Hundreds of American colleges and universities offer special benefits to students with military backgrounds. These military-friendly colleges create programs to specifically assist America's community of 22.5 million active service members, reservists, and veterans. Military-affiliated students can receive benefits through both federal and independently administered programs. Between 2000 and 2012, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) distributed education benefits to more than 900,000 service members, primarily through the following programs:
- Montgomery GI Bill®
- Open to active duty members and honorably discharged veterans with at least two years of service, this financial assistance program provides eligible participants with up to 36 months of funding for tuition, accommodations, books, and other education-related expenses. The program assists military-affiliated students whose service began after June 30, 1985.
- Post-9/11 GI Bill®
- This bill provides between 40% and 100% of tuition and fees, with some limitations and exceptions. The program assists veterans and current military service members who served for at least 90 days after September 10, 2001.
An independent program, the Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) network, helps the many active-duty service members who frequently change location. The SOC network makes it easy for military students to transfer credits between schools and meet residency requirements. This program helps service members continue their education with minimal interruption.
The Importance of Military Status
Each military-friendly college sets and maintains its own internal policies regarding student eligibility for applicable assistance programs. In most cases, a student's current military status determines which awards and benefits they can receive. Federal programs also distinguish between active duty, inactive duty, and discharged service members. The following categories classify a student's current military status:
Active-Duty Military: An active-duty military service member maintains a current, full-time commitment to the armed forces. They can be deployed at any time. Those on active duty may choose part-time study due to their military commitments. They enjoy excellent access to multiple federal and independent programs.
Inactive-Duty Military: Inactive-duty members may deploy or assist civilians in times of need, but do not commit to full-time service. In most cases, students with inactive-duty status qualify for limited benefits, unless they previously completed an extended period of active duty.
Discharged (Multiple Types): Honorable discharge indicates that a service member accrued a favorable record before being released from his or her service commitments. The Montgomery GI Bill, Post-9/11 GI Bill, and other programs offer assistance to honorably discharged soldiers who served for a specified minimum length of time. Most military-friendly colleges do not extend benefits to dishonorably discharged service members with unfavorable records.
Retired/Veteran: Retired status applies to career service members who left the military with favorable service records. Veteran status covers those who have been deployed on a tour of duty during a period of direct conflict with enemy forces. Students and applicants in these categories enjoy full access to a complete range of assistance programs.
Government Benefits for Military Students
The Post-9/11 GI Bill®
Every military-friendly college in the United States honors the Post-9/11 GI Bill. This Department of Veterans Affairs-administered program was created to support those who served during the military conflicts that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
You are eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill if you are:
- Currently on active duty, and have accrued at least 90 days of service beginning on any date after September 10, 2001.
- An honorably discharged veteran.
- Discharged with a disability connected to your military activity after at least 30 days of active-duty service.
Eligible individuals can apply for benefits online, by visiting the nearest regional VA Office, by calling 1-888-GI BILL-1 and requesting an application form, or by consulting the VA certifying official at a military-friendly college. In most cases, the VA certifying official works in the registrar's office or financial aid office.
Students can use benefits at vocational schools, technical schools, traditional colleges and universities, and military-friendly online colleges. Other educational institutions may also qualify. The program covers tuition, examination fees, national standardized test fees, licensure fees, correspondence and co-op training, on-the-job training, and tutorials.
Students can receive additional funding for housing, books, and supplies under the bill's supplemental Yellow Ribbon Program. Yellow Ribbon schools cover expenses not included in the Post-9/11 GI Bill. For example, the GI Bill does not always cover the full cost of tuition at expensive private schools. Yellow Ribbon schools provide additional funding to help offset these costs. The VA then matches the school's contributions. If you qualify for assistance under the Post-9/11 GI Bill but do not plan to use your benefits yourself, you can also transfer them to your spouse or children through the transfer of entitlement option.
Students can continue to claim benefits for up to 36 months, but those who ended their military service before January 1, 2013 must use them within 15 years. Those attending public in-state schools enjoy full coverage of all tuition and fees. National maximum rate limitations apply to students enrolled in private or out-of-state schools.
The Montgomery GI Bill®
Military-friendly colleges also honor the VA-administered Montgomery GI Bill. This program provides an incentive to enlist with any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, either on a full-time or reservist basis. Full-time, active-duty members become eligible after completing two years of service, while reservists qualify by making a six-year commitment to a Selected Reserve unit. You can read complete eligibility details here.
Full-time, active-duty service members apply by filling out and filing VA Form 22-1990, while reservists must:
- Obtain, fill out, and file a notice of basic eligibility (DD Form 2384-1), available through your military unit
- Ensure the educational program is covered by the bill
- Fill out and file VA Form 22-1990
Alternately, reservists already enrolled in a military-friendly college may apply by requesting Enrollment Certification Form VA 22-1999. This form is not available online.
Both full-time members and reservists qualify for up to 36 months of benefits. Students can use these funds for degree and diploma programs at the college level, as well as many other on-the-job, vocational, technical, and practical training programs. Students at public, private, in-state, and out-of-state schools can all receive assistance under the Montgomery GI Bill. Schools must agree to participate.
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges
Funded by the U.S. Department of Defense and coordinated by the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), the SOC network assists military members who attend college while regularly moving to different duty stations. Many full-time, active-duty military members relocate frequently due to deployments, reassignments, and other circumstances. The SOC program makes it easier for eligible participants to transfer existing credits to a new school. These schools also reduce or waive in-state residency requirements so participants instantly become eligible for lower tuition rates.
The SOC network accepts members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and National Guard. Military-friendly colleges participate in the program on a voluntary basis. A large number of educational institutions situated on or near Army, Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard facilities opt in.
What Does It Mean for a School to Be Military-Friendly?
If you're looking into colleges for military psychology, consider attending a military-friendly school. Students may attend military-friendly colleges online, on campus, or in a hybrid format. These schools accept all military benefits and offer flexible course options. Military-friendly colleges offer a wide range of perks, support programs, and assistance to those who qualify for benefits, including:
Tuition Discounts for Military: Many military-friendly online colleges offer reduced tuition rates to active-duty members, and some even extend discounts to reservists, veterans, and retired service personnel. Schools typically apply these discounts on a per-credit basis.
Credit Opportunities: The SOC network accepts nearly all transfer credits from any participating school. Some unaffiliated schools also offer generous transfer credit policies for eligible applicants. Some online psychology degree programs allow students to earn credits for prior learning, job training, and military experiences.
Financial Aid: In addition to participating in the Montgomery and Post-9/11 GI Bill programs, some schools offer financial aid opportunities specifically for students with military backgrounds. Eligible students may qualify for scholarships and other forms of financial assistance. Some schools offer in-state tuition for out-of-state military students or extend military benefits to spouses and children.
On-Campus Benefits: Military-friendly schools also typically host on-campus programs, organizations, and opportunities for students with military backgrounds. Some maintain offices, success centers, and networking clubs dedicated to student veterans and service personnel. Others provide free or discounted healthcare services, psychological counseling services, or referrals to local health networks. Some schools feature discounted housing and post-graduation job support services.
Academic Programs: Some online psychology degrees focus specifically on military personnel. These courses train students to meet the specific counseling and treatment needs of service personnel and veterans affected by their combat and active-duty experiences. Alternately, you could opt for a military studies major with a minor or focus in psychology.
Flexibility: Military-friendly schools understand and respect the distinct scheduling needs of military students, particularly those on active duty. Flexible options allow students to take reduced course loads, or leave part-way through a term without any academic penalty if deployed. The best schools work with students to ensure they can finish any incomplete courses once they return.
* GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at http://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.