Yes, you can afford to go to college, military spouse. And you can send your children, too! Many service members wish they could help their spouse and children pay for a college education, but military pay scales do not always enable military families to save as much money as they would like for higher education. Whether you are trying to go back to school after taking a few years off, or researching education expenses for your children, don’t despair. There are numerous resources available to help military families finance college education. Many military dependents use a combination of the programs listed below to help them fund a college degree. See which options are best for your family!
MyCAA program for military spouses:
The MyCAA (My Career Advancement Accounts) benefit can be incredibly helpful to some military spouses, but only for those who qualify for it. The program is for spouses of service members with the rank E1 to E5, W1, W2, O1, or O2. If you qualify, you can receive $4,000 ($2,000 per year for two years) in tuition assistance towards an associate’s degree, professional license, or vocational training. Note that the program has changed over time, and can no longer be used for a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.
GI Bill (Yellow Ribbon program):
The Post-9/11 GI Bill is a service member benefit. However, it can be transferred to the spouse or children to be used for education expenses. This is preferable if the service member does not plan to pursue higher education after military service, or if they earn a degree while serving using the Tuition Assistance (TA) program for service members. The Post-9/11 GI Bill can only be transferred if the service member has served at least six years, and has at least four years remaining in the military. Once the GI Bill has been transferred to a dependent, it can be used at colleges with a Yellow Ribbon program to pay for tuition, books, and sometimes living expenses.
Military discount on tuition:
Always ask if a school offers a military discount! Even without the GI Bill or a scholarship, some schools have special rates for military dependents. You may be able to pay in-state tuition on a distance program, receive book vouchers, or benefit from a lower tuition rate. Every dollar adds up when it comes to education expenses, so don’t leave money on the table.
Purple Heart scholarships:
Every year, the Military Order of the Purple Heart provides approximately 80 scholarships to military service members who have received the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. Spouses or direct children of Purple Heart recipients can also apply for this competitive scholarship award. Recipients must be high school graduates or seniors enrolled full-time at an accredited school.
Third party scholarships:
Apply for scholarships everywhere! Military spouses and children may qualify for scholarships through their chosen college, or through military-friendly organizations like the installation’s spouse club, American Red Cross, Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society, etc. Extensive lists of third-party military family scholarships are online. Also look for scholarships that are specific to your degree field. Even if it has nothing to do with the military, you may be able to write a stellar application essay because of some part of your military life experience.
The PELL grant is a federal grant that is available to many low-income students, whether or not they have a connection to the military. However, a child of a service member killed in Iraq or Afghanistan will benefit from adjusted qualification rates that make them more likely to receive the grant. If they still do not qualify, they can apply for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service grant, which is equal to the annual PELL grant award. Grants are much better than student loans because they generally do not need to be repaid (unless you withdraw from the program or receive additional scholarships).
Employee Tuition Assistance:
If your current job offers employees a tuition assistance program, ask your human resources department more about it to discover if this can help you or your children pay for college. Many employers offer a tuition matching plan, which essentially means they will cover half the cost of classes you take while you are an employee. It is challenging to work full-time while taking a college class, but because of numerous online and night school programs, it is an affordable option for many military dependents.
Talk to an education counselor:
If scholarships and payment plans seem overwhelming, talk to an education counselor to help sort through those options. There are education officers on most military bases at the Family Center or Community Center. Free educational counseling is also available to military families through Military One Source.
If college classes don’t seem possible right now because of life’s circumstances, start planning for your future by researching resources. Thousands of military spouses and dependents have found creative ways to fund a college degree. You can too!