If you are thinking of earning a degree or certification, one of the first questions you may ask yourself is, "How am I going to pay for my education?" Whether you are going to school for the first time or returning to earn an advanced degree or certificate, higher education can be very costly. The good news is there are many financial resources available to military spouses wishing to further their education.
Federal student aid
An excellent place to begin your search for financial aid is with Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education. Federal Student Aid offers both grants and loans. Grants are awarded based on financial need and include Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants, Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grants, and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants.
If you do not qualify for a grant, loans are also available through Federal Student Aid. The Department of Education offers two student loan programs:
- The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program. DoED is the lender of this loan program, the largest on of its kind.
- Direct subsidized loans. Undergraduate students with financial need are eligible for subsidized loans. If you receive a subsidized loan, DoED pays the interest while you are at least a half-time student and for the first six months after you have completed your education.
- Direct unsubsidized loans. Undergraduate, graduate and professional students may qualify for unsubsidized loans. Financial need is not required; however, recipients of these loans are responsible for paying interest while they are in school.
- Direct PLUS loans. Graduate and professional students, as well as parents of dependent undergraduate students, are eligible for these loans, which are used to cover costs not paid for by other sources of aid.
- The Federal Perkins Loan Program. Undergraduate and graduate students with exceptional financial need may qualify for loans under this school-based loan program, for which the school is the lender. Approximately 1700 schools utilize this loan program.
To apply for a loan through Federal Student Aid, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Visit the FAFSA website for the online application. Note that when filling out the application, you will need access to the federal tax information of you and your spouse. For more information on financial aid provided by DoED, visit the Federal Student Aid site.
You might find it worthwhile to look into student aid opportunities provided by your state. Many states have higher education commissions that provide information on their websites regarding financial aid. As with federal aid, you may find that some scholarships, grants and loans are need-based. Merit- or occupation-based aid may also be available to you. Keep in mind that some occupation-based scholarships might require a commitment to work in a specific field and location for a predetermined amount of time, which could be an issue if you move frequently.
Post-9/11 GI Bill®
If your service member is eligible for Post- 9/11 GI Bill® benefits, they may be able to transfer those benefits to you. Any member of the armed forces who meets one of the following criteria on or after August 1, 2009, may transfer benefits to a family member:
- Has served at least six years on the date of benefit approval and agrees to serve an additional four years from the date of benefit election.
- Has served at least 10 years on the date of approval, is precluded by standard policy or statute from committing to four additional years and agrees to serve for the maximum amount of time allowed by the policy or statute.
- Is or becomes retirement eligible from August 1, 2009, to July 31, 2012, and agrees to serve for an additional period dependent upon the date of retirement eligibility.
Post-9/11 benefits may be used to pay for undergraduate and graduate degrees, technical training, on-the-job training, flight training, correspondence training, licensing, entrepreneurship training, national testing programs and tutorial assistance. You also might also be eligible for a monthly housing allowance and a yearly book and supplies stipend. Visit the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs for more details on the Post-9/11 GI Bill® and the Montgomery GI Bill®.
My Career Advancement Account Scholarship
The My Career Advancement Account Scholarship is available to spouses of service members on active duty in pay grades E-1 to E-5, O-1 to O-2 and W-1 to W-2. This includes spouses of National Guard and reserve components whose military sponsor is on Title 10 military orders. The objective of the program is to assist spouses in meeting education requirements to obtain a portable career.
Spouses eligible for the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship may receive up to $4000.00 to use at a participating institution to earn an associate degree, certificate or license. Spouses must choose from a list of approved career fields and occupations. My Career Advancement Account Scholarship funds cover the cost of tuition only and cannot be used for liberal arts or general studies degrees. For more information on eligibility requirements, career fields, programs and participating institutions or to apply, please visit the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship site.
School specific aid
You may be eligible for financial aid from your school. Many institutions, both public and private, provide aid to students based on merit. While many private schools have a high initial cost, they may offer generous scholarships, so don't immediately rule them out. Some scholarships given by schools are automatic. Others may require you to fill out an application and compete with other students. A good place to start searching for aid provided by your school might be the financial aid office. You may be able to access information from the financial aid office online at your school's website.
There are quite a few private and non-profit organizations that provide competitive scholarship opportunities for students. Private scholarships typically involve a specific qualifier. They may be merit- or need-based. Many private scholarships are directed at unique populations or those wishing to pursue a specific career or field of study. The application process is likely to require an essay speaking to the reason you deserve the scholarship.
The Military Community Compass Resource Scholarship & Financial Aid Explorer is a wonderful resource for military spouses and family members. The College Board website also provides an excellent scholarship search tool.
Before you decide to further your education, consider the costs, but also take the time to consider the financial resources that may be available to you. You might find that earning a degree, certificate or license is more affordable than you initially thought!