As many of us know, if you have served three (3) years active duty (or the NG/Reserve time equivalent) past your initial service obligation with an Honorable Discharge you can apply for the Post-9/11 GI Bill to continue your education.
You can use your benefits while still on active duty, but given the tuition assistance options already available for active Servicemembers, I would not recommend this. The following pieces of advice will help take the burden off you and your family while you study and better your future prospects.
1. Maximize Your Housing Allowance
Veterans not on active duty receive a housing allowance equivalent to an E-5 (w/ dependents) for the location of their academic institution. If you know where to look, this housing allowance can add up to the paycheck of a full-time job just for going to school, but you need to go full-time.
Large cities often have the highest BAH rates. The New York City metro area (my current home) boasts a rate of $4,128 per month. My rent is $2100 for a large 2br out in Brooklyn and my wife and I split it. San Francisco’s rate is slightly higher at $4,197 per month. If you don’t mind the distance, Honolulu is in the $2,600 ballpark depending on the school.
Even if you’re not a city person, it doesn’t matter from where you decide to commute. Want to make the trip on Metro-North from Yonkers to CUNY? Do it. There are suburbs of these areas which cater to lower living costs and reasonable commutes. Pocket the remainder for living expenses. Also, the trains give you ample time to study and read.
2. Research Your Institution
There is no shortage of controversy over “for-profit” universities like ITT Tech and DeVry taking advantage of student loan programs and government funded tuition assistance like the GI Bill. They are known to make their tuition as high as possible to maximize profit without charging the veteran, so it seems like a good deal.
Don’t be intimidated by top-tier schools. They want you and your experience. Ignore the endless commercials on TV. Most of those school practice these less-than-ethical techniques and you’ll end up with a degree you can barely use. Ever notice how Lamborghini and Maserati don’t have commercials? Same goes for Ivy League and top-tier schools.
Make sure that, whether you’re getting a B.A., a Master’s, or a technical certification, your institution is held in high regards in the career field you desire. The internships and apprenticeships you attend on top of your classes will open countless more doors for you.
3. Qualify for the Yellow Ribbon
This is the key reason I do not advocate trying to claim your GI Bill before you’re eligible for 100% benefits. Many universities offer the Yellow Ribbon scholarship. The university pledges a certain amount of money to the veteran (if eligible) and the VA matches it dollar for dollar.
For example, NYU School of Professional Studies offers $5,500 towards the Yellow Ribbon. The VA will match that for a combined total of $11,000 off the remainder left after the school is paid by the GI-Bill. NYU and many top tier schools are expensive, but there are many ways to offset those costs.
Remember, if you only take online classes, your BAH amounts to roughly $800. If you already work and this is the best option for you, then that’s fine. I believe focusing completely on your studies is the best way to maximize the investment of your time and the government’s money.
You worked hard all those years for this reward, so don’t waste it. If you’re passing it to a dependent, make sure they don’t waste it either. Avoid the temptation to settle for a diploma factory seeking only to maximize profits at your expense.
We joined to serve and be the best we could be. Keep it up.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.