Like any military mission, transitioning to civilian life takes research, planning and the right tools. One of the most powerful tools you can use is the GI Bill ®. Since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was implemented in 2009, VBA has provided more than $111 billion in educational benefits to 2.2 million Veterans and their family members.
As part of National Veterans and Military Families month, VA teamed up with the Department of Education (ED) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to highlight some of the federal tools available to help service members, Veterans and military families pick the right program and make a sound plan to pay for it.
Find more information on our joint podcast here.
It is important that you do your own research before using your GI Bill benefits, as some schools have defrauded Veterans by falsely promoting educational benefits and using deceptive marketing tactics to target service members, Veterans and military families. In addition, though many schools offer similar majors, some may have better reputations that make their graduates more desirable in the job market. To maximize the career and financial payoff from your education benefits, you should find answers to questions like:
- Which schools offer the best programs for my career track?
- Where does my desired company or industry recruit from?
- What if my GI Bill doesn’t cover my whole tuition?
- How do I spot deceptive or fraudulent schools?
- Where do I start?
If you are asking these questions, then you are in the right place and on the right track. Check out these featured tools to get the process started.
Step 1: Before you apply, use the GI Bill Comparison Tool
The GI Bill Comparison Tool provides key information for calculating your benefits. It provides a breakdown of tuition and fees, housing allowance and book stipend. This will be critical in your planning process for your family and finances.
It lists other important factors to consider, too, such as school accreditation and Yellow Ribbon availability. The Yellow Ribbon program helps you pay for higher out-of-state, private school, or graduate school tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill does not cover. It also lists the number of students that received VA education benefits in the last calendar year.
This tool also offers insights on potentially cautionary information from student feedback about the school submitted to the VA through the GI Bill Feedback system. Check out VA’s “Know Before You Go” video to get advice from other Veterans based on their experience using the GI Bill.
Step 2: Considering a State University, private college, or community college? Check out The College Scorecard
The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard website helps prospective students make informed postsecondary education choices. There are plenty of options to consider but finding the school that fits your goals and aspirations is critical to your success. Make your own college wish list and compare your options with The College Scorecard’s comprehensive data on colleges and universities, including costs, outcomes and more.
Key data elements featured on the College Scorecard include:
- Cost: Average annual cost for federal financial aid recipients, which is the tuition, living costs, books and fees minus the average grants and scholarships, as well as average cost by family income.
- Completion and retention: Graduation rate and the proportion of students who return after their first year.
- Debt: Typical cumulative federal debt of graduating borrowers by field of study and typical monthly payment.
- Earnings: Typical annual earnings of former students one year after graduation by field of study.
Step 3. GI Bill ✔️ College(s) Applied ✔️… Now how do you navigate financial aid and make a plan to pay for school?
Once you have received financial aid offers, you can evaluate them with the CFPB’s webtool, Your financial path to graduation (Grad Path). Grad Path guides you through information that will help you answer questions like, “Can I afford the loans I’ll need to finish my program?” and “Is this school worth it for me?”
Here are a few ways Grad Path can help you navigate paying for college:
- Break down the financial aid offer. Grad Path explains jargon in plain language. For each type of funding, it points out money saving strategies as well as potential pitfalls. As you examine each funding source (including the GI Bill, Military Tuition Assistance, and other programs like Yellow Ribbon), you will see your running total of uncovered costs.
- Look at the whole picture. Students often overlook expenses, miss funding options, and forget to consider the total cost of a multiyear program. Grad Path provides detailed guidance about costs and resources, plus projections about total debt, and earnings at graduation to help you determine whether you can afford a particular program – now and in the long run.
- Decide whether the school is financially right for you. Understanding how a school fits into your academic goals and future job opportunities is just as important as planning how to finance your education. This tool provides key statistics to consider when determining whether a program is likely to pay off on the investment of your time, work, and money, including your service member education benefits.
Charmain Bogue is the executive director of VA’s Education Service, and this story was produced in coordination with CFPB and the ED.