Active duty military members enjoy a number of benefits, particularly when it comes to education. It can be tough to think about life outside of the military when you're on assignment, but it’s important to take advantage of all the educational resources that the government offers when you’re active duty.
We’ve put together this resource to help you get the most out of your military career and to help you get prepared for when it’s time to transition to civilian life.
Choosing a Career
Perhaps you joined the military straight out of high school. While serving your country, you might have found you enjoy certain duties such as exercising or helping those who are injured. When it’s time to consider what you want to pursue after you retire from the military, take into consideration those things you enjoyed. Perhaps you want to be a patient care technician or personal trainer.
Maybe you already went to college and joined the ROTC program to become an officer after graduation. If you decide to pursue the career in which you originally earned your diploma, you still might want to look into continuing your education or taking a few classes to refresh your knowledge and catch up on any changes in the field.
Your military career may be full of changes, but you can prepare yourself with a thorough, diverse background and skillset by using the education resources the military provides. Almost everyone who's interested in joining the military is required to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test. Higher scores determine the individual's qualification to serve in the U.S. military. Tests are conducted for free at one of 65 Military Entrance Processing Stations (MEPS) across the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
College assistance is vital for service members and prospective service members and it can greatly impact your career choice. Several military members offer partial or full assistance once you've committed to serving for a specific amount of time. This could mean four years on Active Duty followed by four years in the Individual Ready Reserve, where you're not actively serving but could be called back if needed. Almost all service members are eligible for tuition assistance, although specific eligibility varies by branch. For example, active duty members who have been on active duty for at least two years are eligible for the Montgomery GI Bill®¹, while service members who have served at least 90 active duty days since 9/10/2001 are eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.
Service members typically have numerous opportunities to further their education before, during, and after military services. Some of the options include the following:
- Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC): This college program is available in approximately 1,000 colleges and universities across the country and caters to young adults interested in becoming officers in the military. Different branches offer their own ROTC scholarships. For example, the Army provides qualified students with ROTC scholarships based on an individual's grades and merit rather than financial needs. Both high school and college students are eligible for tuition money and scholarships. Benefits include partial or full college funding along with a guaranteed career after graduation.
- Senior Military Colleges and Service Academies: Both institutions attract students seeking experience in a military environment during their education. While service academies offer complete four-year scholarships, senior military colleges provide generous financial assistance for eligible students.
Examples of well-known senior military colleges include The Citadel, located in Charleston, SC, along with Norwich University, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, University of North Georgia, and Texas A&N University. Some of the country's top service academies are the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, West Point in West Point, New York, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.
Military Education Benefits
Knowing the benefits available to you as an active military member (or a prospective one) can help you decide on a specific career path. Depending on the branch of military you're involved in, you might have access to numerous education benefits.
It's important to use these education benefits while you qualify to get the most out of your post-duty career. There are several potential tuition assistance programs available for active duty military members. Here’s a closer look at some of the most common and the benefits they typically offer:
- Army. Active army members may be eligible for Army Tuition Assistance, which provides financial assistance for voluntary off-duty education programs that directly support soldiers' personal and professional self-development goals. Almost all soldiers, including officers, warrant officers, and enlisted, are eligible. This also includes active duty military from the Army Reserve and the Army National Guard.It's important to pay attention to potential restrictions, as qualified participants may only receive full assistance if they adhere to current army policy limits. Although these limits are subject to change, the most current policy restricts assistance to “130 semester hours of undergraduate credit or baccalaureate degree (whichever comes first) and 39 semester hours of graduate credit or masters, whichever comes first.”
In addition, qualified individuals must attend a regional, national, or professionally accredited institution, or one that's recognized by the Department of Education. In general, tuition assistance is typically available to enlisted Navy Reservists who are ordered to active duty for 120 days and to Naval Reservist Officers on active duty for at least two years.
Continuing and postgraduate programs are available to members of the Navy who wish to further their education. Benefits may include the ability to attend an accredited Navy-operated institution or continuing graduate education in another location through Navy funding. The Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California also provides continuing education in the form of master's-level coursework, fellowship opportunities, and Ph.D. programs.
- Air Force. The Air Force provides 100 percent tuition assistance to active duty personnel. According to military.com, the program is typically one of the most commonly cited reasons for enlisting and re-enlisting in the Air Force. Aside from providing active duty members with numerous programs to support their voluntary education goals, the program also provides full assistance for any college courses that are taken during off-duty hours.
