How to Finance Your Education Without the GI Bill

We’re all familiar with the GI Bill. It’s been helping veterans continue their educations since the 1940s, and the Post 9/11 GI Bill enhanced the benefit to meet the needs of today’s veterans and their families.

In the former iterations of the GI Bill, the VA made monthly payments to veterans. Now, the VA makes a tuition and fees payment to the school and pays a stipend for books and supplies, along with a monthly housing allowance.

It’s a great program, but what if a veteran can’t utilize the GI Bill to continue going to college? Perhaps they assigned their benefits to their dependents, or perhaps they’ve decided to change careers after using up all their VA education benefits entitlement. The end of the GI Bill money doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for a veteran’s education.

There are an incredibly wide variety of scholarships and grants for veterans out there, and there may still be some federal and state education programs for veterans to utilize, as well. It may take some effort to find them, but we know where to look. We’ll point you in the right direction.

The VA’s Vocational Rehabilitation & Employment Program (VR&E)

You may still be eligible for VA education benefits. The VR&E program can help veterans who meet certain criteria continue their educations or change their careers. Veterans will need to have a disability rating from the Veterans Benefits Administration with an evaluation of 20 percent or more, and they must apply for VR&E within 12 years of discharge or of notification of that disability evaluation.

Once you apply, a program counselor will meet with you to discuss how your disability impacts your employability or your ability to find work in your previous field.

If you have filed a claim for disability compensation and received a 20 percent or greater evaluation for the chronic residuals of an illness or injury that’s related to your period of service, your notification will have information on how to apply. You can also apply online.

Guard and Reserve Education Benefits

Many veterans who haven’t earned active duty retirement benefits for 20 years of service continue serve in the guard or reserve. Indeed, if someone only serves an initial four-year enlistment and leaves active duty, there are still four years left in their mandatory service obligation of eight years.

Serving in the guard or reserve isn’t required for veterans who need to complete their service obligations. They will be subject to recall for the duration of that time, and they may be required to attend an annual training period. If they do choose to give time to the guard or reserve, they will be able to supplement their monthly incomes.

They may also be eligible for certain education benefits associated with that service, such as:

  • Loan Repayment Program (LRP). If a guard or reserve member has an LRP in their contract — and it must be in the contract for the reserve or guard service — the guard member can receive help from the service paying back up to $20,000 of student loans. The service will pay the greater of $1,500 or 15 percent each year until the benefit runs out.
  • Tuition Assistance. Depending on the federal military budget, drilling guard or reserve service members can receive assistance for up to $4,500 in tuition per fiscal year. There are limits to the amount paid per credit hour, so it’s important to review the benefit before trying to utilize it.

Naturally, using these benefits depends on your standing in the reserve or guard. If you’ve had unfavorable actions or otherwise do not meet requirements, you may not be able to take advantage of these benefits until you’re in good standing again.

If you’re a veteran who’s interested in taking advantage of education benefits as a member of the guard or reserve, your local recruiter can help you.

Employer Benefits

Some larger employers have programs to help employees continue their educations. There may be a requirement to stay with the employer for a certain period of time after graduation, but an employer that pays for your education may just be worth that commitment. Even Walmart has a program to help employees pay for school.

Some larger employers have programs to help employees continue their educations.

Check your employer’s web site or contact your human resources office to see if there are any similar programs where you work. Even if there aren’t, the HR office may be able to help you find other programs associated with the type of company or the type of work you do.

State Veterans Benefits

Every state has its own Veterans Affairs Office. They can help veterans find benefits and programs from applications for VA compensation or education benefits to finding food pantries or other community supports. They also may have information on additional education benefits that each state provides veterans in addition to the GI Bill.

If the state doesn’t directly provide benefits, the representatives in these offices may have information on scholarships or grants for veterans and their families that may not be widely known.

The Department of Veterans Affairs provides information on each of the states’ Veterans Affairs Offices. There will be contact information for you to reach out to each one or to find a local office near you. Military.com also has information showing additional education benefits for veterans, guard or reserve servicemembers, and their family members in each state.

Additionally, The US Department of Education has information on each of the states’ Departments of Education, which may also have information on state education benefits for veterans or on other local grants or scholarships for state residents.

