Veteran’s Complete Guide to Making College Affordable

By Staff Writers

Published on July 27, 2021

Veteran’s Complete Guide to Making College Affordable is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Funding School after Service with the GI Bill®, Scholarships & the FAFSA

The Post 9/11 GI Bill® is the most generous of all the GI Bills® since the inception of the program in 1944. With the recent signing of the Forever GI Bill®, it got even better for some veterans. But as good as it is, sometimes it is not enough to cover all the costs of going to college today. This guide covers two of the most popular GI Bills®, the most common companion programs and other sources of educational financial aid not requiring repayment.

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

GI Bill Education Benefits for Veterans

Today’s veterans have education benefits and options available from two GI Bills and their associated programs: The Post 9/11 GI Bill and Montgomery GI Bill-Active Duty (MGIB-AD). While one GI Bill and its option are free, the other GI Bill and option both require opting-in and payment while serving to use the benefit after getting out. The associated program for each are the Yellow Ribbon program and Buy-Up program, respectively.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Requirements

Also known as Chapter 33, this newest GI Bill has a full entitlement of 36 months like most other GI Bills – enough for a bachelor’s degree if attending four nine-month academic years at a college or university – in return for at least three years of eligible service after September 10, 2001 in any active duty branch of the Armed Forces of America.

In addition to its eligibility to active duty personnel, members of the Selected Reserve, including the National Guard and Reserves from each military branch, also can acquire entitlement too. Theirs is a result of qualifying active duty service through deployments and mobilizations at the rate shown in the chart below. Types of qualifying service includes:

As recent as February 10, 2017, Selected Reservists can claim eligibility toward their Post 9/11 GI Bill for serving under Active Duty for Training (ADT), Active Duty Special Work (ADSW) and Active Duty for Operational Support (ADOS-RC) orders after September 10, 2001.

However, basic training, AIT (Advance Individual Training), IDT (inactive duty for training), annual training, drill and funeral honors time does not count toward Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility.

Once the minimum service requirement of 90 days (except for service-connected disabilities) is attained for the Post 9/l1 GI Bill eligibility, the servicemember has 36 months of entitlement they may use while still on active duty or once honorably discharged. For servicemembers not having at least three years of service, 36 months of entitlement is available at a benefit level less than 100 percent.

Benefit level percentage is based on a sliding scale tied to length of eligible service. The chart below shows the breakdown of service and the corresponding benefit level percentage.

Length of Eligible ServicePercentage of Benefit Authorized
36 months or longer100%
At least 30 months, but less than 36 months90%
At least 24 months, but less than 30 months80%
At least 18 months, but less than 24 months70%
At least 12 months, but less than 18 months60%
At least 6 months, but less than 12 months50%
At least 90 days, but less than 6 months40%
Service-connected disability with at least 30 days of continuous service100%

Until recently, most veterans eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill had to use all 36 months of their entitlement by the end of their 15th year from date of discharge or lose it. However, for veterans who left active duty after January 1, 2013, they now fall under the new Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act, coined the Forever GI Bill, and will keep their Post 9/11 GI Bill eligibility for life.

Post 9/11 GI Bill Payment Structure In many ways, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is unique from other GI Bills; its payment structure is one example. Instead of veterans each receiving one payment per month, like the MGIB-AD and other GI Bills in the past, they can get up to three kinds of payments per semester. Tuition and Fees The VA pays the school directly for tuition and eligible fees at the benefit level authorized for the veteran student. For students at the full benefit level, 100 percent of the tuition and fees at the resident rate will be paid if attending a public school; if attending a private or foreign school, the VA can pay up to $22,805.34 (2017/2018) per year. Monthly Housing Allowance For each month in school, the student receives a housing allowance based on the zip code of the school, number of credits taken and benefit level. On average across the nation, it is about $1,300 per month. Amounts are usually higher if attending school on either the East or West Coasts. Book Stipend Once each semester while in school, the student receives a payment that can be used for books, supplies or anything the student chooses to buy. It is based on $41.67 per credit and has a $1,000 academic yearly cap. It usually is enough for two 12-credit semesters per school year.
Resident Rate Explained Under the Choice Act, a “covered individual” as a student, is considered a resident (and hence would get charged the resident tuition and fee rate) if s/he is: eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill enrolled in school within three years of discharge going to school in the same state where they live, regardless if a legal resident of that state or not. To be approved by the VA, schools must charge the resident rate for covered individuals. Students not meeting covered individual requirements are charged the non-resident rate (and may qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program as explained in that section below).
Using the Post 9/11 GI Bill To get paid by the Post 9/11 GI Bill, veterans must take at least 51 percent of the number of credits their school considers full-time. For example, if a school considers 12 credits as full-time, then a veteran must take at least seven credits per semester to get paid from their Post 9/11 GI Bill. This minimum number of credits can vary between schools. Veterans meeting this requirement can start using their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits by submitting VA Form 22-1990 well ahead of registering for school. An application can be submitted online, by mail or in person at one of the VA Regional Offices. Submission by mail or in person requires printing and filling out the form. Once the VA has processed the application, the student is notified of its decision by letter called a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) which usually includes the GI Bill authorized to use and at what benefit level. Students must take their COE approval letter with them when registering at their school as a GI Bill student.

