Many U.S. veterans and servicemembers choose to earn their college degree for a variety of reasons. Whether they’re hoping to move up in their career, begin working in a new industry, earn a high-paying salary, or simply fulfill a long-held personal goal, these individuals are motivated to make a change in their professional life.
Earning a college degree brings many positive benefits, including greater access to employment opportunities, lower rates of unemployment, increased career satisfaction, greater financial stability, and higher lifetime earnings compared to individuals who have not earned a college degree.
Learn More About Northeastern’s Military Student Resources
Discover what happens when you combine your military experience with an experiential education.
Yet pursuing a degree can be an expensive undertaking, which may cause some to wonder whether or not a college education is truly worth it.
Fortunately, veterans have many options when it comes to paying for college. In addition to the educational benefits conferred by the GI Bill®, there are a number of scholarships and grants for veterans that can be used to pay for educational expenses not otherwise covered.
Here, we cover some of the educational benefits that you may qualify for as a veteran, and offer information about grants and scholarships that can help make college more affordable.
Table of Contents
Federal Education Benefits for Veterans
Veterans who have been honorably discharged from the military can utilize a number of federal programs offered by the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs to pay for college. These currently include the Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Post-9/11 GI Bill
The Post-9/11 GI Bill entitles those who have served in the military for at least 90 days after September 10, 2001, to a range of benefits, including tuition and fee reimbursement for college. Passed in 2008, the Post-9/11 GI Bill expands upon benefits previously found in the Montgomery GI Bill.
Individuals who qualify will receive different amounts of funding depending on how long they served in the military. Eligibility for the highest level of Post-9/11 GI Bill requires at least 36 months of aggregate active duty service. Those attending a private university may receive up to $25,162.14 for the 2020-2021 school year, and institutions participating in the Yellow Ribbon Program may offer additional support for any remaining tuition/fees.
The bill also offers a number of additional benefits, including the possibility of a housing allowance and an annual $1,000 stipend that can be used to pay for textbooks and other educational supplies.
Yellow Ribbon Program
The Yellow Ribbon Program is a supplementary source of educational funding available to veterans who choose to attend a private college or university that costs more than the maximum educational benefit conferred by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.
The goal of the Yellow Ribbon Program is to reduce or potentially eliminate out-of-pocket tuition and fees for veterans. The program makes funds available to veterans with Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement at the 100 percent level, and the VA matches the amount of funding provided by the university. Each individual university decides whether or not to participate in the program, as well as what level of funding they will contribute.
Learn More: What is the Yellow Ribbon Program?
College Grants for Veterans
Despite these generous benefits, there may still be instances where veterans find themselves unable to fully cover the cost of college. For example, they may:
- Be ineligible to receive funding under the Yellow Ribbon Program.
- Attend a private college or university that does not participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
- Attend a private college or university which participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program, but at a level that does not completely pay for the cost of attendance.
In these instances, veterans may be eligible to receive college grants, which can also be used to fund the pursuit of their bachelor’s degree.
What is a Grant?
In the context of higher education, a grant is a form of financial aid which you receive and use to pay for college-related expenses. The biggest difference between a grant and a student loan is that a student loan must be repaid and an educational grant, in most cases, does not. Instead, it is essentially free money toward your education, much like a scholarship.
Educational grants can come from a number of different sources, including the federal government, state government, the college or university you attend, or a private organization. Below, we explore the different types of grants available to veterans.
Federal Educational Grants
To apply for federal educational grants, those who qualify must first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Completing the FAFSA will also allow you to apply for other forms of federal student aid, such as student loans and work-study opportunities. You must complete a FAFSA application each year you seek financial aid.
Keep In Mind: Students are not required to accept offers of aid such as student loans, even if they appear as an option on a student’s financial aid award letter.
Eligibility and funding levels for federal educational grants are established by the United States Congress. In most cases, federal grants will be awarded to students who demonstrate the greatest levels of financial need. You do not need to be a veteran to qualify for these programs.
The primary federal educational grant programs include:
1. Federal Pell Grant
The Federal Pell Grant is awarded to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need and who have not yet earned an undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree. For the 2020-2021 school year, the maximum annual award is $6,345, though the exact amount will be dependent on the financial information provided in your FAFSA application.
Don’t Forget: Eligibility is determined by the information you report in your previous year’s tax documents. This is important to remember because many veterans will apply to college right after leaving the military while their taxes are still reflecting their military income, which may make them ineligible for grants. However, if students apply again in the future and don’t work while they’re attending school, the taxes for their first year of study will show them as having no income, making them eligible for this kind of aid.
