Which Education Option and GI Bill Should You Choose?

Military Transition

You’ve decided you want to use your GI Bill to further your education once out of the military, but have you considered all of the education options available?  And if you have more than one GI Bill, which one is the best to use?  It can make a difference based on the education option you choose.

To get started, let’s look at three types of the most common education institutions:

  • Universities
  • Community Colleges
  • Vocational/Technical Schools

Universities

Also known as colleges, they are institutions of higher learning (and in some cases research) that grant undergraduate and graduate degrees in a variety of career fields; schools can be public or private.  Most schools now offer online programs that can be completed without ever setting foot on campus, in addition to resident on-campus programs.

Community Colleges

These are usually two-year colleges also called “junior colleges” or “city colleges” offering associate degrees in higher education, along with certificates, certifications and licenses in a variety of lower-level tertiary education in technical fields.  If undecided on a career field, these schools are a good inexpensive way to get the first two years of a degree out of the way by taking lower-level classes.

Vocational/Technical Schools

Also known as “trade schools” or “career colleges,” they teach the skills required in one or two years to learn a job such as plumbing, carpentry, architectural drafting, etc.

GI Bill

Depending on the education venue selected, it can be more advantageous to use one GI Bill over another, if the student is eligible for both GI Bills (as are many coming out of the military today).

Most veterans going into the military after September 11, 2001 and leaving after serving at least three years automatically have 36 months of Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement.  It is provided free for serving their country.  Some veterans also “bought” into the Montgomery GI Bill while serving, giving them up to a maximum of 48 months of entitlement between both GI Bills.

Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty (MGIB-AD)

Right now the MGIB-AD pays full-time students $1,789 per month to go to school.  Out of that amount, students have to pay their own tuition, fees and books.

For online-only students, this GI Bill can be a better choice financially if their per-credit cost is less than $283.  The reason is a limitation on the Post 9/11 GI Bill housing allowance set to a maximum of $783 per month for online only students.

Post-9/11 GI Bill

If attending a public university, community college or vocational/technical school resident on-campus, the Post-9/11 GI Bill can be the better choice than if attending online.  The VA pays 100% of the tuition and fees.  A full-time veteran student gets a $500.00 book stipend once per semester (up to the $1,000 yearly limit) along with a monthly housing allowance that averages $1,300. The housing allowance does vary however, because it is based on the number of credits taken and zip code of the school.

However, if attending a private school, tuition and fees are currently limited to $21,084.89 per year.  Costs above that amount are the responsibility of the student unless selected by the school as a Yellow Ribbon participant.

While each GI Bill does provide 36 months of entitlement, the Rule of 48 limits the maximum number of months to 48 for veterans having two or more GI Bills. However, to get the full 48 months, the MGIB-AD must first be exhausted, then switched to the Post-9/11 GI Bill to get the additional 12 months.  For students planning to earn an advanced degree, using GI Bills in this way pays for approximately half of a postgraduate degree.

For students only having the Post-9/11 GI Bill with a plan to earn an advanced degree, a better choice is to go to a community college the first two years and pay out-of-pocket.  Then use the Post-9/11 GI Bill to pay the last two years of an undergraduate degree, and the two years of the more expensive graduate degree.

GI Bill entitlement is a finite resource whose benefits should be maximized.  Knowing how each GI Bill works and proper planning is half the battle to getting the most out this benefit of service.

Kness retired in November 2007 as a Senior Noncommissioned Officer after serving 36 years of service with the Minnesota Army National Guard of which 32 of those years were in a full-time status along with being a traditional guardsman. Kness takes pride in being able to still help veterans, military members, and families as they struggle through veteran and dependent education issues.