Financial Aid for Military Family Members and Dependents

ASO Staff Writers
Updated October 20, 2022
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Scholarships, Grants & Tuition Assistance for Service Members to Attend School

In 2014, more than 800,000 veterans used their Post 9/11 GI Bill® to further their post-secondary educations, which is a 67 percent increase from 2009. The rapid rise in enrollment is evidence in the value service members place on education. For many, it’s the single best way to increase the post-military quality of life. Sometimes, however, GI Benefits aren’t enough to fully cover the cost a degree. Depending on the amount of shortfall, it can strain a family’s budget to pay the difference. This guide delves deeply into the financial aid programs available to veterans, spouses and dependents. We’ve included information on the GI Bill®, scholarships and grants, along with some important programs you may not know about. You’ll also find links to financial aid sources for veterans, dependents and students in general.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). More information about educational benefits offered by the VA is available at the official U.S. government website at

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Financial Aid for Military Dependents

According to a Pew Research study analyzing data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the income gap for workers between the ages of 25 to 32 with just a high school diploma and a those with a college degree is widening. Currently, it’s $17,500 more annually for the college degree holder. Over the course of a 30-year career, that’s at least an additional $525,000. That additional money increases the quality of life for both individuals and their families.

Money from the GI Bill can help cover education costs, but it has its limits. For example, the Post 9/11 GI Bill only pays up to $21,970.46 per year to attend a private school, but some colleges charge that per semester. To help cover the shortfall, many students turn to various financial aid sources available to them based on their eligibility of being a military family member. Below are five such grants. Links to each one are included for more information, such as application procedures and deadlines.

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants

Students who had a parent die while serving in the military in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 and are not eligible for a Federal Pell grant based on Expected Family Contribution amount may be eligible for a grant worth up to $5,815. Recipients must be under the age of 24 or were enrolled in college at the time of the parents passing.

Air Force Aid Society Education Grant

Based on need, selected recipients can receive grants ranging from $500 to $4,000. Eligibility is based in part on being a dependent under the age of 24 at the time of starting school. For this grant, a dependent is defined as a son, daughter or spouse of a military member serving on active duty, Title 10 AGR Reserve, Title 32 full-time AGR, retired, or deceased, who is in school full-time and pursuing undergraduate studies.

Scholarships for Military Children

Funded through the Defense Commissary Agency, this scholarship has provided over $15 million dollars in its 16 years of existence to eligible dependents. For the 2017/2018 school year, 700 scholarships of $2,000 each will be awarded. To apply students must be enrolled full-time in at least a two-year school and maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale. Eligibility of family members are restricted to sons and daughters of active duty, Selected Reservists and retirees.

The Air Force Sergeants Association

Through their scholarship programs, awards from $500 to $3,000 are made annually to sons or daughters of Total Air Force enlisted members (active duty, Air National Guard or Reserve, retired/veteran) pursuing an undergraduate degree at an accredited post-secondary school.


Spouses of lower-graded military members, including active duty, National Guard and Reserves and even spouses themselves on Title 10 orders) can get up to $4,000 to pursue licenses, certificates, certifications, or associate degrees in certain high-demand portable career fields and occupations. Eligibility is limited to spouses of service members in the following grades:

Training must be completed no later than three years from starting the program.

Bridging the Gap: Scholarships for Veterans

The GI Bill benefits available today are the most generous they have been since the program started back in 1944 with the signing of the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act. But as good as they are, sometimes they are not still enough to pay today’s education costs.

Entitlement usually equates to one month of school benefit for each month of service, up to 36 months (in most cases; having two GI Bills can increase that amount). If used wisely, that is enough for four nine-month academic years or enough to get a four-year degree. However, if a student veteran plans on pursuing an advanced degree, there may not be any GI Bill benefits left to use.

Another limitation is the time to use benefits. Many veterans coming off active duty today want to wait a bit before going to school. One year runs into two, two into three, and before long, the 15-year limitation on the Post 9/11 GI Bill or 10 years on the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) have passed and benefits are no longer available to use.

Furthermore, even when using GI Bill benefits, not all costs are necessarily covered. With the MGIB, a student can get up to, $1,857 per month, but has to pay tuition, fees, books and living expenses; under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, tuition may be paid in full if attending a public school, but not if going to a private or foreign school. In the latter case, either the student must pay the difference, or rely on other sources of financial assistance. For some, a feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill called the Yellow Ribbon program can help make up the difference, but some schools do not offer the program, and the ones that do often have limited slots they can fill. In many cases, the demand far outweighs the supply. Eligible students not selected are left to their own resources to meet their financial obligations.

Scholarships, Grants & Tuition Assistance

If veterans or their dependents want to go to school, there is money available for them to do so. Scholarships and grants do not have to be paid back, so using them cuts down on student debt. Below are some sample sources of money for school listed in five different categories.

The Path to College for Most Veterans Starts with the GI Bill

The various GI Bills throughout the years have been a boon to both military members using their benefits while serving, veterans after getting out, or spouses and dependent children using transferred benefit of the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Benefits are limited in scope and vary by time served.

Post 9/11 GI Bill

Most military members who meet the following criteria have education benefits they can use to go to school:

Known as the “New GI Bill,” the Post 9/11 GI Bill can also pay for training leading to certificates, licenses, certifications, or even some flight training, in addition to several other forms of training.

