Many hope that when they leave the military for civilian life, there is a perfectly mapped out plan showing them what to do next. Unfortunately, this is not the reality. You often face several questions that are crucial to understanding what your transition to civilian life will look like. Should you re-enter the workforce right away? Which professions match up with your skills? Does it make sense to go back to school and earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree?
From choosing a career path to exploring your educational options, the way forward is filled with challenging decisions that could have a big impact on your future. Learning about the military education benefits available to you can help you make the right choices that serve your personal and professional goals.
What military benefits are available for graduate students?
As an active or retired serviceperson, the veterans educational benefits you qualify for often depend on the following factors: your length and period of service, educational program, type of enrollment, and the military branch in which you served. You should also be aware that, in most cases, you can’t qualify for multiple programs using the same service period, but re-enlisting will increase your options.
If you’re interested in attending grad school, here are several VA programs that can help you pursue a master’s degree.
Post-9/11 GI BillⓇ
The Post-9/11 GI Bill grants funding for post-secondary education or job training to veterans who served at least 90 days on active duty after September 11, 2001. Benefits can go toward tuition, fees, books, and housing as well as moving costs for eligible rural students who have to relocate for school.
Others who qualify for these benefits include:
- Veterans who were honorably discharged with a Purple Heart after 9/11
- Veterans who were honorably discharged due to a service-related disability and completed at least 30 continuous days of active duty after 9/11
- Army Reserve members who are eligible to restore benefits from the defunct Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)
Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty and Veterans
The Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) program is an educational benefit for servicemembers who have completed at least two years of active duty. The benefits cover a variety of educational goals, including graduate degrees, licensure and certification exams, on-the-job training, and high-cost tech courses. For veterans, these benefits typically expire 10 years after their active-duty service ends.
This bill has four qualification categories, which are largely dependent on your service length and the specific years in which you served. In all categories, you must have a diploma, GED, or 12 credit hours from a college program to be eligible.
Montgomery GI Bill for Selected Reserves
The Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR) program provides benefits to people serving a six-year obligation. You must be a member of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Army National Guard, Air National Guard, or Coast Guard Reserve to initially qualify. Compensation includes up to $407 per month for 36 months.
Veteran Readiness and Employment Program
If you have a disability due to active-duty service—or your condition worsened—you may qualify to receive assistance in training for or obtaining a civilian job. The Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E) program provides a variety of tailored services to help disabled servicemembers achieve their career goals and live as independently as possible.
Depending on your individual needs, this could include career counseling, internships, post-secondary education, medical counseling, on-the-job accommodations, or independent living services.
The Military College Loan Repayment Program (CLRP) provides annual repayment funds to active servicemembers who satisfy a specific service period. Some form of CLRP is available in most branches of the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.
Servicemembers who agree to a three-year service period are eligible for up to $65,000 in repayment funds for federal loans, as long as their graduate program is in a qualifying Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Each year, the program covers $1,500 or 33.3% of the principal balance—whichever is greater. To qualify, you must be enlisting for the first time or re-enlisting after fully completing your previous active-duty service.
Keep in mind, you’re typically required to enroll when you initially sign your service contract. Additionally, if you decide to use the loan repayment funds, you’ll most likely need to submit forms forfeiting your eligibility for other military education aid, such as GI Bill benefits.
Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program
If you qualify for MGIB-AD or the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and the Tuition Assistance (TA) program doesn’t fully cover your course fees, the “Top-Up” program may be able to help you pay the remaining costs. Tuition Assistance Top-Up benefits can make up the difference between the tuition cost and your Department of Defense (DoD) payments for up to 36 months of enrollment.
The Veterans work-study program is open to applicants attending school through a VA education benefits program. You must have at least a three-quarter-time enrollment and either find a VA-related job at your school or work at a VA facility (e.g., state agencies, local branches of the armed forces, and Veteran Affairs departments in colleges).
