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How Does the Yellow Ribbon Program Work?

Higher education should be obtainable for all veterans and their families, whether you want to earn an undergraduate degree, further your education with a graduate degree, or acquire supplemental schooling through a trade certification. The Yellow Ribbon Program is one form of educational aid that can help you avoid out-of-pocket expenses when your costs exceed your GI Bill® benefits.

How does the Yellow Ribbon Program work? Below, we’ll explain the special requirements for receiving these supplemental benefits, so you can choose the best option for pursuing a civilian career.

What is the Yellow Ribbon Program?

The veteran’s Yellow Ribbon Program provides extended benefits when the Post-9/11 GI Bill® doesn’t fully cover the cost of your education. If you’re eligible for the maximum benefit rate, the GI Bill typically offsets the total cost of attending an in-state institution. The Department of Veterans Affairs uses average in-state tuition rates across the country to calculate the dollar amount of these benefits each year.

However, your educational costs could be higher than average if you attend an out-of-state school or an institution located in another country. Private colleges, advanced degrees, and accelerated programs that combine undergraduate and graduate degrees can also be more expensive. In such cases, the Yellow Ribbon Program helps bridge the gap and pay for private, foreign, out-of-state, or graduate school, as long as you attend a qualifying institution.

The Yellow Ribbon Program isn’t offered under the Montgomery GI Bill. You should take this into account if you’re eligible for both benefits and are still deciding which program to utilize.

Yellow Ribbon Program Eligibility

Several factors determine whether you can take advantage of this supplemental grant. Here are some requirements that could affect your eligibility.

Benefit Amount

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you must be eligible for the maximum benefit amount from serving on active duty for at least 36 months. The dollar amount of veteran benefits is prorated based on your service period and the national average cost of tuition. For example, the national average cost in 2022 is $26,381.37. While you can earn the full reimbursement for 36 months of active duty, serving the minimum period of 90 days earns you 40 percent of the benefit, or $10,552.55.

The Yellow Ribbon Program covers the remaining cost after exhausting your full allotment. If you don’t qualify for 100 percent of the GI Bill benefit, other military-oriented scholarships or grants best suited to your situation may be available.

Service Period

Generally, veterans must serve 36 months of active duty after September 10, 2001 to obtain the maximum benefits. Not all active-duty service members qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program. Eligible recipients include:

  • Veterans who were discharged with a service-connected disability and completed 30 continuous days of active duty
  • Purple Heart recipients who served any length of time after September 10, 2001
  • Fry scholars

Military Service Record

To access any VA benefits, you must have an honorable discharge demonstrating your positive service record. However, the VA recognizes that unique circumstances, such as mental health issues, may have contributed to your dismissal from the Armed Forces. If you believe you should qualify for VA benefits, consider applying for a discharge upgrade to restore your eligibility for educational funding.

School Participation

Yellow Ribbon Program eligibility also depends on where you plan to complete your education. The VA provides an updated list of Yellow Ribbon schools each academic year. Keep in mind that the Yellow Ribbon Program does not cover the full cost of tuition; rather, the VA contributes an amount equivalent to what your school offers toward your tuition. In other words, if your college gives out $2,000, the VA will award an equal amount for a total of $4,000 to pay for educational expenses.

Northeastern offers one of the most generous YRP commitments of any institution in the United States. With unlimited institutional matching funds and no limitation on the number of recipients that can attend at one time, Northeastern is committed to prospective veteran students by ensuring their tuition is fully funded.

The VA has agreements with participating schools that may limit the grant amount or how many students can receive supplemental funding each year. So make sure you discuss your educational needs with a financial aid counselor as soon as possible.

Individual schools may also restrict who can receive funding based on the degree type or field of study. Northeastern University, for example, offers the Yellow Ribbon Program for all eligible students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, without stipulation as to how many veterans can attend and the benefits they can receive at a given time.

Dependent Eligibility

Children of veterans who are eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits may also receive Yellow Ribbon funding. To transfer benefits to a child, the veteran parent must qualify for 100 percent of their GI Bill benefits.

How To Apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program

1. Obtain your certificate of eligibility.

A certificate of eligibility (COE) provides a statement of your available education benefits, as well as the portion you’ve already used. Once you’re approved for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you can obtain a COE by submitting a benefits claim or requesting a new copy. You can do this by visiting your VA account online or contacting the Education Call Center at 888-442-4551.

2. Submit COE to your financial aid office.

Many colleges will require you to submit a COE as proof of eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program to help determine how much additional funding is necessary to cover your qualifying expenses. Make sure you file your COE with your school’s financial aid office to establish your eligibility for any military-specific programs as early as possible.

3. Inform your financial aid office that you’d like to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program.

Inform your financial aid counselor that you intend to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program. If your school limits funding or enrollment capacity, it’s crucial to get your application in early to avoid missing the cutoff. You also need your institution to certify your enrollment with the VA. Getting this done sooner rather than later ensures you’ll be able to secure all the necessary funding and start classes within your desired timeframe.

Yellow Ribbon Program Schools Are Military-Friendly

As a veteran, it’s important to find a military-friendly school that offers support and resources to servicemember students. Northeastern University is committed to veterans who want to further their education and has a number of aid options that can help you make the transition from a military to civilian career that much easier. From employer assistance to fellowships, scholarships, and grants, there are many options to help you accomplish your goals.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill has significantly improved education benefits for veterans and service members who want to train for a civilian career. With the addition of the Yellow Ribbon Program, you can further reduce or even eliminate the financial burden of higher education.

To learn more about the financial benefit 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.