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Higher Education Is Costly: Military Service Can Keep it Affordable

ROTC cadets

The cost of higher education and the thought of taking on student debt can be overwhelming. Perhaps you don’t think college is right for you now and want to wait. The military has options to make education affordable — whenever you choose to attend. In addition to the unique training and skills you gain as a service member, the military offers several ways to ease the cost of college. Learn more about tuition assistance, credentialing assistance, scholarships and other education benefits.

Committing to military service while in school: ROTC and military institutions

ROTC scholarships: Each service branch offers Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at various universities and academic institutions across the nation. Through ROTC, you will learn leadership and special skills while participating in the military and academic experiences. The ROTC program has several options, whether you’re straight out of high school, already attending a school or prior enlisted. There is a service commitment after graduation. Learn more:

Military Service Academies: Each branch of the military has a four-year university that offers full scholarships to its students. While in a service academy, you will be held to high academic and physical fitness standards. The application process is lengthy and extremely competitive. Applicants must be between 17 and 22 and unmarried with no children. After graduation, cadets and midshipmen serve as commissioned officers in the military. Get more information:

Tuition assistance and other education options while serving

College Loan Repayment Program: Various benefits are available to those who join the military after graduating from college. Qualified candidates could fast-track to officer training and apply for the College Loan Repayment Program and more. The military could pay off a portion or all your loans in exchange for a service commitment. This offer is not always available and is contingent on several factors such as your military job and your loan amount. Keep in mind that not every service branch offers this program. A local recruiter can provide specific details.

Education assistance is available.

Learn which of these various options can help you best reach your education goals in the military.

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Tuition assistance: As an active-duty service member, you may be able to attend school part time. Each service branch offers tuition assistance of up to $250 per semester hour for academic classes. Tuition assistance can be used for undergraduate and graduate programs, as well as several other programs.

Tuition assistance may not cover the full cost of college, but the Top-Up Program allows you to use GI bill funding to cover the rest. Talk to your education counselor for more information.

GI Bills: The Department of Veterans Affairs offers several programs to help veterans and active-duty service members pay for education. The GI bills are two of the most well-known programs. See the next section for details on the GI bills.

National Guard/reserves: Joining the National Guard or reserves allows you to serve in the military part time and receive education benefits.

Credential program: Earning credentials can help you develop as a service member and prepare you for civilian employment after separation or retirement. The Credentialing Opportunities On-Line program can help pay for education or training that leads to certification or license. It may also cover the exam fees of a credential.

Education options after military service

Post-9/11 GI Bill: This is available to those who serve at least 90 days of active-duty service after Sept. 10, 2001 and receive an honorable discharge. The benefit covers up to 100% of tuition and fees, a yearly stipend for books and a monthly housing allowance. As a bonus, if you’re a veteran at the 100% benefit level, you may also be eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program. This program, available at military-friendly institutions, pays any tuition or fees not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. You may be eligible for full housing allowance during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

Montgomery GI Bill: This education benefit requires you to have served at least two years on active duty and have a high school diploma or GED. Unlike the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill covers tuition and fees only, and you have up to 10 years after discharge to use the benefit.

If you’re already serving or recently transitioned within 365 days, Military OneSource offers a free specialty consultation to help you reach your education goals, whatever they may be. Call 800-342-9647 for 24/7 help.

The cost of higher education and the thought of taking on student debt can be overwhelming at times. Perhaps you don’t think college is right for you now and want to wait. Whatever the case may be, the military has options to make college affordable — whenever you choose to attend.

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