The Yellow Ribbon Program

The Yellow Ribbon program may only be used in conjunction with the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Consequently, the Yellow Ribbon program cannot be used as a standalone program. The Yellow Ribbon program is only applicable to student veterans at the 100 percent benefit level attending a degree-granting college or university.

Students benefiting the most from the program are those attending private schools and students classified as non-residents. In the case of private schools, not all tuition is covered due to the private school yearly tuition cap of $22,805.34. Some schools charge that much for one semester.

In the case of non-resident students, the VA can only pay up to the resident rate, leaving an unpaid difference between what the VA pays and what the school charges in non-resident tuition. However, if accepted into a school’s Yellow Ribbon Program, part (or all depending on the agreed upon percentage of waiver) of the unpaid difference could be paid between the school and VA.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is elective in that schools may choose to participate or not. Schools choosing to participate have an agreement with the VA stating:

A school can waiver up to 50 percent of the unpaid difference in tuition; the VA will pay an equal amount (on top of the tuition they already paid) making it possible for the student to have zero out-of-pocket costs. If the school chooses to waiver a lesser percentage, the VA will end up paying less too and the student would have some out-of-pocket expense.

If eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program, a student would apply for it when registering for classes as a GI Bill student. It is the responsibility of the school to notify the student if s/he were chosen for the Yellow Ribbon program or not.

Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB-AD)

Also known as Chapter 30, the MGIB-AD was enacted in 1984 and named after its creator Gillespie “Sonny” Montgomery (Rep – Mississippi). While there are four categories of eligibility, most veterans having this GI Bill fall under Category 1 – first entered active duty after June 30, 1985.

From 1984 to 2009 when the Post 9/11 GI Bill was first enacted, the MGIB-AD was the GI Bill to have. Unlike its newer cousin the Post 9/11 GI Bill – free just for serving – new enlistees had to pay for the MGIB-AD at the rate of $100 a month for the first 12 months of service paid through payroll deductions. In return, they received 36 months of entitlement for three years of more of service. For service less than three years, GI Bill entitlement was usually awarded at the rate of one month of entitlement for each month of qualifying service.

While frequently overshadowed by the newer Post 9/11 GI Bill, the MGIB-AD is a viable source of veteran financial aid even yet today. Right now, it pays a full-time student with three years or more of eligible service $1,857 (2016/2017 rate) per month while in school. For students with less than three years of service, the full-time rate is $1,509 per month.

The student must pay their own tuition, fees, books and other education-related costs. However, entitlement must be used within 10 years from date of discharge or the remaining unused amount expires; unlike the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the 10-year deadline was not lifted by the recent Forever GI Bill legislation.

Using the MGIB-AD For eligible veterans, applying to use the MGIB-AD is the same as it is for the Post 9/11 GI Bill – submitting VA Form 22-1990. In return, approved individuals will get back a Certificate of Eligibility just like the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Unlike the Post 9/11 GI Bill, there isn’t a minimum number of credits that must be taken per term to use the MGIB-AD. However, the monthly amount received from this GI Bill is directly related to the number of credits taken.
Using Both GI Bills Some servicemembers coming out of the military today have both the MGIB-AD and Post 9/11 GI Bill. When used correctly, they can get a combination of up to 48 months of entitlement – 36 months of MGIB-AD and 12 months of Post 9/11 GI Bill – enough to pay for a four-year degree and part of a graduate degree. However, some veterans forgo the MGIB-AD and choose 36 months of the Post 9/11 GI Bill instead. This is because the Post 9/11 GI Bill has a better pay structure. If the student does not want to pursue a graduate degree, they can use just the Post 9/11 GI Bill. If they do want to pursue a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree, they use 36 months of the MGIB-AD for the less expensive four-year degree first and then switch to the Post 9/11 GI Bill and use their additional 12 months of entitlement to pay for the more expensive graduate degree.
Buy-Up Option The Buy- Up option was (and still is) an optional program for servicemembers having the MGIB-AD. While serving, they could contribute up to $600 during the course of their service and in return would get up to $5,400 in additional money for college. The additional amount is broken down into 36 equal payments and payable as part of the monthly MGIB-AD payment. However, the Buy-Up option cannot be used with the Post 9/11 GI Bill – only with the MGIB-AD. Those choosing the Post 9/11 GI Bill and having the Buy-Up option are not able to get their money returned even though they are not able to use it with the New GI Bill. With either GI Bill, students can use entitlement to pursue: two and four-year degree programs at colleges and universities non-degree programs like certificates, certifications and licenses at vocational/technical schools reimbursement of licensing and certification test costs on-the-job training apprenticeships cooperative training entrepreneurship training flight training independent and distance learning reimbursement for college entrance examinations, such as SAT, GMAT, ACT, etc. high-tech training

