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Paying for College in the Military: What You Need to Know

By Brian Eastwood
February 27, 2019

Veterans of the United States Armed Forces have received substantial education benefits in recognition of their military service for more than 70 years.

For many of today’s veterans, the amount the military will pay for college will cover all costs, including tuition, fees, housing, and other expenses. Additional aid programs and scholarships are available, however, to help veterans fill in any gaps between the cost of college and their education benefits.

Here’s a look at how much the military will pay for college for today’s veterans—and what veterans need to do to receive those benefits.

Paying for College in the Military

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides substantial military college benefits to active or retired personnel. The Post-9/11 GI Bill® and the Yellow Ribbon Program are the two main funding sources for veterans pursuing an education.

Post-9/11 GI Bill®

The Post-9/11 GI Bill became law in 2008 and went into effect on Aug. 1, 2009. The law expands the educational benefits made available under the Montgomery GI Bill, which initially provided benefits to veterans returning from service after World War II. Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, veterans who served after September 10, 2001 are eligible for a tuition and fee reimbursement from the VA.

The amount that the military will pay for college depends on the number of months of active-duty service during which a veteran served. The minimum requirement of service is 90 days, while the maximum requirement is at least three years of aggregated active-duty service.

Veterans discharged before January 1, 2013 are eligible for benefits up to 15 years after leaving active duty; for veterans discharged after that date, education benefits do not expire. This is one of many changes to veterans’ benefits passed into law in the 2017 Forever GI Bill.

The maximum rate of reimbursement is reset on an annual basis; for the 2018-2019 academic year, veterans attending a private college are eligible to receive nearly $24,000.

Yellow Ribbon Program

Many private colleges, including Northeastern University, participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program. In this voluntary program, colleges make contributions to cover tuition and fees; the VA matches this amount. To qualify for the program, veterans must have at least three years of aggregated active-duty service.

Contribution amounts vary greatly in the Yellow Ribbon Program. Northeastern’s maximums are the highest available in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, according to Andrew McCarty, Director of the Dolce Center for the Advancement of Veterans and Servicemembers (CAVS) and a veteran of the United States Air Force.

At Northeastern, students receive up to $30,000 for undergraduate programs, $20,000 for graduate school, and $25,000 for the School of Law.

These maximum rates are established to help ensure that veterans will not have to pay anything out-of-pocket to cover their tuition and fees, McCarty says. Northeastern also opens the program to more students than nearly all other colleges in Massachusetts so no veterans are turned away, he adds.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is available to 150 undergraduate students, 100 graduate students, and nine law students at Northeastern’s Boston campus. Another 200 graduate students are eligible at the college’s Charlotte and Seattle campuses. McCarty notes that the program covers all degree programs at Northeastern.

Along with college tuition and fee reimbursements, the Post-9/11 GI Bill offers the following benefits:

    • An annual stipend of up to $1,000 to cover costs such as books, supplies, or transportation.
    • Up to $2,000 to be applied to the cost of a single professional certification or licensure exam.
    • A monthly stipend to cover living expenses for veterans who take at least one course on campus. Rates are set based on the ZIP code where a student is attending classes.

Montgomery GI Bill

The Montgomery GI Bill served many veterans prior to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. A number of the original GI Bill’s programs are no longer relevant now that the Post-9/11 GI Bill is in place. However, some veterans may still choose to use their Montgomery GI Bill benefits.

Two types of aid are available under the Montgomery GI Bill:

    • Active Duty provides benefits to veterans with at least two years of active duty. These benefits are paid on a monthly basis. The maximum monthly rate is $1,994 for those who completed an enlistment of at least three years.
    • Selected Reserve applies to members of the armed forces’ reserve units. The maximum monthly benefit for these reservists is $384.

How to Apply for Education Benefits Through the VA

Getting the military to pay for college is not automatic; there are a few things that veterans need to do to use education benefits available from the VA. Here are the basic steps:

    • Contact the VA and request a certificate of eligibility.
    • Apply to college.
    • Enroll in classes and submit a copy of your certificate of eligibility.
    • Receive enrollment verification, which your college will submit to the VA.
    • Receive an email confirmation of your enrollment from the VA.
    • Use your VA benefits to pay your tuition. Veterans receiving Montgomery GI Bill benefits will get a paper check. For veterans receiving Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, the VA will make a direct deposit to your college.

Scholarships for Veterans and Active Military

In addition to VA benefits, there are a number of other scholarship options for veterans and servicemembers. These financial aid options are intended to close any gaps between their benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program and the cost of attending college.

In addition to the Yellow Ribbon Program, Northeastern offers several military-specific scholarships. The goal is to cover 100 percent of a veteran’s costs, McCarty says, adding, “In the vast majority of cases, military students incur no cost for tuition and fees.”

Northeastern’s scholarship options for veterans include the following:

    • The Patriot Scholar Program recognizes the unique experiences of veterans, whether it’s through military leadership or overseas deployments that offer a global perspective. Students apply through an essay application.
    • The Phi Gamma Pi Veterans Scholarship helps defray the cost of education-related expenses not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill or the Yellow Ribbon Program. This scholarship is available to veterans as well as children of veterans and servicemembers who were killed or wounded in action or who were discharged but otherwise unable to transfer VA education benefits to their children.
    • The Ruby Linn Foundation Scholarship is available to veterans and active servicemembers with an associate degree or college credit who apply to the Lowell Institute School bachelor’s degree completion program. Scholarships are awarded up to $10,000 and can be renewed annually.

Veterans are also eligible for the Double Husky Scholarship (for Northeastern undergraduate alumni returning for graduate school) and the MacFarland Scholarship (for Northeastern graduate students who are currently working as public school teachers in a large urban area).

To learn more about the financial and program options available to you at Northeastern, visit our military student website or speak with a military admissions counselor to get your questions answered.


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.

About Brian Eastwood
Brian Eastwood is a content contributor for Northeastern’s Lifelong Learning Network.