GI Bill Veterans Education Benefits

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is an amazing benefit for veterans who want to attend college. It offers 36 months of educational benefits, enough to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in four years. It provides up to $1,000 per year for books and supplies and a housing stipend (BAH) at the DoD E-5 with dependents rate, based on the zip code of the school.

The amount of classes that the GI Bill will cover depends on the structure of the university’s academic calendar. At my university, I was able to take eight semesters of classes, four summer sessions, and one winter session. This spanned four calendar years and used up all 36 months of eligibility. Months of eligibility are used only when classes are in session, and the GI Bill does not pay BAH when classes are not in session. Recently, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been expanding the reach of the GI Bill.

In November 2015, the VA published a manual detailing how veterans can receive GI Bill benefits during an on-the-job training or apprenticeship program. Veterans interested in this program can find more information on the VA website. I used my GI Bill benefits at a traditional, four year university. This post will give suggestions on how to get the most out of GI Bill benefits in that setting; however, some tips may apply to other uses of the GI Bill.

The conventional wisdom for college includes taking classes that sound interesting. I am sure this is good advice for the “typical” college freshman – 18 or 19 years old and one year out of high school. As mentioned in my previous blog, veterans do not have time for this.

Why should you not take classes that sound interesting?

  • You can graduate sooner. This is especially good advice for those of you who have to work while attending school. The BAH stipend is good for single veterans; married veterans may still have to work to support the family. If you choose not to work, your significant other may be fine with a decreased family income for a couple years; however, prolonged financial tightening can easily lead to problems.
  • Every university has 30 to 45 required general education credits. There is no reason to take extra classes that sound interesting; the required classes will already introduce you to new subject areas. If the second sociology course sounds interesting to you, but sociology will not be a major or minor, forget about the class. Don’t waste your time.
  • You will graduate on time. One of the intents of the GI Bill is to provide veterans the opportunity to graduate from college without any debt. The current student debt level is over 1 trillion dollars! Do not contribute to this growing problem. You can take classes that sound interesting during your senior year after you have completed all the required classes for you degree. Trust me, you will be more satisfied taking a 3000 or 4000 level class in your major area instead of the 2000 level philosophy class.
  • You can prepare for graduate school instead. Many graduate programs expect certain undergraduate classes to have been taken. If you are thinking about attending graduate school, research what the typical program expects in the transcript of an applicant. Additionally, many programs require letters of recommendation. The best letters of recommendation are from professors who teach in the area you want to study and know you well. It helps to have done research with a professor, especially if you want to pursue a PhD. Instead of taking classes that sound interesting, take additional classes with a professor who you respect, can learn from, and will write a letter of recommendation.

All that said, it may be possible to take classes that sound interesting, while still graduating before benefits run out. It simply requires proper planning.

Really though, if you wanted to take classes that sound interesting, live like a college kid, and take five or more years to graduate, you should not have joined the military in the first place. You picked your poison – knock out some push-ups, drink some water, and drive on.