Using the GI Bill for graduate education

The post 9/11 GI Bill, also known as Chapter 33 GI Bill, is one of the best benefits military veterans can use, both during service and after. Because graduate professional education—law school, medical school, business school, or seminary—can be much more expensive than undergraduate education, using GI Bill to get a professional degree can be one of the most effective uses of your GI Bill entitlement.

Your best source of information about the GI Bill is your installation education office. If you’re separating from the military, you may be able to attend a higher education briefing. While these are mostly geared toward enlisted service members who are using GI Bill to pursue an undergraduate degree, a higher education briefing will also have some useful information for you.

  1. GI Bill and Tuition Assistance. If you are currently serving and planning to stay in the military, you should consider using Tuition Assistance instead of GI Bill. Tuition Assistance doesn’t affect your GI Bill entitlement, but does cause you to incur an additional Active Duty Service Obligation (ADSO). If you are planning to separate and don’t want to incur an ADSO, you could use GI Bill instead. However, because GI Bill does not pay BAH while you are still collecting active duty BAH, you will get greater benefits by waiting until you are no longer on active duty to take classes. It might still be worthwhile to use GI Bill while still on active duty, but you will have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages for yourself.


  1. GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program. GI Bill now covers 100% of graduate tuition at public universities. If you attend a private university, GI Bill only pays up to a maximum amount that changes annually. For instance, the 2015-2016 maximum was $21,084.89. However, many private schools have a Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP). YRP is a fund-matching scholarship. So if your school’s YRP scholarship is $10,000, the VA will match that amount for an additional $10,000. Combined with GI Bill, your tuition would be covered up to $41,084.89 based on the 2015-2016 maximum. Some schools structure their YRP so that GI Bill plus YRP covers 100% of tuition, but not all do. Some schools have a limited number of YRP scholarships to offer, while others will accept all YRP students that enroll. You can find out more about YRP here. Your school will have the most up-to-date information about YRP participation.


  1. GI Bill certification. GI Bill money won’t hit your accounts until around two months after classes begin. This happens because your school’s GI Bill certifying official can’t certify you until classes start. The certification takes several weeks to work its way through the VA, then the GI Bill and YRP disbursements a little longer after that to make it into your account. Bottom line: you will need to save up enough money to live on for two to three months from the time classes start.


  1. Stacking GI Bill and other scholarships. VA is supposed to be the last payer, meaning that GI Bill will pay only the tuition balance remaining after all your scholarships have been applied. However, some schools will wait until GI Bill has paid before disbursing your scholarship. This has two effects. One, you will ultimately get both GI Bill money and scholarship money, giving you more money for living expenses. Two, because the scholarship disburses after GI Bill, it also won’t arrive until around the middle of your first semester.


  1. GI Bill only pays out, including BAH, while you are actually taking classes. This means you won’t get money during the summer unless you are taking a certain number of credit hours. For some programs, such as law, you will normally work an internship during the summer instead of taking summer classes. If your internship is unpaid, you need to plan accordingly. You can save up money during the school year to live on during the summer, or take out additional student loans. There are often other sources of funding for internships such as the Google Public Policy Fellowship. Some schools may have programs that give you academic credit for unpaid internships. If your school does, the program may offer enough credit hours to satisfy the minimum requirements to receive GI Bill for the summer.