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All the Options Veterans Have in Paying for College

For any prospective college student, there are several ways to finance tuition and fees. These include financial aid, scholarships, grants, and loans. 

If you’re a veteran, however, you have even more options to help you pay for college. In this article, we’ll outline the GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon program, and other methods you can use to finance your college education.

GI Bill

If you’ve served on active duty for at least 90 days following September 10, 2001, you’re eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. These benefits include payment of tuition and fees, a monthly housing allowance, and an annual stipend for textbooks and school supplies.

However, you don’t automatically qualify for full benefits. The percentage of benefits you’ll receive is dependent on the amount of time you’ve spent on active duty. Here’s the breakdown:

  • 100%: 36 months or more, OR at least 30 consecutive days of service before being discharged due to service-related disability 
  • 90%: At least 30 months (less than 36 months)
  • 80%: At least 24 months (less than 30 months)
  • 70%: At least 18 months (less than 24 months)
  • 60%: At least 12 months (less than 18 months)
  • 50%: At least six months (less than 12 months)
  • 40%: At least 90 days (less than six months)
  • 0%: Less than 90 days

It’s important to note that the GI Bill is not accepted at every school. If you qualify for GI Bill benefits, you can access your funds by:

  • Applying at a nearby VA regional office or online
  • Waiting for your certificate of eligibility
  • Using the VA’s search tool to look for GI Bill approved schools and the comparison tool to compare the benefits you’ll receive at different schools

Payments will go directly to your school. If you qualify for full benefits, you’ll receive full tuition at public, in-state schools. At a private or for-profit school, the national maximum is $24,476.79 for the 2019-2020 school year. This amount generally raises slightly each year.  

How Veterans Can Take Advantage of Their GI Bill Funds

Yellow Ribbon Program

If the GI Bill doesn’t fully cover your tuition, you may be able to supplement it with the Yellow Ribbon Program. Through the program, some schools make an agreement with the VA to waive some or all the tuition costs not covered by the GI Bill. Many of these programs are private schools wanting to help offset the extra cost of a private education.

About 1,800 schools currently participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program, including some Ivy League universities. The VA’s interactive map indicates which schools participate in the program.

Qualifying for the Yellow Ribbon Program requires you to have served 36 months, or be honorably discharged for a service-related disability after a minimum of 30 days consecutive service. Although active duty service members don’t currently qualify, they will beginning in August 2022.

Fee Waivers and Discounts

At some schools, veterans aren’t required to pay certain fees if they apply for a fee waiver. Other schools offer tuition discounts for veterans, active duty military, and sometimes military spouses.

Review the school’s website or talk to the university’s financial aid office to determine if veterans qualify for waivers and discounts.

Traditional Forms of Financial Aid

If the GI Bill, Yellow Ribbon Program, and fee waivers/discounts still leave you with tuition to pay, you can investigate traditional forms of financial aid as well.


Scholarships don’t have to be repaid, but you generally have to fill out an application to earn them. They’re often based on academic or athletic merit, although students can qualify based on other characteristics as well. 

For instance, scholarships are awarded based on the major or career students want to explore, religious affiliation, being a member of an underrepresented group, who live in certain areas, or who demonstrate financial aid. You can even earn scholarships for being left-handed!

And the good news for you is that you may be eligible for scholarships based on your military service. Search for scholarships online, talk to your school’s veterans-affairs office, and/or visit the VA’s website for helpful information. 

There’s no limit to the number of scholarships you can apply for or the amount of money you can receive. Search thoroughly for scholarships that are a good fit for you, and apply to as many as you’d like. Make the process easier by keeping a file (physically or digitally) of information you may need, such as a personal statement, resume, transcripts, and test scores.

Find military scholarships on Niche

Grants and Loans

Like scholarships, grants don’t have to be repaid. They may be need-based or dependent on a variety of other factors. Many are offered by the federal government. However, you can also apply for grants from corporations, professional associations, and your state. 

Loans, on the other hand, do need to be repaid. As such, they should be a last option. You may receive federal loans, which can be subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans go to students who demonstrate financial need, and the government covers interest while you’re in school and for a brief time after you graduate. With unsubsidized loans, the student is responsible for all interest payments.

There are also private loans, but they typically carry even higher interest rates than federal student loans.

To qualify for federal grants and loans, you’ll need to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Be sure to submit the FAFSA as early as possible. Aid is often offered on a first-come, first-serve basis. 

Work-Study Programs

The FAFSA is also used to qualify students for the federal work-study program. Through the work-study program, you earn money to help pay for your education expenses. Many work-study jobs are community service-based or related to the recipient’s area of study.

Additionally, the VA also offers a work-study program specifically for veterans. In this program, your services must be related to VA work. It will depend on your personal interests and the type of work available in your area. 

Final Thoughts: All the Options Veterans Have in Paying for College

If you’re feeling overwhelmed about paying for college, take comfort in the fact that you have a wide variety of options to help you offset costs.

These include:

  • GI Bill benefits
  • Yellow Ribbon Program
  • Fee waivers and discounts for veterans
  • Scholarships, including those based on military service
  • Grants and loans
  • Work-study programs, through either the federal government or the VA

Even if combining these resources doesn’t fully pay for your tuition, it’ll likely take care of a significant chunk. Instead of stressing about how you’ll finance your education, you can focus on the important task of learning and preparing for your future career.

See Niche's list of top colleges for veterans

Author: Jason Patel

Jason Patel is the founder of Transizion, a college counseling and career services company that provides mentorship and consulting on college applications, college essays, resumes, cover letters, interviews, and finding jobs and internships. Jason’s work has been cited in The Washington Post, BBC, NBC News, Forbes, Fast Company, Bustle, Inc., Fox Business, and other great outlets. Transizion donates a portion of profits to underserved students and veterans in of college prep and career development assistance.