Tutorial Assistance Program
For veterans who are struggling with difficult coursework, help is available. Tutorial assistance benefits allow you to receive up to $100 per month and $1200 total to hire a tutor. To qualify, you must be enrolled at least half-time, and the course you need assistance with must be a required course for your program. The instructor must also approve your need for a tutor, so it’s important to be open about any challenges you’re facing if you hope to receive aid.
Military Benefit FAQs
Although the number of benefits available to you can be encouraging, there are several nuances with each that can be difficult to navigate. Here are a few common questions you may have about these different programs.
How many days do I have to serve to receive GI Bill benefits?
To qualify for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, you must serve for at least 90 days after September 11, 2001. Veterans who are disabled due to their time in service and honorably discharged are eligible for benefits after serving 30 continuous days. Veterans who received a Purple Heart can qualify after any period of service.
Are spouses/dependents eligible for the GI Bill?
Eligible servicemembers have the option to transfer some or all Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to aid a spouse or dependent attending school. Transfers are available to active servicemembers or reserve members who served six years and have agreed to enlist for four more years. If you’re the relative of a veteran, here are other options to consider for funding your education.
- Fry Scholarship: The Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship is available to children or spouses of veterans who died in service after 9/11. This scholarship is also open to the families of Selected Reserve members who died from a service-related disability.
- Spouse and Dependents Education Assistance: The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance program (DEA) provides benefits to spouses and children of servicemembers who are deceased, disabled, missing, or captured. Children between the ages of 18 and 26 qualify for this assistance, while spouses have 10 years to use the benefits once eligibility is granted.
What housing benefits does the GI Bill provide?
Veterans who are enrolled in school more than half-time may qualify for a monthly housing allowance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. The amount you receive largely depends on the cost of living where you plan to attend school. If you take online classes, your housing allowance will be 50 percent of the national average. Your benefit tier also plays a role in the maximum stipend you can receive, based on the amount of active duty you have served once you begin attending school.
How long do you have to be in the military to receive benefits?
For active-duty service members who are not disabled, the earliest you can receive veterans education benefits is 90 days under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. If you plan on applying for VA education benefits such as loan repayment, there could be a one-year waiting period before reimbursements begin.
In many programs, you will need to serve several years of active duty or complete your service before satisfying eligibility requirements. Therefore, it’s important to speak with a VA benefits advisor about any programs you’re considering.
Do you get free college if you join the military?
The GI Bill is designed to cover 100 percent of the tuition cost of public, instate colleges, but there are several factors that affect your benefit amount. Servicemembers who are not discharged due to disability must serve for 36 months to receive the maximum benefit. If you serve for a period of at least 90 days, but less than 36 months, your benefits will be prorated accordingly. For example, you are eligible to receive 40 percent of the benefit for serving 6 months or less, 70 percent for serving 18 to 24 months, and 90 percent for serving at least 30 months.
Since average educational costs vary annually, the exact dollar amount of educational benefits can change from year to year. As of 2022, the yearly tuition benefit is $26,042.81.
Does the GI Bill cover private school?
The GI Bill can cover tuition at a private institution, but the amount is always capped. The cap rates for benefits are published each year, so make sure you have the most up-to-date information when planning your graduate education.
How much does the GI Bill pay for a Master’s degree?
The type of degree you’re pursuing doesn’t affect the amount of military education benefits you can recieve. Whether you are obtaining a graduate or an undergraduate degree, you’re eligible for the same amount of aid—$26,042.81 a year.
However, your benefit allotments will be reduced accordingly if you have already used a portion for past education. If you want to qualify for more benefits to cover a larger cost of your graduate education, you will need to re-enlist and complete the qualifications requirements for your intended program.
Does the GI Bill cover me if I retired from active duty?
Retired veterans don’t automatically lose their eligibility for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. However, your benefits will expire in 15 years if you completed your service before January 1, 2013. Currently, your benefits won’t expire if your last separation date from military service is after January 1, 2013.
Take the Next Step Toward a Civilian Career
The transition to civilian life can be a difficult one, but there are many options available to you in furthering your education. By answering the questions above, and the extensive list of veteran-specific education benefits, you should have a better idea of what program and aid best aligns with your career aspirations.
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.