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Everyone living in this country enjoys liberties made possible by the sacrifices of our armed forces veterans. Oftentimes, their personal and professional goals are put on hold as these men and women dedicate a portion, and sometimes the entirety, of their adult lives to serving our nation, at home and abroad. As one small form of repayment for the benefit of freedom that they provide us, the country is doing its part to provide the benefit of higher education to them. Through federal programs, state-level grants and scholarships, school-sponsored initiatives, and the work of various non-profit organizations, there are any number of opportunities for qualifying veterans to pursue and obtain a college degree.
We at Accredited Online Colleges want to do our part by helping you to navigate the sea of options and opportunities available to you as a veteran. This guide isn’t meant to be exhaustive. Instead, we want it to function as a valuable tool and one of many resources you use in your research. Our hope is that, by giving you an understanding of the tuition benefits afforded to you by the GI Bill, introducing you to additional supplemental funding options, and providing you with an extensively-researched list of veteran-friendly colleges, we can help to give you the best chance at success in your academic pursuits.
The GI Bill is the single-most important resource for armed forces veterans looking to pursue a postsecondary education. While it does have its limitations, it goes the farthest in addressing all of the financial obligations associated with higher learning, from tuition, to books and supplies, and even housing. There are two separate versions of the GI Bill, each with its own history, benefits, and eligibility.
History: Like many key pieces of legislation still in effect today, the GI Bill has its roots in the Post-War America of the 1940s. After two global conflicts, the societal landscape of the country had changed. The American economy was still rebounding from a depression at a time when thousands of soldiers were returning from war – either disabled, jobless, or both — to a workforce that they didn’t fit into. In an effort to avoid the mistakes made in similar circumstances at the conclusion of the First World War, The Serviceman’s Readjustment Act was signed into law on June 22, 1944.
The law, which is now commonly known as the GI Bill, had several key provisions that guaranteed education, training, home or business loans, and unemployment compensation benefits for veterans. From 1944 until that original bill ended in 1956, the Veterans Administration backed nearly 2.4 million home loans, and veterans accounted for nearly 49 percent of all college admissions. The bill remained virtually unchanged until 1984, when Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. Montgomery revamped it. His version of the act preserved the legacy and intent of the original, while also updating it to meet the needs of a new generation of veterans in the ever-changing landscape of education, home ownership, and employment. His version of the bill has since been referred to as “The Montgomery GI Bill.”
Eligibility: There are many factors which may qualify, or disqualify, you from being entitled to benefits under the MGIB. For the most current information, be sure to check with the Veterans Administration’s dedicated GI Bill website. However, in general, a veteran must establish MGIB eligibility in one of four categories:
Veterans who first entered active duty after June 30, 1985
Veterans with remaining entitlement under the Vietnam Era GI Bill
Veterans with specific types of separation
Individuals who were eligible to convert to MGIB from Post-Vietnam Era Educational Assistance Program
National Guard members who were given a short period to elect MGIB
All four categories also carry the following basic requirements:
The Montgomery GI Bill also has provisions for reservists with a six-year obligation in the Selected Reserve. In order to qualify, the reservist must be actively drilling, enrolled in the program, and have paid $100 per month for the first 12 months of their service.
Tuition: The tuition assistance that qualifying veterans are entitled to under the Montgomery GI Bill can be used for:
The amount of assistance provided varies depending on the type of training or education and enrollment status. Currently, the maximum payment rates for Category 1 veterans who have completed three years of active duty are as follows:
Type of Training
Institutional Training (Higher Education)
Apprenticeship and On-the-job Training
Correspondence and Flight Training
Again, payment rates vary based on the type of training, length of service, veteran category, college fund eligibility, and contributions to the $600 buy-up program (which increases the tuition payout in exchange for an extra payroll deduction).
Always check the VA’s current rate tables for the most current payments for all of the different categories and eligibilities.
Tests and Certification Exams: The MGIB also covers the costs of certain tests and examinations relating to education and job certification.
National Admissions Tests
(For a full list of approved tests, click here)
Students will be reimbursed for all mandatory testing fees.
Job-related Licensing or Certification
Limits: Of course, there are limitations to the entitlements provided by the Montgomery GI Bill:
History: In much the same way that World War II fundamentally changed the socio-economic and geo-political landscape of the 1940s, the events of September 11, 2001 shaped the beginning of the 21st century. Along with those terrorist attacks on American soil, came two new wars, a surge in military enlistment, and a new generation of veterans returning home to an economy edging toward a recession. Because of a new reality for veterans that was barely recognizable to the one just a generation before it, a massive campaign started to advocate for a new GI Bill.
