Guide to G.I. Bill College Tuition Benefits

A soldier in civilian clothing with his uniform in the background taking online courses under the G.I Bill for College Tuition.

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For as little as two years of service, members of the U.S. military can receive tuition assistance through the G.I. Bill. This will pay for four years of undergraduate education, putting the service member on a road to success in the civilian world.

However, eligible service members and veterans often find themselves missing out on the myriad benefits of the G.I. Bill due to missed deadlines and its many circumstantial rules. It may offer a significant amount of financial aid to pay for college, but its requirements, calculations, and fine print are some of the most complicated of any strategy for getting a higher education.

Here's what you need to know about the G.I. Bill, and how to ensure that you are getting the benefits you deserve.

G.I. Bill Background

The Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, which went into effect in 2009, covers individuals who have served for at least 30 days of continuous active duty service after September 10, 2001. It is a successor to numerous similar bills over the years (the first one was passed in 1944 and provided benefits to veterans returning home from World War II).

You must also have been discharged due to a service-connected disability or served 90 consecutive days of active duty service following that date and meet one of the following criteria:

  • Have been honorably discharged
  • Have been released with service characterized as honorable and placed on the retired or temporary disability retired list, or transferred to the Reserve
  • Have been released with service characterized as honorable for further services in the Reserves
  • Have been discharged or released due to a medical condition or a qualified hardship
  • Are still on active duty

You will only receive full benefits if you have served on active duty for three years after 9/11 or were discharged due to a disability from service.

G.I. Bill Benefits and Limits

The G.I. Bill provides a monthly benefit amount that is reset every Oct. 1. This rate is adjusted downward for students who are half- or part-time. The bill pays for 100% of your tuition if you have served at least 36 months in active duty. The benefit bottoms out at covering just 40% of tuition if you served at least 90 days but less than six months.

There are exceptions to this policy for personnel that participate in certain programs and incentives such as the Top-Up, Buy Up, or the Army, Navy or Marine Corps College Funds programs. Eligible service people generally have 10 years from an honorable discharge to use their benefits.

Eligibility for G.I. Bill Education Benefits

Eligibility is based on three primary criteria:

  • A contribution of $100 per month for the first 12 months of active duty into the G.I. Bill program
  • Receipt of a high school diploma or equivalency certificate before applying
  • At least two years of active duty service

The rules vary further depending on an applicant’s military classification (active duty, veteran, National/Air Guard, or Selected Reserves). Additionally, certain dependents may be eligible to participate in a parent’s G.I. Bill benefits.

Applying for G.I. Bill Education Benefits

There are two primary steps in applying for G.I. Bill benefits:

  1. Select a school or training program that has been deemed eligible by the Department of Veterans Affairs (you can find a list of eligible schools on the VA website).
  2. Fill out and send in VA Form 22-1990 to your Veterans Benefits Administration regional processing office.

After submitting the application, if the VA doesn’t require any additional information, service members will receive a letter outlining the benefits for which they are eligible. After completing any additional requests for information, a monthly benefit check will begin arriving in the mail (or by direct deposit) for the aspiring student.

Due to the complexity and fine print inherent to the G.I. Bill, it's recommended that veterans and active-duty military personnel seek guidance from their local Voluntary Education Services Office when they're ready to get enrolled in college. Resources for taking advantage of the G.I. Bill can also be found on the bill’s official website and through veterans organizations, and these can help students seek additional financial aid, grants, or loans for navigating their higher education.