gettyimages 531636648 Making the most of your VA education dollars

The cap of a graduate of Rutgers University is seen ahead of a commencement ceremony on May 15, 2016 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Getty Images)

By Matt Saintsing

Veterans are used to a challenge. But preparing to go back to school after the military? That can be completely uncharted territory. Here are some resources so you can to take full advantage of your earned education benefits.

What to study?

Where you want your education to take you will inform what you want to study.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) self-assessment tool CareerScope helps to narrow interests and focus aptitudes.  It also gives recommendations on which careers you are best suited for.

My Next Move for Vets, a Department of Labor resource, allows veterans to explore hundreds of careers by searching industry-specific descriptors, such as “health and counseling”, or “management”. The tool remains relevant as it is constantly updated based on survey responses from a wide range of workers with diverse occupations.

Choosing your school

Vets and eligible recipients planning to use the GI Bill are consumers about to make one of the most important decisions in your life. Making an informed decision about how to make the most of your educational benefits, means doing a little homework before the first day of classes.

Be wary of schools that claim to be “Military/Veteran friendly.”

Here are the things to look out for:

Transfer of credits for military training: Your school should recognize and assess your past coursework/training, and accept transferred credit. Not all of your credits will be accepted, but finding a school that reviews all your past experiences will put you on a path towards completing your degree as efficiently as possible.

Veteran-specific space: A dedicated location for student veterans offers a dependable and supportive environment where trust and camaraderie can be found.

Yellow Ribbon program: Generally, public schools cost less to attend than private institutions. Student vets who attend private schools, or who pay out-of-state tuition, are eligible to participate in the VA’s Yellow Ribbon program, which is designed to off-set the higher costs of attending certain schools.

Financing your education

Tuition and other fees may be fully covered with GI Bill benefits, but how much of your expenses are covered depends upon your choice of college or program. Researching other funding options, such as grants, before considering a loan will help limit the out-of-pocket costs for your education.

The VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool is the resource to help you determine how much tuition and fees your benefits will cover, and what you will be responsible for.

If a loan is absolutely required, consider a Federal Direct Loan from the Department of Education as the repayment terms are more flexible and come with greater consumer protections.

When the best option isn’t a “school”?

While the GI Bill has been associated with attending a college or university, there is an alternative. Apprentices are members of the workforce who have chosen to master their craft as they train on the job, and in the classroom.

The VA’s On-the-job Training/Apprenticeship program allows veterans to learn a trade or skill through mentorship, training and close supervision rather than attending a college.

Veterans in an approved program can use their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and receive a tax-free housing stipend—an equivalent of the Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA)—of an E-5 with dependents. Stipend payments for other GI Bill programs can be found here.

Good Luck!

The GI Bill is a great program, you’ve already earned it. Use your benefits wisely, get your education, and become the leader in the civilian workforce you have already demonstrated you can be in the military.



Connect: @MattBSaintsing |

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