Tips for Military Members Looking to Save on College Expenses

  • The GI Bill
  • Tuition Assistance
  • Scholarships
  • ACE Military Programs
  • Life Skills

Schools are making a strong effort to help active and former military members feel at home in the university environment, partially by demystifying the financial aid process. Here are five ways that service members can lower the cost of a college education.

Ranking: 30 Best Military-Friendly Colleges

1. The GI Bill

The reformed GI bill offers substantial savings for service members and their dependents. Anyone who served for at least 90 days following the 9/11 attacks can receive full tuition and fees. This money is limited to the cost of attendance at state universities, so it's capped at around $21,000 per year, according to CNBC. Veterans attending private colleges costing more than $21,000 per year will receive benefits up to that amount and must use other sources to pay the remainder of their costs.

2. Tuition Assistance

Many employers in the government and private sectors offer tuition assistance to employees. This can cover the cost of two to three classes per year, and sometimes has "clawback" requirements, meaning students must continue working for the company for a certain period after receiving the money. Because veterans leave the service with valuable job skills and an ability to work hard, it's easy for former military members to juggle courses and full-time employment. Service members can pick up on-campus jobs for convenience or head off campus for increased pay.

3. Scholarships

Universities are working harder than ever to support former service members heading back to school. Veterans' centers and organizations are popping up all over college campuses. Support also comes in the form of scholarships for veterans. Many schools offer small amounts through a variety of funds. Prospective students should ask financial aid officers about any scholarship funding for retired military members. Often, the officials can dig up a $500 or $1,000 scholarship earmarked for vets.

4. ACE Military Programs

Service members sit through a lot of training classes before starting work. These classes can translate into college credits, letting former military members graduate sooner than they thought possible. This is a great option for older veterans who don't want to take entry-level classes with eighteen-year-old classmates. The American Council on Education (ACE) has partnered with the U.S. Department of Defense since 1945. ACE also administers the Joint Services Transcript so veterans from all branches of the armed services can receive credit for trainings they attended during service.

5. Life Skills

One of the major factors driving the high cost of attendance is the behavior of young students. Repeatedly changing majors, failing classes because of partying or blowing student loan money on new clothes all lead to major debt after graduation. Veterans have the maturity and life experience to avoid these bad decisions. Many bases offer free personal finance classes so service members can learn the financial skills they need to succeed in life.

Military members looking to attend college classes should remember they're never alone. Most states and major cities offer service member community groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) or the Wounded Warrior Project. These organizations can provide support and personal advice to make higher education for service members feel like a more attainable goal.