How do I pay for an advanced degree?

By Lt. Col. Paul Capicik (USAF, Ret.)

Here’s the good news for military members (including veterans): there are a lot of military tuition assistance resources out there to help you minimize your out-of-pocket expenses for obtaining an advanced degree.

The important things to consider are: when you start your degree program, what level of degree you want, how fast you plan to progress from associate to bachelor’s to master’s, whether you want to pass on your benefits to dependents – all of which will directly affect what sources you should use and when.

Here is a non-inclusive list of military education benefits and funding sources:

  • Tuition Assistance (TA). For active-duty, including the activated Reserve and Guard forces, the Department of Defense allows for $4,500 per year in TA funding for degree programs and a separate one time amount for certifications.
  • VA. GI Bill for active-duty, Reserve, Guard, and veterans. There are various flavors of this educational benefit depending on the service member’s situation.
  • U.S. states. Many states have education programs that fund advanced education. Most apply mainly to Guard forces.
  • Federal student loans and grants. These depend on the individual member’s situation. Common factors include financial status and family size.
  • Scholarships. Numerous sources categories of the military community, including military-friendly schools. American Sentinel offers military scholarships to military related members, veterans and spouses. The university also offers several Severely Injured Scholarships to members and spouses.

Once you understand the need and benefit of a college degree, rarely is there an excuse for lack of funding, especially if you start early. One point to consider is that a service member who starts an education early in his or her military career could complete a bachelor’s and a master’s degree just using TA funding. (If you do this, you could conceivably have up to $50,000 you could pass on to dependents for their education, according to the current Post 9/11 GI Bill.)

Believe it or not, military studies have shown that the average service member in a degree program uses only about $1,600 of the allotted $4,500 TA availability. Think of the money that’s been left on the table!

Some of the rules for using your military education benefits are complex and can be confusing. For instance, some funding you can use in conjunction with other benefits, but other funding cannot be used simultaneously. Some decisions and choices you make regarding funding sources are irreversible, so you need to get accurate and timely advice for their use.

Specific agencies control many of the benefits, so you won’t learn about all possible resources from a single source. You need to apply caution when taking advice from someone who’s not officially a representative for a specific benefit source.

Also, a consideration for the military member is knowing the benefits available to their dependents. Some are in addition to those for the military member (an example is the MyCAA program TA available to spouses of lower-ranking active-duty members), and others, such as the Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, can be shared among the military member and his/her dependents.

There are many resources to help you find and understand the military tuition assistance available for advanced degrees, including Education Offices, the VA, the universities that offer programs of interest, various military groups, military.com, blogs, social networking sites and more. Use any and all of these to find out what benefits are available.

Again, I urge you to consult the particular benefit expert or controlling agency to get accurate details for each source

Also, check out my articles on finding military benefits that maximize your education options and using military education benefits effectively.

Comments or questions? Please post them here or contact me directly: paul.capicik@americansentinel.edu or 800-470-3743.

Related article: A new change to the Post 9/11 GI Bill now provides a housing allowance to vets enrolled in online degree programs. Read more.

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