Does the Military Pay for College? [2024 Guide]

By Dr. Brianna Anderson
Updated on February 16, 2024
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If you’re serving in the United States Armed Forces or are interested in joining, you may ask, “Does the military pay for college?”

Does the Military Pay for College

The military offers numerous financial aid programs to help members pursue a college education. You could use this support to advance your career in the armed forces or transition to a new role in civilian life.

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Read on to learn about military and army education benefits.

Does the Military Pay for College?

Military and army tuition assistance

The US government has many programs to help service members pay for college. Qualifying members can get tuition assistance, scholarships, and more.

You may be eligible for specific programs based on your affiliation. The military divides members into several categories, including:

  • Active duty. They work for the military full-time and often live on military bases. They typically commit to 8 years of service and can get deployed anytime.
  • Reserve. They work part-time for the armed forces and must attend training at least once a month. Reserve members usually join for 3 to 8 years.
  • Veteran. They served in the active military but have been discharged or released from duty.

Military and army tuition assistance helps all three types of members overcome financial challenges related to their service. For instance, active-duty members may have high housing costs, while training obligations can make it difficult for reservists to earn extra income.

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Going to college can help military members increase their earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for bachelor’s degree holders is $74,464. In comparison, the median annual earnings for those who only have a high school diploma is $44,356.

Active duty and reserve service members can use their college education to advance their careers in the army. You may qualify to become a military officer or get promoted to a more specialized role. Going to college can also help veterans transition into the workforce.

Overview of Military Educational Assistance Programs

Military Educational Assistance Programs

Enlisting in the military gives you access to various educational assistance programs. You can take advantage of some of these opportunities while on active duty.

Other programs provide aid to reservists and veterans. Military family members may also qualify for education benefits.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

The Post-9 11 GI Bill provides education benefits for veterans who served after September 10, 2001, and their dependent children. You may be eligible for this program if you meet one of these requirements:

  • Served at least 90 days on active duty
  • Received a Purple Heart
  • Served at least 30 days continuously and honorably discharged with a service-related disability

This program covers tuition and fees at public in-state colleges. You can also receive funding for housing, books, and supplies.

Yellow Ribbon Program

college students qualified for Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon Program pays for additional educational costs not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. You may qualify for this program if you meet one of these criteria, among others:

  • Served at least 36 months on active duty and honorably discharged
  • Received a Fry Scholarship
  • Are a spouse or child using the transferred benefits of a qualifying service member

This program can cover out-of-state and private tuition as well as other expenses that exceed the Post-9/11 GI Bill limits.

Montgomery GI Bill

The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty provides educational and training benefits for members who served at least 2 years of active duty and were honorably discharged.

The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve assists reservists who have agreed to serve 6 years. While the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays tuition benefits to the college, the Montgomery GI Bill sends a flat-rate check to the student. You can then use this money to pay for your education.

Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Scholarships

college student with Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) Scholarship

The Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) provides financial assistance for college students who plan to enlist after graduation.

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After earning a bachelor’s degree, participants join the armed forces as commissioned officers and must serve for 8 years. The ROTC program offers a scholarship covering either tuition and fees or room and board. You’ll also get a monthly stipend for housing and other expenses.

Military Service Academies

Military service academies don’t charge tuition or room and board, so students receive a free education. In exchange, students agree to work for the federal government for at least 5 years after graduation.

A military school education typically includes:

  • Coursework in the humanities and sciences
  • Physical fitness activities
  • Leadership experiences
  • Military training

Graduates can get commissioned as junior officers in the armed forces.

Military Tuition Assistance Program

student searching for Military Tuition Assistance Program online

The Military Tuition Assistance (TA) program offers financial aid for active-duty service members and reservists. Active-duty members must commit to 2 years of service, and reservists must agree to 4.

The TA program covers up to $250 per semester credit hour. You can receive a maximum of $4,500 in assistance annually, depending on your branch of service. Additionally, you can use TA alongside the Montgomery GI Bill, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and other resources.

Comparison with Civilian Financial Aid

Both military education benefits and traditional civilian financial aid can apply toward accredited colleges. Here are some comparisons between these two types of financial assistance.

