ROTC students sitting at lecture

College Is Costly: Here Are Ways Military Service Helps Pay for Your Education

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. In addition to unique training and skills you gain as a service member, the military offers several ways to ease the cost of college with tuition assistance, ROTC and other scholarships, programs and other education benefits.

Committing to military service while in college: ROTC and military colleges 

ROTC scholarships: The Reserve Officer Training Corps program is offered by each branch at various colleges and universities across the nation. While attending a school of your choice enrolled in an ROTC program, you will learn leadership, special skills and participate in the military and college experiences. The ROTC program has several options whether you’re straight out of high school, already attending college or prior enlisted. In exchange for a scholarship, there is a service commitment after graduation. Learn more:

Military service academies: Each branch of the military has a four-year college 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 extremely competitive and a lengthy process. Applicants must be between ages 17 and 22 and unmarried with no children. After graduation, cadets and midshipmen go on to serve as commissioned officers in the military. Get more information:

Tuition assistance and other education options while serving

College Loan Repayment Program: There are various benefits 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 like the type of job you take in the military and the amount of your loans. Keep in mind that not every branch offers this program. A local recruiter can provide specific details on how the program works.  

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 find time in your schedule to attend school part-time. Each branch offers tuition assistance to help pay for college classes that are $250 or less per semester hour. Tuition assistance can be used for undergraduate and graduate programs as well as several other programs. This program assists greatly in relieving the costs of college. 

Tuition assistance may not be able to fully cover college costs, but the Top-Up Program allows you to use funds from a GI Bill to cover the remaining costs. 

GI Bills: The Department of Veterans Affairs offers several programs to assist both active duty and veterans with the cost of education. The GI Bills are two of the most well-known programs. See the next section for details on the GI Bill.

National Guard/reserves: Joining the National Guard or reserves allows you to serve in the military part-time and receive education benefits, such as tuition assistance in certain branches and the GI Bill.

Credential program: While serving in the military, you have the ability to receive credentials in a professional field to help you plan for civilian employment after separation or retirement. The Credentialing Opportunities On-Line program offers vouchers to help pay the exam fees of a credentialing organization.

Education options after military service

Post-9/11 GI Bill: When you serve at least 90 days of active-duty service after Sept. 10, 2001 and receive an honorable discharge, you can use the Post-9/11 GI Bill. With this benefit, you can receive up to 100% of tuition and fees covered, a yearly book stipend 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 colleges, covers any tuition or fees that may not have been covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

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 only covers tuition and fees, and you have up to 10 years after discharge to use the benefit.

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