Spearheaded by a united coalition of veterans’ organizations, and with the help of a bipartisan congressional group, a new GI Bill was drafted and signed into law by President George W. Bush on June 30, 2008. The new bill, commonly referred to as the Post-9/11 GI Bill, marked the greatest change and largest investment in veteran benefits since the original Serviceman’s Readjustment Act of 1944. Along with changes in eligibility and increased benefits, the Post-9/11 Bill also includes provisions for housing and book allowances as well.
Eligibility: A key change to the Post-9/11 bill is the eligibility requirements for its entitlements. In order to be eligible for benefits, you must have served at least 90 aggregate days on active duty after September 10, 2001 (or 30 continuous days with an honorable discharge due to a service-connected disability). That 90 day service qualifies you for the minimum percentage of the payable benefit. Benefit payouts increase as service time increases according to the following chart:
Aggregate Active Duty After 9/11/2001
Percentage of Maximum Benefit Payable
At least 36 Months
At least 30 continuous days and honorable discharge due to service-connected disability
At least 30 months < 36 months
At least 24 months < 30 months
At least 18 months < 24 months
At least 12 months < 18 months
At least 6 months < 12 months
At least 90 days < 6 months
A select group of veterans may be eligible for benefits under both the Montgomery and Post-9/11 bills. However, using the Post-9/11 benefits may negate any remaining MGIB benefits. So, if there is the need or desire to use both, make sure to do the appropriate research as to the best course of action to take.
Fry Scholarship: It should also be noted that the children of a member of the Armed Forces who died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001, may be eligible to receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits under the provisions of the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship. For more information, visit the Fry Scholarship page on the Veterans Administration website.
Benefits: Perhaps the biggest statement made by the Post-9/11 GI Bill was the country’s financial commitment to its veterans. The new version of the bill dramatically increases the amount of potential tuition benefits. It eliminates the monthly payments and reimbursements of the Montgomery GI Bill, opting instead for upfront tuition payments to the school on the veteran’s behalf, as well as providing funds for books and housing.
The tuition benefits of the Post-9/11 Bill can be used for the same type of education and training as the MGIB: degree programs, flight training, vocational courses, apprenticeships, etc. The payments cover the full cost of tuition and fees for the programs with the following maximums (based on 100% eligibility):
Maximum Tuition and Fee Reimbursement
Non-college Degree Granting Institutions
Vocational Flight Training
Again, always check with the VA for the current rate tables.
Tests and Certification Exams: Like the Montgomery bill, the Post-9/11 bill will also reimburse the cost of any required national school placement tests, and also for job-related certification and licensing exams. The new bill reimburses up to $2,000 per test. However, it should be noted that you will be charged one month of entitlement for every $1,759.08 paid. So, even low-cost test will be charged a full month. You may want to consider this when seeking reimbursement.
Books and Supplies: One new provision of the Post-9/11 GI Bill not addressed in previous versions is a yearly stipend for books and school-related supplies. Veterans are entitled to a yearly payment of $1,000, proportional to enrollment. So if you’re taking less than a full course load, your book stipend will be less than the full entitlement.
Monthly Housing Allowance: Another attractive addition to the Post-9/11 bill is the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) that it provides. In general, the MHA is paid at the same rate as the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BHA) for an E-5 with dependents. The BHA reflects the current household rental costs in any given market, so they vary by location. For that reason, calculating the Monthly Housing Allowance is based on the ZIP code of the school.
There are a few exceptions to the MHA:
Distance Learning (no classroom instruction)
Part-time (1/2 time or less)
Active Duty Trainee
Aside from the Federal benefits afforded to veterans by the GI Bill, many states also offer their own programs for tuition assistance or reimbursement. These can be used in addition to, or as an alternative to the federal programs depending on your needs and qualifications. Many of these programs cover the gaps in financial obligations left by the GI Bill, while others service groups excluded from its entitlements, such as many categories of National Guard members.
Here’s a sample of some state-level programs available:
Alabama National Guard Educational Benefit: Tuition reimbursement of $500 per semester or quarter. No more than $1,000 annually.
Eligibility: Army National Guard service member.
