Whether you or your spouse are transitioning out of the military and hoping to increase your marketability in the civilian world, or your high-schooler is looking for colleges, one of the biggest questions people ask is “How are we going to pay for it?”
The average college tuition at a public four-year institution is 40% higher than it was just a decade ago. Over the same time, the sticker price of a degree from a private, four-year institution is up more than 26%.
Even though those numbers are growing at an alarming rate, there are still options for military families to get a quality college education without breaking the bank.
The first options for many military families is their GI Bill, which can be used by the veteran, or transferred to one of his or her dependents. This fund is extremely helpful, but it’s also limited.
To stretch your benefits a little farther, it’s a good idea to find scholarships and grants that fit your skill set, educational goals, and military affiliation. Fortunately, there are many to choose from.
For the Veteran
In addition to the GI Bill and the Post 9/11 GI Bill, there are several scholarships available for veterans interested in pursuing a college education.
The AMVET National Scholarship Program is for veterans who have already used their GI Bill resources. The award is $1000 per year, and is renewable for a maximum of three years.
The Pat Tillman Foundation offers a Leadership Through Action program that provides assistance to veterans and active-duty servicemembers who are working toward their college education. Merit and financial need are both considered in this award, and applicants must maintain a 3.0 GPA.
The American Legion Scholarship is available to all veteran members of the organization who are working towards their undergraduate degree.
The awards are dispersed in the amount of $1000 annually.
For the Military Spouse
Military spouses face many employment difficulties throughout their servicemember’s career. One way to make the best of a difficult situation is to focus on building a great education to prepare the spouse to get that dream job.
The National Military Family Association offers the Joanne Holbrook Patton Military Spouse Scholarship. This award is designed to prepare military spouses for meaningful employment. The scholarship can be used for vocational training, professional certification, undergraduate, or graduate degrees.
The United States Army sponsors the Spouse Education Assistance Program. This scholarship is awarded based on need. Applicants must be pursuing an undergraduate degree and maintain a 2.0 GPA. The scholarship can be renewed for a maximum of four years.
The Military Spouse Career Advancement Account Scholarship offers a maximum education benefit of $4000 to assist eligible military spouses who need professional credentials to meet their portable career goals.
The award is available to spouses of servicemembers on active duty in pay grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2, and O-1 to O-2.
For Military Kids
Paying for your children’s college education can be daunting. This is especially true if you have more than one child getting ready to graduation high school and take the next step in their education. There are several scholarships available for these circumstances as well.
The Scholarships for Military Children Program provides scholarships to veterans, reservists, and active duty military personnel. The program is awarded through the commissaries of military bases in the amount of $1500 per year. Students have to be under the age of 21, and enrolled in an accredited college.
The Scholarship for Air Force Enlisted Member’s Dependent Children offers scholarships to the children of active-duty, retired, and veteran Air Force personnel. Awards are based on academic achievement and community service, and can range from $500 to $3000.
The Post 9/11 GI Bill & Marine Gunnery Sgt. John David Fry Scholarship provides financial aid to the children of military servicemembers who were killed or disabled in the line of duty after September 10, 2011. Award amounts vary, and can be applied to any accredited college or technical school.
Do Your Research
In addition to these national scholarships, there are many other possibilities out there. Fisher House, for example, has a variety of scholarships for military dependents and spouses, including one for children of those who died or were severely disabled in service to our country. They also have a scholarship matching service that will help you identify scholarships, fellowships, grants, and other sources of funding.
Many colleges offer scholarships and aid for military-affiliated students. Do a little research and ask your financial aid office to check which options are available to you and your family. You can also find branch-specific scholarships for veterans, spouses, and children as well. These include the Air Force Aid Society's education grant program, Army Emergency Relief, scholarship programs, and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society education assistance program.
In addition, many states offer scholarships to military-affiliated students who are residents of that state. Check the state’s education website for scholarship opportunities.
Some General Tips
There’s a lot of competition for these scholarships and grants, and applying for them can be a frustrating and time-consuming activity. But the more you prepare, the better your chances. Here are some strategies that will help.
- Make sure you’re eligible. Some funders have very specific requirements and there’s no sense submitting an application if you don’t meet the criteria.
- Be sure that you completely fill out the application, include every requested document, and get your application in well before the deadline.
- Think about your essay. People who write checks may want to know more about you and they won’t have much to go on besides the essay.