Federal Student Aid
Whether or not you plan on using the GI Bill, it’s important to apply for federal aid. Federal aid can include grants, loans and/or work study programs on top of what you might receive from the VA. It only takes a short amount of time to apply at FAFSA and it’s a good idea to have it in case you are not eligible for 100% of the GI Bill or if the GI Bill doesn’t fully cover the cost of a more expensive tuition. Even if you haven’t narrowed down your school choice by the application deadline, your institution will be able to process your aid when the time comes, if you choose to use it.
Application deadlines are unique for each state, so make sure you submit yours in a timely manner.
While you’re in the process of researching and applying to institutions, begin gathering information on what VA benefits you’re eligible for and submit an application. There are a multitude of resources on the VA website that will help you identify which benefits you may be eligible for and the ones that best fit your post-secondary goals.
You’ll receive a copy of your eligibility letter after the VA has processed your application. Keep of a copy of it to show the institutions to which you’ve applied. As you start the application process, make sure to document all conversations including name of the person you speak with, their phone number, the date(s) of the conversation(s), time, etc.
If you’re having a difficult time navigating this system, the certifying official at the school you’re interested in attending is a good place to start. They’ve helped many students through this process and have expertise you can use.
Also, when budgeting for school using the GI Bill, remember the benefits only come while school is in session. For example, if there’s a month break between the fall and spring semesters, you won’t receive GI Bill money during that time, including the housing allowance, and will need to plan accordingly.
Yellow Ribbon Program
Going to an expensive school or program? The Yellow Ribbon Program is a provision designed to cover the costs of an education that exceeds the cost of an in-state, undergraduate, public education. When schools enter the Yellow Ribbon Program, they agree to pay up to 50 percent of the remaining cost above an in-state, undergraduate, public education. The VA will then match the percent that the school contributes.
For example, if the tuition cap in the state is $10,000, but the private school you want to attend costs $15,000, the school agrees to contribute 50 percent of the remaining cost – $2,500. The VA will then match the $2,500 for a total of $5,000. Therefore, the entire sum of $15,000 will be covered.
You should be aware that schools must resign their Yellow Ribbon Program agreements annually and are not obligated to participate beyond this. In order to qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program, you must no longer be active duty, and be eligible for the 100% tier of the benefit: 36 months of active duty or 30 consecutive days and a discharge because of a service-connected disability.
Check here to see if your school or program is a Yellow Ribbon Program participant.
Still have questions?
It’s best to speak directly with the VA. You can email a benefits counselor by clicking here and clicking on the “ask a question” tab. The more information the counselor has, the better they can inform you. Be sure to keep records of communication, and get the name and title of the individual who helps you, in case you have more questions later on.
You can also call the GI Bill hotline at 1-888-442-4551. Be sure to get the name and title of the individual you speak with, and keep a written record of the conversation.
Disability Education Benefits
If you’ve been injured and have received a disability rating, you may be eligible for additional educational benefits. For more information on Vocational Rehabilitation please visit: Vocational Rehabilitation.