Arizona Tuition and Fees Deferred Payment: A veteran who has applied for educational benefits under the G.I. Bill and is attending a state-supported college or university may defer payment of tuition, fees and required books for a period of 120 days with no interest charges while waiting for benefit approval and payment.
Eligibility: An Arizona veteran or an eligible dependent.
Spouse/dependent Benefits for POW/MIA/KIA: Free tuition and fees at any state-supported school to the wife and children of any Arkansan who has been declared to be POW, MIA, or KIA since Jan. 1, 1960.
Eligibility: Surviving spouse and children of any Arkansas resident declared missing in action, prisoner of war, or killed in action since 1960.
Virginia National Guard Tuition Assistance: Up to 100% tuition at state and community colleges.
Eligibility: Air/Army National Guard.
Always be sure to check with your state Department of Education and Veteran’s Affairs offices for any special application or eligibility requirements.
For a complete listing of current benefits by state, use the map below.
Data Source: http://www.legion.org/education/statebenefits
As if the time, training, commitment, and courage that it takes to serve in this nation’s armed forces didn’t already put our veterans in a class of their own, their military service also puts them in a unique category when it comes to securing additional funding for higher education. Veterans have access to many school-sponsored initiatives, state-level programs, scholarships, and grants that aren’t available to other students.
Yellow Ribbon Program: The Post-9/11 GI Bill only covers the full tuition costs for in-state students attending public institutions. If you choose to attend a school outside of your home state, or a private institution, you may face higher tuition costs that exceed the maximum payable benefit of the bill. However, you shouldn’t let that potential financial burden discourage you from enrolling in one of those programs if your research determines that it is the best one to fit your educational and career goals. Where the GI Bill funding may fall short, initiatives like the Yellow Ribbon Program may help to cover that gap.
Schools that voluntarily participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program may provide tuition assistance that could cover up to 50% of the extra costs. Additionally, the VA will match the school’s Yellow Ribbon contribution dollar-for-dollar, further lowering the financial burden.
Application for the program is processed
Eligibility: The Yellow Ribbon program is available to veterans qualified at the 100% benefit level, or their designated transferees. Dependents of veterans and active duty service members who have had Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlements transferred to them can participate in the program.
Those not eligible for the program include:
Eligibility does not guarantee acceptance into the program. Since the Yellow Ribbon Program is voluntary, the school ultimately has discretion when choosing how to distribute the funds. Their agreement with the VA may limit the number of participants, and the amount of money awarded can vary based on any number of criteria decided upon by the institution. Because of this, acceptance into the program is often determined on a first-come, first-served basis. And acceptance into the program one year does not guarantee acceptance the next.
Be sure to check with your school’s Veterans Services office or resource center for complete information on their participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program.
Data Source: http://www.benefits.va.gov/GIBILL/yellow_ribbon/yrp_list_2015.asp
The government also offers several grants that veterans can take advantage of. Federal grants are most often awarded to students based on financial need and a specific set of criteria. Unlike federal student loans, grant money does not need to be repaid.
Pell Grants: Pell Grants are awarded only to undergraduate students who have not earned a bachelor’s or a professional degree. The amount of money awarded (if any) is based on financial need, tuition cost, and enrollment status. However, the maximum award is $5,775.
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant: If your parent or guardian was a member of the U.S. armed forces and died as a result of military service performed in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11, and you were under 24 years old (or enrolled in college at least part-time) at that time, you may be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. The grant award is equal to the amount of a maximum Federal Pell Grant.
Teach Grant: Depending on your desired career path, the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant may be an option for you. This program provides grants of up to $4,000 a year to students who are completing coursework for a teaching degree. The stipulations of the program require that specific teaching-related courses be taken, and a specified number of years are spent working as a teacher after graduation. If those requirements aren’t met, the grant turns into a loan and must be repaid.
Like grants, scholarships are gifts that don’t require repayment. But unlike grants, which mostly come from public sector, scholarship money comes from countless different sources — schools, employers, private companies, nonprofits organizations, religious groups, etc. – for any number of reasons. Every scholarship has its own criteria and application process. Some are merit-based, while others are based on financial need. There are scholarships for academics, athletics, special talents, unique skills, and uncommon interests. Basically, you never know who is giving away free money for a quality you may already possess. And as a veteran, you qualify for several scholarship opportunities not available to those who never served in the armed forces.
Finding Scholarships: The hardest part about applying for a scholarship is finding it. With so many opportunities offered by so many different organizations, there is no single source for information. As such, it will take some digging on your part, with a basic internet search being the most-likely first step.
