Loyola University ChicagoLoyola University Chicago

Leveraging your GI Bill for Maximum Tuition Benefit

Our military veterans deserve our eternal gratitude, and so it is fitting that the government bestows the GI Bill as a reward that will affect a lifetime of positive change through a college degree. While this benefit is given to all who qualify, it doesn’t come with the simplest instruction manual.

At Texas Christian University, all veterans are considered transfer students – and so I have become pretty adept at helping our veterans realize their GI Bill’s maximum value.

Before we move on to strategy in capitalizing on the GI Bill, it’s important to understand just what the benefit covers. Veterans who are 100% eligible receive 36 months of college enrollment leading toward a degree under the Post 9-11 GI Bill. The timer for the 36 months stops every time a veteran student takes a break (such as over the summer). Additionally, if a beneficiary doesn’t use all 36 months, the value can be passed down to children and can even be divided among multiple children. Or, if the beneficiary graduates with a Bachelor’s degree before exhausting the benefit, it can continue to be used for a graduate degree like a Master’s.

Now that the basics are covered, here are my top tips:

Take basics at your local community college
Veterans just getting started on their college career can use this key tip in capitalizing on their benefit. Most community college tuition rates are very low and affordable. I try to advise veterans to take a few semesters of credit from a community college and pay for it out-of-pocket or apply for federal aid with the FAFSA. This way, they still have 100% of their GI Bill when they attend TCU. If they change their major and need a little more time, or if they want their children to have some tuition benefit, their GI Bill will help cover that since they have the credits from their community college. According to Ricardo Avitia, TCU’s Veteran’s Specialist, “the biggest piece of advice I have for students who are serious about their education is to use any other resource besides Post 9/11 to pay for tuition if they are able to afford it. Resources such as TA while still in service or Pell Grant once they are out are usually enough to pay for community college tuition. Additionally, by doing this, students wishing to attend graduate school will usually still have some entitlement remaining in order to at least start their graduate programs.” The TA that Ricardo refers to is tuition assistance from the Department of Defense. Enlisted military may qualify for this, and it doesn’t affect the GI Bill benefit.

Look for a Yellow Ribbon School
When selecting a college to apply to and attend, look for the Yellow Ribbon designation. A list is at www.benefits.va.gov/gibill/yellow_ribbon.asp. As a Yellow Ribbon school, TCU fills in the financial gaps that the GI Bill doesn’t cover, ensuring our eligible veterans have 100% of their tuition covered. We promise unlimited resources at the undergraduate level, and have very generous offerings for our graduate schools, too. This is for an unlimited number of eligible veterans.

Veterans Services are key
Veterans have unique needs that sometimes affect classroom achievement. In addition, it’s a population that deserves special honors and recognition. Finding a university with veteran staff and veteran services will support the transition to civilian student life. TCU’s Veterans Services provides assistance in coordinating with academic advising, tutoring, counseling, disability accommodations, veteran programming, benefits information, financial aid, and additionally facilitates referral to state and federal resources and services. Beyond that, our veterans celebrate together – especially during graduation and Veteran’s Day. It’s important to find a community in college where you share experiences and commonalities. Learn more about this group at veteransservices.tcu.edu.

Too many veterans let go of their Post 9-11 GI Bill, or don’t use it to its maximum potential. TCU, and universities like TCU that honor veterans, can offer support in leveraging the GI Bill for maximum tuition benefit. I encourage all veterans who are seeking to further their college education to reach out to a transfer office and discover their Post 9-11 GI Bill qualifications.