As a veteran, you can receive financial help in the form of low-interest loans, grants, and more. Every individual circumstance is different, so the amount you can collect from each of these varies based on your situation. These benefits come from the Department of Education to the schools for administration. They can be used for tuition and other fees, books, meal plans, and more while you are in school. The usual process is that the school withholds what’s due for the tuition and passes the rest of the money to you.
Who Is Eligible?
No matter the rank, active duty service members, reservists, veterans, and retirees are all eligible for federal student aid. Even if you were in school and your course of study was interrupted by your military service, you can still apply for readmission. You do have to meet some basic criteria, though:
- You have to be a citizen of the United States or meet the requirements for status as an eligible noncitizen.
- You must have a valid Social Security number or the equivalent for eligible non-citizens.
- If you are male and between the ages of 18 and 25, you must register with Selective Service.
- You have to make satisfactory academic progress (SAP), meaning a GPA of at least 2.0 on a schedule that will have you graduating within 150 percent of the normal course of study for your program.
- You must prove that you are ready for higher education by:
- graduating from high school
- completing a General Education Development (GED) program
- completing a state-approved homeschooling program
- complying with another state-approved form of secondary education
How Do I Apply?
The first step is completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). Don’t miss the word free in the title. There are websites out there that will fill it out for you for a fee, but this form is easy and doesn’t take much time to complete. Save your money and do it yourself.
What Kind of Aid Is Available?
Subsidized Direct Student Loans of up to $5,500 per year do not accrue interest while you’re in school, on deferment, or in a grace period. Repayment starts when you graduate or are no longer enrolled at least half-time. This type of aid is for undergraduate students only and comes directly from the Department of Education (DOE). You must show financial need to qualify.
Unsubsidized Direct Loans of up to $12,500 per year for undergraduates and up to $20,500 for graduate students are available. Financial need is not a factor with these loans. The interest does accrue while you are in school. You can either pay it as you go, or you can let it add up and add it to the principal when the time comes to start repaying. These funds also come directly from the DOE.
Pell Grants up to $6,495 per year are available for those with significant financial need who have not already received an undergraduate or professional degree. These funds do not have to be paid back, and the funds come directly from the government.
The Federal Student Education Opportunity Grant(FSEOG) is available for between $100 and $4,000 per year. Like Pell Grants, FSEOG money does not have to be paid back and comes directly from the government. These funds are reserved for the student with extreme financial need.
Direct Plus Loans are specifically for graduate and professional study, and you can borrow up to the full amount of your program directly from the government less any other forms of aid.
The Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant covers up to $5,920 per year and comes directly from the government. It has some specific conditions:
- You cannot be eligible for the Pell Grant because your expected family contribution (EFC) disqualifies you, but you still have to meet the other Pell Grant requirements.
- You must have had a parent or guardian who died as a result of service in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001.
- You must have been under 24 years old or attending college at least part-time when that service member died.
TEACH Grants cover up to $4,000 per year and come directly from the government. They’re specifically for those pursuing a degree in teaching. Receiving these funds comes with a TEACH Grant agreement to serve in some specific circumstances. It’s important to note that if you don’t fulfill these requirements, the funds you received convert to a direct unsubsidized loan. It accrues interest back to the date you received the money, and you must repay it to the DOE. You must commit to teaching:
- in a high-need field
- in a school system or the equivalent serving students from a low-income background
- for at least four full school years in your course of study within eight years of your own graduation
The Montgomery GI Bill is worth about $66,000 based on the 2016-2017 rates for full-time students. You draw a set monthly amount for 36 academic months (four years of study for traditional programs). The amount is set annually and goes up every October for all recipients. You may qualify if:
- You have served at least two years of active duty.
- You have completed high school, a GED, or the equivalent.
- You contribute $100 per month for the first 12 months of active duty or you qualify under VEAP conversion.
The Service Members Civil Relief Act is an interest rate break available specifically for service members on loans you took out before you joined the military. It caps your rate at 6 percent. To take advantage of it, you have to ask your loan service agency for it specifically.
Keep in mind that this is just an overview of some of the types of financial aid available to veterans and other service members. Your school’s financial aid office can help you sort out the best plan for you.