Educational opportunities offered through military service

One of the largest monetary benefits of serving your country in the military is assistance with already-accumulated student loans and financial coverage for new educational endeavors. The amount of help you are eligible for varies widely, based on the type and length of service you’ve completed, or are in the midst of completing.

Just don’t leave all those earned benefits on the table. If you are considering military service, make sure you speak with your recruiter early on about what tuition assistance programs you’ll be eligible for. If you are in the midst of your service, get educated now – you might have already accumulated school credits you weren’t even aware of having.

The following is a starting list of all of the educational opportunities offered through service in the United States military.

Tuition assistance. Each branch of the military offers tuition assistance programs intended to cover a portion or the entirety of a servicemembers tuition costs for a degree or professional certificate offered by accredited colleges, universities and technical schools. The maximum coverage currently stands at $250 per credit hour, up to no more than $4,500 per fiscal year for active-duty servicemembers. The benefits may vary for reserve and National Guard units.

Other restrictions may include a minimum amount of time left on a servicemember’s contract and the type of courses desired. For example, if a bachelor’s degree has already been earned, reimbursement may not be received for a second one.

Post-9/11 GI Bill. Education benefits provided by the Post-911 GI Bill apply to servicemembers who have completed at least 90 days of active duty since Sept. 10, 2001. The amount of benefits offered depends on the number of active-duty days served, potentially bridging the gap between benefits offered to active-duty servicemembers and those for National Guard or reserve members.

Some of the benefits you could be eligible for include 100 percent coverage of tuition and fees paid directly to a state-operated college or university on your behalf, a monthly living stipend based on your school’s zip code, an annual book and supply stipend, a one-time relocation allowance, and the ability to transfer GI Bill benefits to a spouse or eligible dependent.

Montgomery GI Bill. While both the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Montgomery GI Bill help servicemembers with education costs, the amount of payout and how it is paid are vastly different. The eligibility requirements for the Montgomery GI Bill are more complicated and situation-specific than the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If you do qualify, the 2014 benefit rates (which went into effect last October) are $1,684 monthly for a full time student. Servicemembers could be eligible to receive this benefit for up to 36 months. Under this program, students pay their institution directly.

Student loan repayment. If you racked up a substantial amount of student loan debt before entering into the military, you may be eligible for student loan repayment or forgiveness depending on your qualifications and promised commitment. For instance, the Army will repay up to $65,000 of your student loan debt if the following criteria apply: you decline the Montgomery GI Bill, you have loan repayment written into your enlistment contract, you have a score of at least 50 on the ASVAB, and you agree to enter into a specific military occupational specialty (plus a few other requirements).

The amount and scope of repayment varies for each branch of the military. It’s essential to ask what you would need to do to qualify before enlisting, especially since we know that the impact of even one late student loan payment can be significant.

Receive college credit while serving. Did you know that you could be earning credit for school while completing the requirements of your military service? Thanks to the American Council on Education and the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Support program, you can apply your military service toward school credit hours. Many times the credit will be used to fulfill elective requirements, although that choice is ultimately up to the school you choose to receive your degree from. (It’s important to note that not all schools will accept this type of credit. Make sure you shop around and ask questions.)

Each branch of the service uses different systems to keep track of military training, experience and test scores. In addition, the College-Level Examination Program allows servicemembers to earn college credit by taking any of the 33 introductory-level college subject tests and receiving a satisfactory score. Nearly 3,000 colleges around the country accept the tests for college credit.

Military college. If you have a strong sense of commitment to both your education and military service, you might want to consider attending one of the prestigious U.S. service academies: United States Naval Academy, United States Military Academy, United States Air Force Academy, United States Coast Guard Academy, or the United States Merchant Marine Academy.

Agreeing to a military service requirement of four to six years post graduation will not only get you a tuition-free degree, you’ll even be paid a small salary while attending school. Be aware, however, that the admissions process is rigorous and the expectations of any academy attendee is nothing like any traditional college or university.