Military Education Benefits Civilian Financial Aid
Source of funding
  • Funding primarily comes from government programs like the GI Bill and Tuition Assistance (TA).
  • Funding primarily comes from government agencies, schools, and private organizations.
Eligibility
  • Benefits are available to service members, veterans, and sometimes their families.
  • Eligibility can depend on service duration and branch.
  • Aid is available to any US citizen or eligible non-citizen with a high school education.
  • Eligibility is often determined based on residency, need, merit, or specific criteria.
Repayment terms
  • Benefits do not require repayment.
  • Loans require repayment with interest.
  • Grants and scholarships do not need to be repaid.
Flexibility and application
  • There’s often additional support for transitioning military personnel.
  • Benefit programs are highly structured, with specific eligibility and application guidelines.
  • Civilian aid offers a broad range of options with varying eligibility and application processes.

Some veterans use their military education benefits while also pursuing traditional financial aid options. According to the US Government Accountability Office, veterans receive more federal assistance overall compared to nonveterans. Veterans’ financial aid packages also rely less on loans, incorporating more grants and military benefits.

How to Secure Military Education Benefits

You can follow these steps to secure the military education benefits available to you:

  1. Determine your eligibility. Your service period, duty status, and branch can affect your eligibility.
  2. Gather necessary documents. Required documents usually include your education and military history and basic information about your prospective school.
  3. Apply online. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, you can apply for education benefits through their online application process.
  4. Wait for the Certificate of Eligibility (COE). A COE is necessary for your school’s financial office.
  5. Contact your school’s Veterans Affairs office. Once you have your COE, your school’s VA office can help you apply your benefits to your education costs.
  6. Maintain enrollment and academic standards. To keep receiving benefits, it’s necessary to maintain the academic standards set by your program and the VA.

While the process of securing them requires some paperwork and patience, military benefits can help support your educational journey.

Choosing the Right Program and School

According to Military OneSource, it’s strategic to research and consider how a college aligns with your military benefits and career aspirations. Here are some tips to guide your college search:

  • Research accreditation. The accreditation status of a school can impact the quality of your education and the respectability of your degree.
  • Understand how your benefits align. You can verify whether your military benefits are applicable for a specific program as well as how much of your educational costs will be covered.
  • Consider career services. Some schools offer career support services that cater specifically to service members and veterans.
  • Evaluate flexibility. Programs offering online or part-time learning can be beneficial if you’re balancing service commitments or other responsibilities.
  • Assess veteran community. A supportive veteran community could offer camaraderie and opportunities to study alongside those who understand your military experiences.
  • Explore transfer credit policies. Institutions that offer credit for military training can help shorten your path to graduation.

As you explore various options, it’s beneficial to consider how a prospective program or school meets your needs and supports your future.

Advantages of Funding Your Degree Through Service

Many ask, “What are the benefits of joining the military?” One major benefit of enlisting is that it provides a unique opportunity to blend military service with educational growth. Here are some advantages of funding your college degree through service.

Advantage Description
Comprehensive financial support Beyond traditional scholarships and grants, military benefits provide robust financial aid covering tuition, room, and board.
Earn while you learn Service members can receive stipends, helping you manage living costs and making higher education more accessible.
Academic credit for training Military training and experience may be converted into college credits, fast-tracking your journey to a degree.
Enhanced career prospects Building on your military experience with academic achievements could help you enter the job market with a competitive edge.

Among other benefits, enlisting in the military can help you fund your college education. With this combination of serving and studying, you could create a solid foundation for both personal and professional growth.

Challenges in Accessing Military Benefits and Balancing Education with Service

According to NCES, 43% of military undergraduates receive veterans’ education benefits. Accessing military benefits can sometimes come with challenges, though, such as the following:

  • Complex administrative processes. Navigating the bureaucratic procedures for benefits like the GI Bill or Tuition Assistance program can be complex and time-consuming, especially for those with limited access to resources.
  • Eligibility and obligations. Eligibility for these benefits often depends on factors like time in service, job performance, and academic qualifications. There can also be service obligations tied to the acceptance of certain benefits, which can impact long-term career planning.
  • Balancing military service and academic studies. Service members in college find ways to balance their military commitments with their academic responsibilities, which can require skills in time management and adaptability.

