Maximizing GI Bill® Benefits & Transfer of Benefits Using DANTES, the Yellow Ribbon Program, Scholarships & More

Post 9/11 GI Bill® benefits right now are the most generous in the history of the GI Bill®. With a maximum of 36 months of benefits that pays tuition, a book stipend and a monthly housing allowance, one would think it is enough to pay for a four-year college degree. And many times, it is.

But in other cases, it does not cover all the costs of going to college today. In this guide we look at several different ways students, who are either veterans or currently serving members, can use to get the most from their GI Bill® benefits with the goal being to have as little out-of-pocket expenses as possible.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at

Written By

Ron Kness Retired Supervisor of Military Personnel Services

Real Ways to Maximize Your GI Bill® Benefits

Things to Know about Maximizing GI Bill Benefits

  • Tuition is expensive today at most four-year colleges and graduate schools. One smart way to maximize Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, especially if you plan to attend graduate school, is to go to a community college for the first two years and pay the cheaper tuition out-of-pocket. At the end of two years, switch to a four-year school and use your GI Bill to pay for the rest of your bachelor’s degree and up to two years of the much more expensive graduate degree. If attending a public school and at the 100 percent Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit level, the full tuition would be paid for the rest of the four-year degree and grad school.
  • If attending a private school, choose one that has a generous Yellow Ribbon program that includes your area of study both at the undergraduate and graduate level. If selected, it would help offset what the New GI Bill could not pay. Remember the Post 9/11 GI Bill limit for private school is $22,805.34 per year.
  • Accepting certain types of financial aid can have some implications when it comes to maximizing your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and here is why. There are two types of financial aid: the type that is dedicated to pay towards tuition and the type that can be used for anything. If not using the Post 9/11 GI Bill in conjunction with other forms of financial aid, it does not make a difference which type is used. However, when used with the New GI Bill, having dedicated tuition money will reduce the amount of tuition paid by the VA under the Net Payer Rule as explained below.

What is the net payer rule? How does it affect maximizing the benefits?

In general, the Net Payer rule says the VA is the last payer when multiple forms of financial aid are used to pay for tuition. In other words, all the other forms of financial aid that must be applied towards tuition are applied first to pay down the tuition bill and the VA pays what it is authorized to pay on the balance.

So how does this affect maximizing your Post 9/11 GI Bill? What many using their New GI Bill don’t realize is that regardless of how much (or how little) the VA pays toward their tuition, the amount of entitlement deducted from their remaining balance is the same – generally four months per semester.
The net payer rule does not affect the monthly housing allowance or book stipend, but depending on what the VA ends up paying, the entitlement expenditure for what the student get in return might not be the best bang for the buck.

Scholarships & Grants Specifically for Family Members of Servicemembers

Many dependents (children and spouses) are fortunate enough to have received Post 9/11 GI Bill entitlement from a parent through a Transfer of Education Benefits (TEB). Depending on the number of months transferred, it often is not enough to pay all the expenses required to complete a degree. In these cases, the student should apply for these types of financial aid to make up for the shortfall. Below are five examples worth seeking:

  • AMVET Scholarship American Veterans

    Up to a $4,000 award available to current high school seniors who are either children or grandchildren of veterans and active duty personnel. Deadline is May 1st and money is awarded based on financial need, merit and academic promise, and may be used for part-time or full-time education programs at accredited schools.

  • Fry Scholarship Department of Veterans Affairs

    Up to $22,805.34 per year (private school) or 100% tuition at public school. Deadline: Benefits must be used by age 23 for children and 15 years from date of the servicemember’s death for spouses – Mirrored to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, it provides up to 36 months of paid education benefits consisting of tuition, monthly housing allowance and annual book stipend. Available to children and surviving spouses of service members killed in the line of duty after September 10, 2001.

  • MyCAA Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts Program

    Spouses of lower-graded military members, including active duty, National Guard and Reserves (and even spouses themselves on Title 10 orders) can get up to $4,000 to pursue licenses, certificates, certifications, or associate degrees in certain high-demand portable career fields and occupations. Eligibility is limited to spouses of service members in the following grades: Enlisted E-1 to E-5; Warrant Officer W1 to W2; Commissioned Officer O1 to O2. Training must be completed no later than three years from starting the program.

  • Scholarships for Military Children Military Scholar

    Funded through the Defense Commissary Agency, this scholarship awards approximately 700 scholarships of $2,000 each per year. To apply, students must be enrolled full-time in at least a two-year school and maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Eligibility of family members are restricted to sons and daughters of active duty, Selected Reservists and retirees.

  • ThanksUSA Scholarship ThanksUSA

    On average, $3,000 awarded, and deadline is in May. Their mission is to provide college, technical and vocational school scholarships on a need basis to the children and spouses of U.S. military personnel. Since 2006, this private program funded primarily through donations has awarded 4,000 scholarships worth $12 million.

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