If you lost a parent or guardian who was a member of the U.S. armed forces as a result of military service in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11—or who was a public safety officer lost as a result of active service in the line of duty—then you may be eligible for additional Pell Grant funds. To qualify, you must have been less than 24 years old at the time of your parent or guardian’s death and enrolled in college at least part-time.
2. Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG)
Like the Pell Grant, the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (FSEOG) is awarded to undergraduate students who demonstrate exceptional financial need and who have not yet earned an undergraduate or graduate degree. Individuals who have received a Pell Grant during a particular academic year are prioritized to receive an FSEO Grant for that same year. For the 2020-2021 school year, the maximum award is $4,000 per year.
Not all schools participate in the FSEOG program, however. Unlike the Pell Grant, which distributes funds to all qualified applicants, the FSEOG program has limited funds which are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. There is also a priority filing deadline set each year.
3. Teacher Education for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant
The Teacher Education for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant is awarded to undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or graduate students who are enrolled in programs specifically designed to prepare them to teach in a high-need field at the elementary or secondary school levels. Examples of high-need fields include English as a foreign language, mathematics, reading, science, special education, and certain other niche subject areas.
For the 2020-2021 school year, the maximum award for eligible applicants is $3,764. The grant comes with employment requirements for students post-graduation, as well. Specifically, recipients must have worked as a full-time teacher in a high-need field for a minimum of four years within eight years of graduation. If you fail to meet this requirement, the grant will be converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Student Loan, which you will need to repay.
State Educational Grants
In addition to federal grants, many states offer educational grants designed to help their residents pay for college. In most cases, these grants are awarded to residents who demonstrate financial need and who choose to attend an in-state college or university. However, each state is free to establish its own eligibility requirements and reward amounts.
For example, the Massachusetts State Grant (MASSGrant) provides financial aid to undergraduate students residing in Massachusetts who are pursuing their first bachelor’s degree at a qualifying institute of higher education. Award amounts are dependent upon financial need and may vary from year to year.
In some cases, residents of certain states who receive state-based grants may be able to use those funds to attend a college or university in a different state. Typically, completing the FAFSA application will allow you to automatically apply for any state-based grants for which you are eligible.
Private Grants and Scholarships
While federal and state educational grants are established by federal and state law, it is also possible to find educational funding offered from other sources. Most commonly, these include private and nonprofit corporations and individual universities who wish to give back to their communities.
These funding options may be labeled as either grants or scholarships, but in practice, they will act the same: individuals who apply and meet the eligibility requirements will receive money that can be used to cover college expenses without being repaid.
Veterans may qualify for both military-specific scholarships and grants (which are available only to current or former members of the military) as well as more general scholarships and grants that are available to all applicants.
For example, students at Northeastern University may be eligible to receive the Double Husky or MacFarland scholarships regardless of their veteran status. They may also qualify for other scholarships, like the Patriot Scholar Program, Phi Gamma Pi Scholarship, and Ruby Linn Foundation Scholarship, which are only available to veterans and servicemembers.
Other notable privately-sourced grants and scholarships include:
- Imagine America Foundation: To help servicemembers transition from military to civilian life, the Imagine America Foundation’s Military Award Program provides $1,000 career education awards to qualified veterans and active-duty servicemembers attending participating colleges.
- AMVETS: American Veterans (AMVETS) offers scholarships between $4,000 and $12,000 to veterans or active duty military servicemembers, as well as children of veterans or active-duty military servicemembers.
- Army Women’s Foundation: The Legacy Scholarship Program offered by the Army Women’s Foundation for current and former women soldiers. Scholarships for community college and certificate programs are awarded up to $1,000, while scholarships for college, university, and graduate programs are awarded up to $2,500.
Getting the Most Out of Your Financial Aid
Completing your degree can be a powerful tool in helping to ease the transition from the military to a civilian career. Furthering your education can open the doors to new career opportunities by allowing you to bolster your resumé with the skills employers value and build a professional network in your field. Many military friendly-programs, such as those offered by Northeastern, will even award college credit for military training.
When it comes to paying for college as a veteran or servicemember, you have many options to help make your tuition affordable. Consider using educational grants alongside GI Bill benefits, scholarships, and other financial offerings to help you reach your educational goals.
To learn more about the financial aid program options available to you at Northeastern, visit our military student website or contact the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers today.
GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.
Editor’s note: This content was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for thoroughness, accuracy, and recency.