These challenges can be overcome with careful planning and an understanding of both military and educational systems. You might reach out to an advisor to help you navigate the process.

Loan Repayment and Forgiveness Programs for Service Members

The following are some of the loan repayment and forgiveness programs available to qualifying service members:

  • Military Loan Repayment Programs (LRPs). When joining the military, members can benefit from loan repayment aid for federal student loans. Each service branch provides unique terms for their respective LRP.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF). This program is for service members in certain public service jobs. PSLF forgives the remaining balance on Direct Loans after you make 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan.
  • Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the SCRA provides financial protection for active duty service members, including the reduction of interest rates on pre-service loans and debt to a maximum of 6%.
  • Health Professions Loan Repayment Program (HPLRP). For those serving in military medical positions, HPLRP offers significant student loan repayment options to help manage medical school debt.
  • Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge. Veterans who are totally and permanently disabled due to service may qualify for TPD discharge, which cancels their federal student loans.

With these options, you may find relief and support in managing your education debt.

How Much Does the Military Pay for College?

army tuition assistance

The amount of army tuition assistance varies by program. According to the Federal Register, the Post-9/11 GI Bill pays the total cost of tuition and fees at in-state public institutions.

The program also pays a maximum of $26,381.37 annually for students enrolled in private and foreign colleges. In addition, according to Military OneSource, the Military Tuition Assistance program pays a maximum of $250 per semester credit hour and up to $4,500 per fiscal year.

How Does the Military Pay for College?

The military offers many education benefits for eligible service members. Active-duty service members may qualify for the Military Tuition Assistance program. This initiative pays 100% of tuition expenses, with a cap of $250 per credit hour.

The Post 9/11 GI Bill covers up to 100% of tuition expenses for qualifying veterans, and it provides a maximum of $1,000 monthly for housing. Both the Military Tuition Assistance and Post 9/11 GI Bills pay colleges directly. Additionally, the Montgomery Bill pays a monthly flat rate directly to veterans to help cover their expenses.

How Can Military Training Be Translated Into College Credits?

Some schools allow your military training to translate into college credits, converting your service experiences and skills into academic achievements.

To award you with appropriate credits, colleges and universities evaluate your Joint Services Transcript (JST), which outlines your military coursework and experiences. This process acknowledges your rigorous training, honors your service, and allows you to fast-track your education.

As you prepare to transition into the civilian workforce, earning college credits for military training can also make higher education more affordable.

Can You Transfer Education Benefits to Family Members?

Yes, you can transfer education benefits to family members if you qualify. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, service members eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill have the opportunity to transfer unused education benefits to their immediate family members. This can include a spouse, children, or both.

Your eligibility to transfer education benefits depends on specific service requirements, including a minimum service period and a commitment to extend your service. It’s necessary for the Department of Defense to approve the Transfer of Education Benefits (TEB) request. In addition, the beneficiary must be enrolled in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS).

What Career Paths Open Up After Graduating with Service-Funded Education?

Here are some popular career fields that value both military experience and a college education:

  • Defense and government. Military experience is invaluable in roles involving security, defense, and public service.
  • Business and entrepreneurship. Skills in leadership and management are applicable in business ventures and corporate leadership.
  • Healthcare. Positions in medicine, nursing, or healthcare administration can benefit from discipline and teamwork.
  • Engineering and tech. Technical skills and problem-solving abilities can open doors in engineering, IT, and cybersecurity.
  • Education. Some veterans become teachers, trainers, or educational administrators.

A service-funded education can lead to a range of career paths aligned with your major.

Your Military Pathway Options to Higher Education

military student reading her college acceptance letter

Current or aspiring military members often ask, “Does the army pay for college?” Yes, the army as well as other military branches offer many opportunities for service members to earn a degree.

Service members can receive assistance at any stage of their military career. For example, the ROTC program allows college students to get aid if they agree to enroll in the future. Meanwhile, people who have already finished their military careers may qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

If you’re ready to take the next step on your academic and military journey, you can start by researching online programs from accredited schools.

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WRITTEN BY
Brianna has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Florida and an M.A. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her research interests include careers and professional development, digital pedagogy, and first-year writing.