Grants for Veterans Wishing to Attend College
Serving your country in the United States Armed Forces is a noble endeavor that may entitle you to free money for higher education in the form of college grants or scholarships. A grant differs from a loan in that it is money that you don’t have to pay back. The federal government offers grants for veterans, or those who have served in one of the branches of the military, as do private institutions and some colleges and universities.
Scholarships are also gift money and may be available as well, although sometimes with eligibility or specific requirements attached to them. If you are one of the 21.8 million veterans in the United States, as estimated by the U.S. Census, you do not want to miss out on the opportunity for a grant or scholarship to help you afford to attend college.
Types of Grants Available
Historically, perhaps one of the most well-known versions of financial assistance for military veterans has been the Montgomery GI bill. The GI Bill is not considered financial aid in the traditional sense, however, as the money is disbursed directly to you instead of the school. You must typically buy into the program at the rate of $100 a month for the first 12 months when you are active duty, so it also does not qualify as a grant. The fact that it is not considered financial aid may actually work in your favor as you can then apply for the maximum amount of aid from other sources on top of any funding you receive from the GI Bill as well.
- Veterans of Foreign Wars
- American Legion
- Disabled American Veterans
- Paralyzed Veterans of America
- Imagine America Foundation
In 2008, the GI Bill was modified, no longer includes a buy-in, and is paid directly to schools. This new program is called the Post 9/11 GI Bill, which does function like a grant and may offer the widest range of benefits to veterans hoping to obtain an education. Federal grants for veterans and their families also include Pell Grants and Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants. Additionally, the Yellow Ribbon Program expands on the Post 9/11 GI Bill by granting additional funds in a coordinated effort between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, and a degree-granting institution.
All branches of the Armed Services, including the National Guard and the Reserves, offer scholarship programs for service men and women. Other organizations may offer grants as well as your chosen college or university, so be sure to check with your financial aid office in addition to the VA to determine if you may qualify for further scholarships or grants.
Benefits are available for up to 15 years after discharge for up to 36 months of coverage. If you served for at least 36 months, or 30 days and were discharged due to a service-connected disability, you are entitled to the maximum entitlement amount. You may receive 90 percent if you were active duty between 30 and 36 months, 80 percent for between 24 and 30 months of service, 70 percent for 18 to 24 months of service, 60 percent for 12 to 18 months of service, 50 percent for six to 12 months of service, and 40 percent for 90 days to six months of active duty service after 9/11.
The GI Bill offers many benefits on top of paying for tuition and school fees, including:
- Monthly housing stipend, depending on the location of your school, averaging about $1,368 a month
- One-time relocation allowance of up to $500 if you live in a rural area with no access to higher education
- Supplies and books stipend of $1,000 annually
- Tutorial assistance of up to $100 a month
- Certification or license testing reimbursement
- Ability to transfer education benefits to family member
Contact the VA to apply for benefits under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.
Yellow Ribbon Agreement
An extension of the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program may make additional funds available in the form of a grant without charging or changing your GI Bill entitlement. Institutions of higher learning may opt to voluntarily enter into this agreement with the VA, choosing the amount of fees and tuition that will be contributed. This amount is then matched by the VA and paid directly to the school. In order to be eligible for these funds, you must qualify for the maximum benefit rate under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, be enrolled with the VA, not be an active duty serviceman or woman, and attend a participating school.
The first step to receiving federal financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA. In order to be eligible for federal grants, you must first fill out the FAFSA, which will determine what type, if any, financial aid you are eligible for.
To be eligible for federal aid you must meet the following criteria:
- Be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen
- Have a high school diploma, GED or approved home school equivalent
- Be accepted and enrolled in a qualified certificate or degree program as a regular student
- Males between 18 and 24 must be registered with the U.S. Selective Service
- Have a valid social security number or approved exception
- Sign statements that you are not in default on any federal loans
- Agree to use any money disbursed for educational purposes only
- Maintain satisfactory academic progress while receiving federal funds
A FAFSA needs to be resubmitted annually in order to keep receiving federal funds. The FAFSA can be filled out online on the Federal Student Aid website. In order to complete your FAFSA, you will need your social security number, most recent tax records, and any applicable bank records or investment information. You will also need to create a FSA ID, which acts as your digital signature and grants you access to your personal federal financial records. You can apply for one at the FSA ID website.
Federal Pell Grant
Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant
Family members of veterans may qualify for additional Pell Grant funds if your parent or guardian died as a result of military service in Afghanistan or Iraq while a member of the U.S. Armed Forces after 9/11. In order to be eligible for these funds, you must have been younger than 24 years old at the time of their death and enrolled in college at least part-time.
If you meet these requirements and are eligible for Pell Grant funding, your EFC will be considered zero, which increases the amount of money you can receive. If your EFC is too high to be considered for a Pell Grant, but you meet the other requirements, you may be eligible for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, however. The funds you can receive are equal to the maximum of the Pell Grant minus 7.2 or 7.3 percent, depending on when the funds are disbursed. Funds disbursed between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015 are reduced by 7.3 percent, for example, bringing the total maximum amount to $5,311.71.
Private Institution Grants and Scholarships
Non-profit organizations often grant money to military service members, veterans, and their families. Many of these programs have specific requirements and eligibility criteria. For example, some cater to disabled veterans and others to members of specific branches of service, reservists, or recipients of certain awards. Some associations, like the American Legion, require you to be a member to receive any benefits. Other organizations, or even the federal government, may offer scholarships depending on what your course of study is. One example is the Troops to Teachers campaign run by the U.S. Department of Defense, which offers scholarships for education in an effort to help former military personnel make the transition to the civilian workforce by becoming public school teachers.
Many scholarships exist for military service members and their dependents, widows, or other family members, as well. For instance, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Scholarship offers need-based scholarship money to all veteran recipients of the Purple Heart. Additionally, some states may offer assistance for veterans, as may individual universities, colleges, career schools, or certificate programs. Contact the VA or your financial aid office in order to determine what additional scholarships or grants your military service may entitle you to.