Service Organizations

Many independent national veterans service organizations also fund scholarships and grants for veterans and their dependents to help them pay for their educations. Most of these require membership in the organization, and veterans may join most of them through an online application:

  • Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) has a program for Purple Heart recipients — or family members — who are also members of MOPH. There are around 80 scholarships awarded each year — divided among veteran members and family members. The requirements and application are available online.
  • AMVETS awards scholarships each year based on financial need, veteran status, and academic standing. They can give up to $1,000 per year, and it’s renewable up to $4,000. The printable application and requirements, including a short essay, is available in the AMVETS website.
  • The American Legion Auxiliary awards a $2,000 scholarship to a nontraditional student each year in different regions of the US. Veteran applicants must be members of the American Legion, and the applications are reviewed based on the veteran’s character and leadership, initiative and goals, financial need, and academic history.
  • The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) awards $5,000 scholarships each academic year in conjunction with other organizations to veterans who have been honorably discharged with a pay grade of E-5 or below or to current members of the guard or reserve who are E-5 or below.
  • The Army Aviation Association of America (AAAA) awards scholarships to current members each year. Membership information and the scholarship application material is available through the organization web site.
  • The Fleet Reserve Association’s (FRA) Education Foundation awards a variety of scholarships to veteran members and their families each year with differing criteria for eligibility for each award.
  • Student Veterans of America (SVA) is a coalition of campus student veteran organizations that not only helps veterans transition to academic life, but they award thousands of dollars in scholarships and grants for veterans each year, funded by a variety major corporations.
  • The National Association of Uniformed Services (NAUS) awards $2,000 scholarships each year to association members and their dependents. Applicants must meet certain academic criteria.
  • The Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association (AFCEA) awards a $2,500 scholarship each year to veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF). Applicants must be enrolled in specific academic programs to apply.

The Association of the US Army (AUSA), The Association of the US Navy (AUSN), and The Air Force Association (AFA) each award a variety of scholarships for their service veterans and retirees. Some of the scholarships will require membership in the organization, and some of them are require enrollment in specific fields of study.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has a complete list of nationally accredited service organizations, some others of which may also award school grants for veterans.

Nonprofit Organizations

Many nonprofit organizations provide college grants specifically for veterans.

Many nonprofit organizations provide college grants specifically for veterans. Some require membership in the organizations to apply for a scholarship, and others provide scholarships in memory of certain benefactors:

  • The Association for Nontraditional Students in Higher Education (ANTSHE) awards a number of scholarships to nontraditional students each year, and most veterans are nontraditional. To qualify for a scholarship, applicants must meet certain criteria and must be at least 23 years of age.
  • The Pat Tillman Association was established in 2004 after its namesake was killed in action while on deployment in Afghanistan. SGT Tillman famously left the NFL after the 9/11 terror attacks to serve as an army ranger. In his name, millions of dollars have been awarded in scholarships and support.
  • Scholarship America is a clearing house of information on scholarships and grants. They have closed scholarships for family members of certain company’s employees, but they also have several open scholarships that anyone can apply for.

Scholarship Search Engines

A number of websites & services have popped up over the years with the sole of purpose of helping people find funds to pay for their educations.

  • Scholarships.com has a database of millions of scholarships and grants worth billions of dollars. You can apply for a free account to help match you with funds for your education. They even have a page dedicated specifically to scores of military scholarships.
  • Fastweb.com is another site boasting of a database of over a million scholarships and grants valued at over a billion dollars. Joining the site is free.
  • CareerOneStop.org, the US Department of Labor’s web site for employment, training, and education resources also has a database of scholarships. There are only around 7,500 scholarships, grants, and fellowships listed, but there’s no membership required to search the sortable list of funding sources.
  • Military.com has a scholarship search tool as well. You’ll have access to information on thousands of veteran education grants and scholarships based on your service and academic information. And there are millions of dollars available just for veterans.
  • Scholly is a newer and highly-regarded online scholarship matching service. They have helped connect students with millions of dollars in education funding, and there is an app for use with both Apple and Android mobile devices. There is a one-time fee of $2.99 to use the service.

Some of these services may show even more scholarships and grants for veterans’ education — but be careful. While the advent of the Internet has made is exponentially easier to find and apply for grants and scholarships, it has also made it easier for criminals to get your personal and financial information.

If you’re not comfortable using the Internet to apply for educational funds, your local library’s reference section should also have information.

Federal Student Aid

The first step for a veteran to receive education grants or scholarships is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Many scholarship and grant applications will require a copy of your completed form, especially if the educational award is at least partially based on need.

The more grants & scholarships you earn, the less money you will need to borrow for school.

Completing the FAFSA will also verify your eligibility for federally subsidized student loans and Pell Grants, which are awarded based on financial need. The more grants and scholarships you earn, the less money you will need to borrow for school. If you must borrow, try to use a federal student loan before a private loan.

With a subsidized loan, the Department of Education will pay the interest to your lender while you’re enrolled in school. The interest rate — even on an unsubsidized federal loan — will probably be lower than a private loan, and you won’t have to make payments while you’re in school. Also, you may not be able to use a guard or reserve LRP with a private loan.

Your Next Steps

If you’re ready to continue your education, Vista College has a variety of programs to help you move your career forward. If you’re worried about financing, you don’t have to worry about accruing massive amounts of student debt. There is money out there just waiting to pay for someone’s education. Some of it could pay for yours.

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