Veterans Benefits and Beyond: How to use your benefits and choose the right school for you

Education concept with book in library
By Connecting Vets

While GI Bill® Benefits are an unmatched resource for attending school, getting started using the benefit can seem difficult. Understanding the process is essential for a successful transition into any degree program or area of study.

Choosing the right school

The first step in using GI Bill® Benefits is to understand what field of study makes the most sense for your career aspirations. Consider what industry, or position, you are interested in working in and research the academic-related requirements. For instance, individuals who wish to work in the field of Cybersecurity will likely require a bachelor’s degree in cybersecurity or a related field.  Once you have narrowed down the education program or training you require, you can search for reputable schools that offer industry-recognized certificates or degrees.

It is likely that there will be more than one school or training facility that offers a program that suits your needs. In this case, take advantage of the VA’s GI Bill® Comparison Tool which allows users to learn about available education programs and compare benefits at a comprehensive list of schools. Understanding how your benefits will be applied to a related school can help you make an informed decision about which institution is right for you.

Other things to consider when selecting a school should include whether they offer specific services for military and veteran students. Navigate the school’s website, or speak to an advisor, to answer the following questions:

Are there advisors specifically trained for working with veteran students?

Having an advisor who is knowledgeable about VA Benefits and can assist you with navigating the school’s VA process is vital to your success. Be sure that whatever school you choose has someone on staff who can help answer your benefits-related questions along the way.

Does the school have a Veterans Center?

Whether the center is in-person, such as a Veterans Lounge, or on-line, using a virtual group or student union, having a one-stop location to access information about military and veteran support services at the school can make a difference in your success. Additionally, Veterans Centers are a great way to connect to fellow military-affiliated students.

Does the school offer Career Services?

Career Services is an important piece of continuing education. Look for Career Services that offer assistance in translating your military experience into civilian terminology, provide the opportunity to participate in mock interviews, and have a working relationship with industry-relevant employers.

 Does the school participate in the Yellow Ribbon Program?

For veterans who are 100% Eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill and attending a public school as a nonresident student, or for private school students under certain circumstances, the Yellow Ribbon Program can assist with covering a portion, or all, of the remaining balance due after the VA’s payment. For more information, visit the VA’s website here.

In addition to the Yellow Ribbon Program, it is important to know whether the school offers veteran-specific financial aid. This aid can be offered through scholarships, grants, or other types of awards. Be sure to check the school’s main website to view what types of aid are offered to veteran students.

Will the school award credit for your military experience?

There are many aspects of your military career that can be transferred for credit at academic institutions. Receiving transfer credit can expedite the amount of time it takes to complete a program, which in turn can minimize the use of your benefits. Peruse the website, or speak to an advisor, to see what credit options are offered for your military training and experience.

Using Your Benefits

Once you have selected and applied to a school that offers a holistic approach to assisting veteran students, the next step is to apply for your benefits at The VA will process your application and make an eligibility determination. You will receive a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) from the VA that outlines important information regarding your benefits. You should provide a copy of this COE to the school; there should be a School Certifying Official who can process this, otherwise, speak to your advisor about how to submit your COE.

Please note that you do not have to wait to receive your COE from the VA in order to register for courses. You can register, and certify, courses as soon as you are accepted into the school. It is recommended that you work with an advisor to register for your first courses and discuss the certification process at the school in order to understand your responsibility in applying for your benefits. You should expect to complete a form notifying the School Certifying Official that you will be using your benefits for the courses in which you are registered prior to the start of each term.

No matter where you are in pursuing your education, be sure to do your research and speak with an advisor before getting started. Military tuition assistance makes a college education affordable for those who serve. Understanding how tuition assistance works is essential to a successful college experience as a military student.

What is Tuition Assistance?

Military tuition assistance is an earned benefit open to eligible members of the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard.  Active duty, National Guard and Reserve Component service members can also receive tuition assistance.  Tuition assistance is like a grant and does not require the service member to pay it back like a loan. This benefit is paid directly to the college or university by the military service branch.

Tuition Assistance Annual Limits

All military tuition assistance programs pay up to $250 per semester hour or $166 per quarter-hour.  Each Military service branch has its own annual limits per fiscal year:

·     Army: $4,000

·     Air Force: $4,500

·     Navy: $3,000

·     Marine Corps: $4,500

·     Coast Guard: $2,250

Students should research the total cost of their education per year as tuition assistance may not cover the entire amount due. Certain charges like course material fees are not covered by tuition assistance.  Students should research other means of financial assistance like financial aid or the VA Top-up program (using Montgomery GI Bill or Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits) to cover the difference in tuition cost and fees versus the annual military tuition assistance allowance.

General Eligibility for Tuition Assistance

Servicemembers must attend a tuition assistance orientation, obtain a mandatory degree plan, and submit tuition assistance requests through their respective military service education portals.

·     Army:

·     Air Force: AFVEC (Air Force Virtual Education Center)

·     Navy & Marines: My Navy Education/WebTA

Service members must also maintain academic standards.  Undergraduate students must earn a grade of C or higher per class or will risk recoupment of tuition assistance funds. Graduate students must earn a grade of B or higher or will risk recoupment.

Different branches have different timelines to request tuition assistance.  All timelines are relative to the start dates of classes. 

·     Army: students can request tuition assistance from 60 days to the day before the class start date.  

·     Air Force: students must request tuition assistance 45 to 7 days before the class start date.

·     Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard: students must request tuition assistance no later than 14 days before the class start date.  

Service members looking to use their tuition assistance benefit must keep both class start dates and tuition assistance request dates in mind.

Using tuition assistance benefits may seem confusing at first. However, military students are not alone and have resources to help them understand and navigate their benefits.  All military branches have education counselors available either in person at local education centers, via phone, or online through virtual education centers who can help military students understand how to best use their benefits to reach their educational goals.

University of Maryland University College is a proud partner of Connecting Vets.