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There are several military programs that help servicemembers pay for college. In most cases, you commit to serving for a period of time and, in exchange, the Military pays for your education. The average commitment is four years on Active Duty, plus four years in the Individual Ready Reserve (this means you are not actively serving but could be called back, if necessary). These days, the Military provides a huge range of educational opportunities to servicemembers to study before, during and after their military commitment.
Founded in 1916, ROTC is a college program offered at around 1,000 colleges and universities across the United States that prepares young adults to become officers in the Military. In exchange for a partially or fully paid college education and a guaranteed post-college career, ROTC students commit to serve in the Military after graduation (generally four years of Active Duty). It’s also possible to do a year or two of ROTC without Service commitment, but simply for the great leadership experience. The Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force each offer their own ROTC program. The Coast Guard doesn’t offer ROTC, but they do have a College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative (CSPI) scholarship program for college sophomores and juniors.
Students who would like to experience a military environment while getting an education should be aware of the opportunities that a Senior Military College (SMC) or Service academy can offer. They are widely respected and provide first-class instruction. The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., is a well-known Senior Military College example, and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and West Point in West Point, N.Y., are well-known examples of Service academies. Service academies offer full four-year scholarships, and SMCs offer financial aid packages for eligible students. Both also offer pay for books, board and medical and dental care. In exchange for such scholarships and pay, graduates of Service academies become commissioned officers upon graduation and are required to uphold a service obligation of a minimum of five years. Those who attend SMCs can choose whether or not they want to serve, but recipients of ROTC scholarships will be required to serve after graduation.
Tuition Support provides servicemembers the opportunity to enroll in courses at accredited colleges, universities, junior colleges and vocational-technical schools. Each Service has unique programs that can help with tuition for anything from professional certifications to a graduate degree. To qualify, there are usually conditional requirements, such as having a minimum time remaining on your service contract and a cap on credit hours (or dollars) per year. Some programs, such as the Coast Guard’s College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative, also require that you attend a school from a designated list.
The SOC Degree Network System (DNS) is a great way for service members to gain an education while serving, as it enables military members and their families to get college degrees through an association of accredited colleges, universities and technical institutes. SOC member institutions acknowledge and transfer credits, making it possible for service members to continue college studies no matter where they move during their military careers. SOC DNS features include the following:
College coursework can be done both in the classroom or by distance learning options. Two-year and four-year programs are available.
The Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) is an accredited two-year college open to enlisted Air Force men and women. CCAF offers nearly 70 different associate degree programs in many scientific and technical fields including computer science technology, avionic systems technology, air and space operations technology, allied health sciences, paralegal, information management and more.
Every CCAF degree requires courses in your technical job specialty, leadership/management/military studies, general education and physical education. You can accumulate credits while you’re on Active Duty at Air Force technical training schools and when you enroll in colleges near your duty station that offer accredited courses. Enlisted members of the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve are also eligible to participate in CCAF. CCAF also awards credit for exams offered by DANTES, CLEP and the Defense Language Institute.
The Military administers thousands of academic exams to servicemembers each year. These tests can earn you college credit for skills you’ve acquired during military training and operations. CLEP and DANTES tests are available to all active-duty, Reserve and Guard personnel. The testing is available at a discount and is divided up into the following:
You can potentially earn college credits simply by completing Basic Training, otherwise known as “boot camp“
After Basic Training, the advanced job training the Military gives you – sometimes called “A” School or Advanced Individual Training (AIT) – can also count for college credit. In short, you can earn college credit as you receive training for your military assignment.
The American Council on Education (ACE) regularly visits many military schools to grant accreditation. Note that not every military school is accredited. Be sure to ask a recruiter whether the school that would train you offers college credits, and if so, which specific courses offer them.
If your military training school doesn’t offer college credit, it may offer certification in a specialized technical field instead. Many national trade associations recognize military certification tests. So if you choose not to re-enlist, passing a Certification Exam helps you transition to your civilian career right away, without having to go through a long training period at lower pay.
Certification testing is available in the fields of automotive, computing, electronics, management, broadcast engineering, emergency medical technician, medical technology and food preparation, among many others. Ask a recruiter for details about certification.
The Army and Navy offer loan repayment programs that help enlisted personnel pay off college loans accrued prior to service. While each program has unique processes and requirements, they’re all enlistment incentives designed to help recent college graduates manage education debt. Make sure to ask a recruiter about eligibility requirements to see if you qualify.
Replacing the Montgomery GI Bill on Aug. 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill is the most comprehensive education-benefits package since the original GI Bill was signed into law back in 1944. Veterans who have served after Sept. 10, 2001, and all new active-duty servicemembers are eligible for the enhanced package. The new bill also gives Reserve and Guard members who have been activated for more than 90 days since 9/11 the same benefits.
Different factors play into how much each servicemember receives from the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These factors include:
The actual benefit amount varies based on a servicemember’s total length of service. However, these benefits are payable for up to 15 years following a member’s honorable discharge or retirement from service. So you can use them right away, or save them for later – it’s your choice.
In addition, for the first time in history the Department of Defense is offering the option of sharing these benefits with family members. A servicemember can now choose to transfer all or part of his or her earned benefits to a wife, husband or child (including stepchildren).
Each Service offers incentives, programs and financial assistance that can be added to the Post-9/11 GI Bill. These programs are offered to servicemembers when they first join the Military. Two mandatory qualifications are you must have a high school diploma and you must be enrolled in the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Depending on your Service, test scores and occupation, there may also be additional requirements. Talk to a recruiter to find out if you are eligible and to ask for an application.