The original GI Bill, signed in 1944, provided a variety of benefits to World War II veterans. While some of the original loan programs are no longer available, educational assistance is as attainable as ever. There are a variety of programs, so if you or a parent are or have been a member of the U.S. Armed Forces, you should check with the Department of Veterans Affairs to see if you qualify. This article covers some of the most commonly used GI Bill programs, so if you have a high school diploma or GED and are active duty or have an honorable discharge, read on.
Montgomery and Post 9/11
There are three major GI Bills that will help you pay for college: The Active Duty Montgomery GI Bill, The Reserve and Guard Montgomery GI Bill, and the Post 9/11 Bill. In general, if you’ve served a cumulative 90 days of active duty since September 11, 2001, you qualify for the Post 9/11 bill. Additionally, there are a number of ways in which you might qualify for the Montgomery bills. You can use the following links to check your eligibility:
Which Bill to Choose? Depends on What and How You Want to Study.
Overall, the Post 9/11 GI Bill is far more generous than the Montgomery Bill. However, in order to use the 9/11 GI Bill, you must irrevocably give up any claim to the Montgomery Bill. So, before you do that, you should determine what you want to study and how the different bills can assist you. There are many different scenarios and some cases in which the Montgomery Bill will be favorable.
It’s worth noting that the maximum benefit you can take is a combination of two bills for 48 months of payments. To do this, you’d use the full 36 months afforded by your Montgomery Bill, after which you may still qualify to use 12 months of the Post 9/11 bill. While you’re on the Montgomery Bill, you’ll be getting less money per month than you would if you were on the Post 9/11 bill. Despite that, this arrangement might be favorable if you plan on being in school for the time it takes to get a master’s degree.
If your goal is to attain a four-year degree, think about attending a community college for your first year and paying out of pocket or with some small student loans. That way, you’ll save your 36 months of Post 9/11 benefits for the much more expensive time at a university. If you take a little longer than usual to complete your degree, this strategy will prevent you from running out of benefits during your final (and probably most difficult) year of school.
Some Other Important Notes
It’s legal to combine your GI Bill with a Pell Grant, so you should definitely consider filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at fafsa.ed.gov to find out if you can apply.
Remember, universities look very favorably upon veterans. Even if your high school GPA isn’t that impressive, you should still apply to your dream schools because you’ll be seen as extremely responsible compared to the average underclassman. Keep in mind that the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowance is determined by ZIP code. For example, a pay grade of E-1 without dependents going to a school in the Detroit area would get a basic housing allowance (BAH) of $1,104, whereas the BAH would be $2,769 if attending a school in Manhattan. The BAH is supposed to cover your entire cost of housing, including utilities and rent, so do your research and try to find the best deal. You only get to do this once, so make it count.
Once enrolled in school, don’t drop a class if you’re past the drop date, even if you’re failing. The VA would rather pay for a failed class than one you didn’t complete. As such, if you withdraw from a class, you’ll be stuck with the bill.