More GI Bill Information

Listed below are some links to resources veterans can use to help them make decisions in regard to choosing a school or pursing additional educational funding.

Scholarships & Grants for Veterans

Scholarships for Veterans

Veterans having access to one or more GI Bills have a good start on the financial aid they need to pay for school. But as good as it is, shortfalls can occur. When that happens, veterans should apply for scholarships and grants and submit a Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA).

Veterans going to a non-Yellow Ribbon school as a non-resident or to a private school most likely will not have all tuition and fees covered by their GI Bill. Fortunately, scholarships can help fill that void and do not require any repayment.

There are thousands of scholarships available each year to veterans. While some are branch specific, others are open to most veterans.

Afghanistan and Iraq Conflicts (VAIC) Scholarship Program

AFCEA Educational Foundation

Max Amount: $2,500

Deadline: November 15th

Enrollment Level: Undergraduate

Area of Study: STEM

Eligibility requirements: Active duty, honorably discharged U.S. military veterans (including Reservists and National Guard personnel) of the Enduring Freedom-Afghanistan or Iraqi Freedom Operations from 2004 to present who are currently enrolled and attending classes in an eligible STEM major degree program at an accredited four-year college or university.

AMVETS National Scholarships


Max Amount: $12,000

Deadline: May 1st

Enrollment Level: Undergraduate/Graduate

Area of Study: All

Eligibility Requirements: Honorably discharged veterans, reservists and active duty military.

Sport Clips Help a Hero Scholarship

Veterans of Foreign Wars

Max Amount: $5,000

Deadline: Apr 30th

Enrollment Level: Undergraduate/Graduate

Area of Study: All

Eligibility Requirements: Honorably discharged veterans, reservists and active duty military in need of financial aid, at the rank of E-5 or below, having completed Basic and IET.

Google SVA Scholarship

Google for Education

Max Amount: $10,000

Deadline: November 4th

Enrollment Level: Undergraduate/Graduate

Area of Study: Computer science, engineering or closely-related field

Eligibility Requirements: Honorably discharged veterans, reservists and active duty military.

The SGM Douglas R. Drum Collegiate Scholarship

American Military Retirees Association (AMRA)

Max Amount: $5,000

Deadline: October 1st

Enrollment Level: Undergraduates

Area of Study: All

Eligibility requirements: Must be a member of AMRA and a full-time student in a two or four-years accredited college or university. Military retirees should apply in the Returning College Student category.

Donald D. Frizzell Scholarship

First Command Educational Foundation

Max Amount: $30,000 in total award money.

Deadline: April 7th

Enrollment Level: Certifications through Graduate Degree

Area of Study: All

Eligibility Requirements: Open to members of the U.S. uniformed services (active, guard, reserve, retired, or non-retired veteran currently in school and having a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Veterans United Foundation Scholarship

Veterans United Foundation

Max Amount: $2,000

Deadline: Apr 30th/October 31st

Enrollment Level: Undergraduate/Graduate

Area of Study: All

Eligibility Requirements: Active Duty member or veteran currently pursuing a postsecondary degree, or planning to in the upcoming year.

Grants for Veterans

Grants differ from scholarships in that they are usually need-based whereas scholarships are often merit-based. Like scholarships however, grants do not need to be repaid either. They include:

Imagine America Military Award Program

Offers $1,000 grants to help fund career education. Applicants must be active-duty, reservist, honorably discharged or a retired veteran of a United States military service branch and in attendance at one of the participating career colleges.

Pell Grant

While not limited to just veterans, this grant is a great one to get if still an undergraduate. As it is part of the Federal Student Aid program, application is done via a FAFSA submission. The Pell Grant is offered from a school and because it is need-based, the amount awarded can vary. However, the maximum amount for the 2017/2018 academic year is $5,920.

FAFSA – Free Application for Federal Student Aid

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