However, be warned that there are many scholarship scams swimming around in the murky waters of the internet. The easiest way to avoid them is to never pay for commercial financial aid services or for scholarship search results. The U.S. Department of Education also recommends avoiding any scholarships that charge an application fee. These scholarships can still show up in the results of free scholarship searches. Scholarship money is meant to be given away to make the cost of higher education cheaper for the recipient. Paying to find them is counter-intuitive and not what the benefactors intended.
To be safe, do not pay for help of any kind. There are enough free reliable resources to help you find potential scholarships that you will never have to resort to anything else.
Your safest, most reliable sources for scholarship information, and best places to start, will always be:
There are also a number of reliable free internet scholarship search engines, such as:
Not every veteran has college aspirations, or the need for any vocational training outside of their current job, which may be continued military service. In those instances, it may possible to transfer the education benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to a spouse or dependent, rather than forfeiting them or letting them expire. The Department of Defense has the ultimate discretion as to whether or not a benefit can be transferred, but if the Transfer of Entitlement request is approved, eligible service members can transfer all or a portion of their 36 months of education benefits to:
Eligibility: The option to transfer entitlements has different eligibility requirements than the standard service times for veteran benefit use under the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In order to submit a transfer of entitlement request, the service member must be active duty and meet one of the following requirements:
The DOD also recognizes that relationships can change. Couples may get divorced and children may marry. Those instances do not affect the eligibility of a transferee. A divorced spouse, or a married child, can still use the benefits that were transferred to them. However, it is important to note that even after a transfer has been made, the service member has the right to reassign or revoke any or all portions of the benefit at any time.
Limitations: Once a transfer has been approved, entitled family members can apply separately to use the benefits. However, transferred benefits are subject to different rules than when used by veterans themselves. The Department of Defense places different limitations on entitlements for both spouses and children:
Be sure to check with the Department of Defense website for any and all information on transferring Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
As technology has advanced, so has the availability, respectability, and convenience of online education. Today, more and more students are turning to distance learning to obtain college degrees. And aside from the convenient schedules that online programs often provide, they also have many inherent benefits for veterans and their families who are using GI Bill entitlements.
Understanding your benefits as a veteran is the first step in learning how to maximize them. Both the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bills have tuition provisions for college, vocational programs, flight training, correspondence courses, and apprenticeships. As far as tuition costs go, more money is paid out by the VA in the pursuit of higher education than any of the other covered training. While college may not be for everyone, from a strictly financial perspective, a college degree is the maximum use your GI Bill benefits.
However, along with costing more, college presents the largest amount of choices to narrow down in choosing a program. Even after you decide on an area of study, there are still numerous other factors to consider before enrolling in any school.
At Accredited Online Colleges, we want to make that decision easier by providing a thoroughly-researched list of what we’ve determined to be the top veteran-friendly schools. We’ve applied our unique methodology to the list of over 30,000+ schools included in the VA’s GI Bill Benefits Comparison Tool and narrowed it down to the ones where we think you will have the most chance of success.
All of these filters narrowed the list down to the top 1000 veteran-friendly schools in the nation. You can use the map below to see a listing of the best schools for each state:
Of course, we realize that 1000 schools is still an enormous number to search through. In order to do give you an easier starting point, we applied stricter metrics to that list in order to narrow it down ever further. In doing so, we have compiled a ranking of the top 15 veteran-friendly schools in the country.
These strict filters gave us the following list:
University of Virginia-main Campus
University of California-Los Angeles
University of Michigan-Ann Arbor
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
University of Maryland College Park
Ohio State University-Main Campus
Fordham University at Lincoln Center
Michigan State University
Florida State University
Florida State University-Panama City
North Carolina State University at Raleigh
Like all of our guides, this one is intended to be one of many resources you use in your college search. There are many other quality resources available that, when used in conjunction with this guide, can help answer any questions you have and provide the support you need as you transition into the world of higher education.
Disabled veterans are entitled the same provisions under the GI Bill as their fellow service members and even qualify for benefits at the full rate regardless of their aggregate active duty time for their service-connected disabilities. However, because of the extra challenges that disabled students face, there are more provisions guaranteed to them through the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
For a complete resource on your rights as a disabled student, be sure to check out our own extensive Disabilities Guide. [Insert link to Disabilities Guide]
There are also a number of non-profit and advocacy groups for both student and non-student disabled veterans: