How Many Degrees Will the GI Bill Cover, and How Can I Make the Most of its Benefits?

Are you a Veteran who is seeking Multiple Degrees? Perhaps you would like a Law Degree after your MBA?

Alt Text: GI Bill Uses for Veterans

A common question veterans ask is – Can I use my GI Bill for two degrees? The answer is – Yes. You can do so and gain debt-free higher education. You can use the GI Bill benefits at Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL), such as:

  1. Universities
  2. Community Colleges
  3. Advanced Degree Programs

You can pursue a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree in the same field using the GI Bill. This is a huge benefit for veterans, given that 83% of graduates in 2020 left the school carrying an average student loan debt of $36,140 per borrower.

This article will explore how you can plan for multiple degrees, things you cannot gain with the GI Bill, and ways to maximize the benefits.

Plan Ahead to Get Multiple Degrees with Your GI Bill

Get Multiple Degrees with the help of GI BILL

If you are an active service member who hasn’t yet retired or separated from duty, you can plan for more than one degree. The key is using other tuition benefits you get while in service rather than the GI Bill.

You can use the GI Bill benefits to get a second degree in law, medicine, dentistry, management, or more. The following are entitled to use GI Bill benefits:

  1. Post-9/11 GI Bill – You should have served 30 days in continuous active duty after September 10, 2001 and been discharged due to a service-connected disability. Or, you should have served 90 days of active duty followed by an honorable discharge.
  2. Montgomery GI Bill – You should have contributed $100 per month for 12 months of active duty. Additionally, you should have a high school diploma or equivalent certificate or have served at least two years in active duty before receiving an honorable discharge.
  3. Reserve and Guard Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB-SR) – You must serve a voluntary active duty for at least six years in a select reserve or guard signed after June 30, 1985. Additionally, you should complete the active duty, meet the requirements for a high school diploma or equivalent certificate, and show good standing while in service.
  4. Vocational Rehabilitation and Education Program (VR&E) – You have received a discharge that is anything other than dishonorable and have a service-related condition (disability) rating of at least 10%.

Depending on whether you are on active duty, retired, or separated, your concerns about financial aid may vary. Here is a brief about each category:

Active Service Member

  1. Service branch in the military offering active-duty tuition assistance.
  2. In-state tuition for those in active service for more than 30-days.
  3. Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) and College-Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams to reduce the time you spend in class on subjects you already know.
  4. Military colleges offering classes on-base or off-base at a lower fee.
  5. Scholarships and grants for military service family members such as that by the Tillman Military Scholars program.
  6. State-level scholarship programs for Guard and Reserve members who qualify.

Active-duty service members, national guard, and reserve service members get 100% tuition and fee payments for education benefits of up to $250 per semester hour. This is called military tuition assistance.

Under this assistance, you can attend either two or four-year institutions on the base, off the base, online, or in a traditional classroom. Every branch of the military, including the coast guard, pays this assistance directly to the school from where you take the course. You can use this military tuition assistance for:

  1. Vocational/technical programs.
  2. Graduate degree programs.
  3. Undergraduate programs.
  4. Distance-learning programs.
  5. Independent study.

By using the military benefits, and not the GI Bill while you are still on active duty, you take the first step towards getting multiple degrees. The GI Bill funds you save will be handy for bachelor’s or graduate-level programs later.

Retired or Separated Service Member

If you plan on taking a course after retirement, you should start while you are still in service and waiting to return to the civilian world. Once the service members exit active duty, their benefits may vary depending on the service-connected disability and other factors.

You are not eligible for military benefits if you have retired or been separated from active duty. But you may qualify for the GI Bill and other assistance programs. Before you apply for GI Bill benefits, it is best to consider taking the following steps:

  1. Check if there are any local or state financial aid programs for veterans to offset the costs. The state financial aid office may help you understand whether the funds will cover tuition or provide up to a $1,000 stipend for books and supplies.

    Most states will allow in-state tuition to veterans and their family members. But in some cases, you may have to be a state resident for a certain duration.
  1. You can also check the Veteran Service Organizations (VSOs) to search for grants and educational scholarships in the current year. Different VSOs have different protocols, and you may have to check their official websites to know which options are available.
  1. Fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) even if you think you will not qualify for the Stafford Loan or the Pell Grant.

Getting the Maximum Benefits from the GI Bill To Earn Multiple Degrees

GI Bill Benefits for Veterans
Despite being eligible for the GI Bill benefits, you can apply for other financial aid programs in the form of loans, grants, and state-operated veteran benefits. You should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) form to know which other financial aid you are eligible for. By doing so, you can stretch the utilization of GI Bill money further and increase your chances of gaining multiple degrees.

Once you decide to avail the benefits of the GI Bill, you need to understand its scope. For example, the Montgomery GI Bill does not provide access to the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is an agreement between the schools and the Veterans Affairs (VA) for additional funds. These additional funds from the school cover the gap between the VA GI Bill benefits and the final cost of tuition in private schools.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill does not include the Yellow Ribbon Program, which is an important factor in your school search, program choices, and how aggressively you want to pursue it. The Yellow Ribbon Program does not extend the GI Bill benefits for all programs or applicants.

Unlike the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Montgomery GI Bill does not pay a monthly housing allowance. However, if you plan to attend the program remotely or online, you may not face any penalty under the Montgomery GI Bill. If you attend online-only classes under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you can get a reduced monthly housing allowance unless you take at least one class in person.

Eligibility Requirements for GI Bill Benefits

The table below shows what percentage of benefits you are eligible for depending on the time you have served in a military branch.

Duration of Active DutyMaximum Payable Benefit (%)
At least 36 months100%
30 consecutive days of active duty and discharged due to service-connected disability100%
30-36 months90%
24-30 months80%
18-24 months70%
12-18 months60%
6-12 months50%
3-6 months40%

Attending Multiple Schools

If you have to attend classes at multiple schools to meet academic requirements, you can do so under the GI Bill as long as your attendance meets certain criteria.

The VA rules for attending more than one school may get approval if both these conditions meet:

  1. The classes at both schools count toward your degree.
  2. The main school which will grant your degree considers the classes at the other school necessary to complete your program.

Limitations of GI Bill Benefits

GI Bill Limitations for Veterans

The GI Bill benefits have their limitations. Here’s what you cannot gain under them:

  1. Use the GI Bill money twice for the same class, unless you get a failing grade in a class that is deemed mandatory for completing the degree.
  2. You cannot use the GI Bill benefits for an amount of more than $17,000 annually. If you choose a more expensive school, you need to pay the rest of the education costs out of your pocket.
  3. Utilize the money for classes that do not count in your degree. You can use the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to pay for any licenses and certifications, SAT testing, and LSAT necessary to start a career.
  4. Use the GI Bill for a second degree similar to the first. You may or may not get the benefits for the second one. However, if you apply for a graduate-level program in the same area, you will get GI Benefits. For example, a bachelor’s degree in cyber security followed by a master’s degree in the same field will be acceptable.

Tips To Maximize Your GI Bill Benefits

Maximize Your GI Bill Benefits
To maximize your GI Bill benefits, you may need to think creatively. Decide if you want to combine distance learning with at least one in-person class. You can save your housing allowance through the GI Bill and put it into taking more classes.

Let us understand with the help of an example. If the GI Bill program states 12 hours as full-time college attendance, but your school allows a higher number of credit hours, you can take more classes per semester or term. This speeds up your program and enables you to graduate earlier.

5 Ways Veterans Can Maximize the Benefits of GI Bill®

Veterans can maximize the GI Bill Benefits

From saving benefits to submitting the FAFSA®, students can maximize their GI Bill benefits in multiple ways.

Save Your Benefits for Your Most Expensive Tuition Bill

You needn’t use your GI Bill benefits immediately after discharge from active duty. The GI Bill covers you for up to 15 years after release from duty. The bill benefits include 36 months of schooling, which is equivalent to the duration of a full-time bachelor’s degree.

If you want to continue with a degree at a graduate school, you can start at a community college and get the GI Bill educational benefits later. The GI Bill will cover $25,162.14 per year if you attend private or foreign schools. If you are eligible for 100% of the GI Bill benefits, you get extra money for private schools through the Yellow Ribbon Program under the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits.

Take at Least One Class per Semester in Person

Your housing allowance will likely be lesser if you take all the classes online. It is based on half the average military housing allowance in the U.S. You should take at least one course in person per semester. This way, you will receive the housing allowance that applies to your school’s ZIP code.

For example, if you live in San Francisco and take all the classes online, your housing allowance will be $917 per month. But if you take one class that requires you to be present in person for a day, you will get $4,971 per month.

Earn As Many Credits as Possible per Semester

The GI Bill uses its provisions to help you get full-time education benefits for up to 36 months. After these education benefits run out, you have to cover the education fee out of your pocket or through other financial aid programs.

It is best to take as many credits as you can handle per semester (within the allowed limits) while your GI Bill benefits cover the tuition.

Alternatively, you can earn credits for courses such as public administration and business communications based on your military training during active duty. Many institutions recognize these credits, but you must check with the school you plan on applying to.

Beware of Misleading Schools

Some schools recruit veteran students to harness the GI Bill dollars. You should use the VA GI Bill comparison tool to research the schools before you start the application process. This will help you understand the tuition fee and the graduation rates of the school. Once you use the GI Bill benefits, you cannot recoup them.

Submit the FAFSA®

In addition to the GI Bill benefits, you are also eligible for federal, state, and privately funded financial aid. Fill out and submit the FAFSA application to find out. If your GI Bill covers the total expense of your program, you can use the FAFSA aid for other expenses.

Conclusion

If you use the state and federal student aid intelligently with your GI Bill benefits, you can start a new career without the burden of student loans. It is necessary to plan and start early while you are on active duty.

The online application process can take a month before you get approval for the GI Bill benefits. If you already know which college you want to attend, it is best to fill out the application quickly.ICOHS College stands by its commitment to serving all the veterans by providing courses covered under the GI Bill benefits and helping you through the application and student financial aid journey. For more information, contact us or call us at (858) 581-9460.


Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Money Does the GI Bill Give You?

Several factors determine the amount of money you stand to get from the GI Bill. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs decides what percentage of eligibility you get. Those who have served at least 36 months in active duty get 100% of the benefits. If you have served for more than 3 months but less than 6 months in active duty, you get 50% of the benefits.

As of 2022, the GI Bill pays $25,162.14 for education benefits at a private school. If you take classes at public schools in your state, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will cover the amount based on the percentage you are eligible for.

How Long Does a GI Bill Last?

As per the current rules, your GI Bill covers the costs of education for up to 36 months. This includes military family members such as spouses or dependents. While some veterans use the benefits for an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, others save them for master’s and doctoral programs.

Those veterans who ended service before January 1, 2013, have 15 years before their GI Bill benefits become invalid. Military veterans who got an honorable discharge from service have no upper limit on the validity of the GI Bill benefits.

Can You Lose Your GI Bill Benefits?

Under normal circumstances, you cannot lose the GI Bill benefits. However, students may lose the benefits for not attending the classes or failing to attend the minimum number of hours to complete the course. In such a case, students have to pay for the course out of their pocket.

How and When does the VA Make Payments?

The payments for tuition and fees go directly to the college every month and follow an arrears payment scheme. It means that the fee for the current month will come in the following month.

The monthly housing allowance comes at the end of each month according to a payment schedule. The stipend for books and supplies comes at the start of each academic year. To apply for the education benefits, you must fill out the VA Form 22-1990 (Application for VA Education Benefits) and provide the following supporting documents –

  1. Social Security Number (SSN).
  2. Education and military history.
  3. Bank account information.
  4. The school you plan to attend.
  5. The degree you enroll in.

What are the Options After I Exhaust the GI Bill Benefits?

If you have exhausted the GI Bill benefits, you can seek the following education benefit programs –

  1. Yellow Ribbon Program.
  2. Tuition Assistance Top-Up.
  3. GI Bill Kicker.
  4. Tuition Assistance.
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