But if you don’t, you can ask for a refund of the funds you contributed.

Here are the types of educational studies this tuition assistance program helps pay for:

  • Undergraduate and graduate degree programs
  • Flight training
  • Technical or vocational courses
  • Correspondence training
  • Entrepreneurship training
  • Test fees
  • Co-op training
  • Courses required to attend certain colleges
  • Refresher courses
  • Remedial courses

Scholarships for veterans and their families

Everyone loves scholarships, but did you know that there are scholarships that are exclusively for veterans and their dependents? And that’s true no matter which branch of the military you serve in.

Here are just a few of the scholarship opportunities that could bring some much-needed tuition assistance. If you are a veteran who wants to pursue a post-residency, post-masters, or post-doctoral degree in the healthcare field, you can apply for an Advanced Fellowships and Professional Development Scholarship.

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For those who want to extend their service in the military and work in higher education or national security affairs, you may be eligible for a Bowen Awards Scholarship. If language is your field of study, and you enroll in The National Flagship, you could qualify for a Bowen Scholarship related to languages.

Children of a military service member enrolled in school can apply for 1 of 500 scholarships of $500. The Fisher House Foundation offers this tuition assistance program. If you are a military spouse pursuing a license, certification, or associates degree, you may be eligible for a scholarship from the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship Program.

Also, if you would like to search for more tuition assistance scholarships for veterans and their families, you can conduct a customized search online.

State aid for veterans

Some states offer tuition assistance in the form of a free college education for veterans. Every state has different requirements for qualification, but most of them require that you had an honorable discharge and served some time in active duty. Others require that you served in specific areas and some require that you use your GI Bill to qualify for the free tuition assistance.

Here is a list of some states that offer free tuition assistance for veterans or (in some cases) their families:

  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Illinois
  • Texas
  • Indiana
  • Massachusetts
  • Montana
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • South Dakota
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Work-study programs and tuition assistance

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If you take advantage of certain tuition assistance programs, the VA may enroll you in a work-study program that pays you while you pursue your education. Students given priority in this program have a disability, live close enough to commute, and can complete the job assignment before their education eligibility runs out.

Tax benefits

As if the tuition assistance programs for veterans weren’t enough, you will also have some tax advantages when using them. Any payments you receive from the Department of Veteran’s Affairs are not taxable. That means if you receive tuition assistance and Basic Housing Allowance to go back to school, you will not have to claim that income on your taxes.

In addition to the tax-free tuition assistance, you will be able to claim an American Opportunity Credit on your tax return.

Tuition Assistance Provides an Education for All

As the research shows, college is an important part of living your best life. And being a veteran — or the dependent of one — gives you certain opportunities that civilians don’t have. If you’re thinking about going back to school, why not check out some of the tuition assistance programs we listed above and see if you qualify?

Are you thinking about going back to school? Or have you already become the journey? If you used tuition assistance to programs, we would love to hear about your experiences in the comments below!

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