The Air Force Tuition Assistance program also pays up to 100 percent of tuition costs associated with continuing education programs. For example, the Post-9/11 Bill can provide active duty Airmen with up to 36 months of education benefits for undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Similarly, the Montgomery GI Bill® assists active duty Airmen with costs associated with degree and certificate programs as well as flight training and correspondence courses. Benefits are payable 15 years following release from active duty under the Post-9/11 Bill and 10 years under the Montgomery GI Bill®.
- Marine Corps. Service members opting for off-duty or voluntary education may receive 100 percent financial assistance through the Marine Corps Tuition Assistance program. Some active duty members may qualify for the Advanced Degree Program, where selected officers are provided 18 months away from the Marine Corps to attend graduate school. During this time, officers will pay their own tuition, although the GI Bill® frequently covers academic expenses.
- Coast Guard. As of 2014, the Coast Guard Tuition Assistance program will pay up to 75 percent tuition assistance for eligible qualifiers wishing to further their professional development through off-duty voluntary education courses. He or she must be expanding his or her academic or Coast Guard technical background.
- National Guard Tuition Assistance. National Guard members can receive up to 100 percent tuition assistance, although each Armed Forces ultimately decides how to administer the tuition assistance. There may also be state-funded incentives based on the state's guidelines and eligibility. National Guard tuition assistance is available through the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.
- Reserve. Selective Reserve members are eligible for full tuition assistance, although it's up to the Armed Forces to decide how to appropriately administer their own form of it. Such benefits apply to each service, including Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, and Coast Guard.
Active Duty Scholarships and Assistance
There are a variety of benefits offered to active duty military personnel in terms of scholarships and tuition support. Consider the following:
You'll have the most comprehensive access to a generous selection of education benefits during active duty. Tuition support is readily available to most active duty members and can make the difference between pursuing that career you've always dreamed of – or watching it slide out of reach. Tuition assistance often means 100 percent coverage for tuition and fees for military service members in the Air Force, Army, Navy, and Marines, although exact amounts can vary by branch. The Coast Guard typically provides 75 percent tuition coverage for its active duty members.
Each military branch offers its own form of assistance complete with specific requirements. For example, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps all offer assistance in addition to what an individual may earn through another source, such as the Montgomery GI Bill®. Those who want to qualify must agree to serve six years. The Armed Forces Tuition Assistance Program provides enlisted service members with 100 percent coverage of costs associated with courses at accredited colleges, universities, and junior college. The program also offers up to 100 percent cost coverage for obtaining a high school degree at vocational-technical schools and high schools.
Through tuition support and scholarships, service members are encouraged to enroll in courses at various accredited colleges and universities as well as junior colleges and vocational-technical schools. Depending on your career choice and goals, you may decide to pursue anything from a professional certification to a graduate degree. Most active duty members must meet certain requirements to qualify, such as having a specific amount of time remaining on a service contract or a limit on credit hours or expenses each year.
Educational Opportunities and Career Options
As one of the nation's most military-friendly schools, Vista has ample experience with providing military benefits for active members along with credit transfers and other needs of active duty members.
At Vista College, it's understood that you're a busy active service member who may not be able to make it to campus for classes on a regular basis, which is why we offer online training programs. These classes offer flexibility, so that you can study and work at the most convenient times.
Vista College also participates in numerous military programs such as:
- Post-9/11 GI Bill®: Provides educational benefits for service members who have been on active duty for at least 90 days after September 10, 2001. Payments are tiered and largely depend on the amount of creditable active duty service you have provided since that date.
- Yellow Ribbon: This program – also called the Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program – is designed to minimize the potentially expensive out-of-pocket costs students may incur if they've exceeded their 9/11 GI Bill tuition limit.
- Montgomery GI Bill®: There are two main programs in this bill, which is available to those who are enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the first program, Montgomery GI Bill® Active Duty, is designated for active duty members who pay $100 for 12 months, at which point they will receive a monthly education benefit after successfully finishing a minimum service obligation. The second bill, Montgomery GI Bill® Selected Reserve, caters to reservists with a six-year commitment in the Selected Reserve and who are actively drilling.
At Vista College – one of the best colleges for active duty military – we want to give back by helping you on the road to success in your civilian career. If you have questions regarding your military education benefits, you can count on one of our Military Admissions Representatives for guidance.
¹GI 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.