The pay structure of the Post 9/11 GI Bill sets it apart from other GI Bills.

Yellow Ribbon Program (YRP)

This feature of the Post 9/11 GI Bill can be beneficial for students attending private school where tuition exceeds what their Post 9/11 GI Bill can pay. Under the YRP agreement between the VA and respective school, the school declares how much of the difference they will pay; the amount can go as high as 50 percent.

In turn, the VA agrees to pay an equal amount, on top of the tuition and fees it already pays, thus potentially reducing the student’s out-of-pocket costs to zero. However, if the percentage in the agreement is less than 50 percent, the VA ends up paying less, leaving an unpaid amount that becomes the responsibility of the student to pay. Students must use the Post 9/11 GI Bill to use the Yellow Ribbon Program feature. However, not all schools have YRP agreements with the VA and those that do often have limited slots available. Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB)

Named after the U.S. Representative from Mississippi, Gillespie “Sonny” Montgomery, this was the main GI Bill most veterans had coming off active duty between 1984 and 2009. Some veterans are still using it today.

Since 2009, many veterans have both the MGIB and the Post 9/11 GI Bill. When used sequentially (MGIB first and Post 9/11 GI Bill next), they can increase entitlement from 36 months to 48. What many people don’t know, and what causes some confusion, is there are actually two MGIBs – the MGIB-AD for active duty personnel and the MGIB-SR for Selected Reservist, which includes the National Guard and the different Reserves of the Armed Forces.

Active Duty (MGIB-AD)

Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)

While this GI Bill Chapter 1606 MGIB-SR shares its name with the Chapter 30 MGIB-AD, that is about all they have in common; otherwise they are as different as night and day.

While the pay structure has nowhere kept pace with education increases in tuition, many Selected Reservists who have been mobilized are also eligible for some coverage under the Post 9/11 GI Bill.

Fast Snapshot Comparison

Duration (in years)101015
Entitlement (in months)363636
Monthly Payment$1,857$369*$3,852**


* – May be used in conjunction with Federal Tuition Assistance, MGIB-AD and State provided education benefits, if any.

** – Amount is not exact as it varies if the school is public or private, the number of credits takes, and zip code of the school Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

Because REAP was a forerunner to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, many of its benefits are the same. The whole purpose of REAP was to give Selected Reservists mobilized after September 10, 2001 some additional education benefits in a pre-Post 9/11 GI Bill world.

REAP is changing due to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016. Because veterans with REAP/Chapter 1607 GI Bill usually have similar coverage under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, eligibility was terminated for veterans not using the benefit by November 25, 2015. However, they may convert any remaining coverage over to the Post 9/11 GI Bill, if eligible. Veterans using REAP on the November date may continue to do so until November 25, 2019. Any remaining entitlement at that time will then convert to the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Application is the same as for the other GI Bills.

Payment under REAP is based on the amount of time served.

For veterans serving at least 90 days of consecutive service but less than one year, payment is $742.80 per month; one year of service, but less than two pays up to $1,114.20; two or more consecutive years of service increases it to $1,485.60 per month.

Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP)

Prior to the Montgomery GI Bill coming out in 1984, most service members left the military with this GI Bill. Because the MGIB provided more benefits, veterans were given several “windows of opportunity” to convert, with the last one closing in 2001. Since the MGIB only has a 10-year “shelf life”, any remaining unused entitlement of those that converted expired in 2011; veterans who did not convert during the last window lost any remaining entitlement, however they may request a refund of their contribution by submitting VA Form 22-5581-ARE.

Top-Up Program

Officially known as the Tuition Assistance Top-Up program, or just Top-Up, this education financial aid program applies only to personnel on active duty and has no residual entitlement after getting out. The program is a combination of Tuition Assistance (TA) and the GI Bill. Because TA has a per credit and yearly cap in most of the active duty military branches, Top-Up is a secondary program that can be used to pay the difference between what TA pays and the school charges, or use it to continue taking classes if reaching the TA yearly cap early in the academic year. Using Top-Up does reduce the amount of remaining GI Bill entitlement.

Coordinate for TA and Top-Up from the Base or Post Education Office. Complete VA Form 22-1990 indicating “Top-Up” in Item 1A. Send in TA approval form and VA Form 22-1990 to the VA Regional Office in charge of your area. Should Veterans fill out the FAFSA?

In most cases, yes and here is why. Most non-military related financial aid assistance requests start with filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The results show what financial aid a student is authorized to receive based on the information in the application. However, in the case of also receiving GI Bill payments, it can get confusing as whether that money needs to be declared on the application or not.

Because GI Bill money is treated as a resource and not income, as far as Federal Aid is concerned, it should not be reported as income on Worksheet B in most cases. However other non-education veteran’s benefits (such as disability) should be reported as untaxed income. Reporting veterans benefits wrong can end up reducing the amount of financial aid authorized. Veterans interested in online education, such as those pursuing an online bachelor’s degree or considering an online master’s program, should also fill out the FAFSA in most cases.

More Help for Veterans Attending College

HEROES Act of 2003

The Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003 was signed into public law with the mission of ensuring military members are not penalized, or adversely affected in any way, because of their military service. The three classes of students covered under the Act include:

If affected by one of the above situations, students should notify their school and holders of their student loans. Once verified, one or more waivers can be issued that could range from changing the formula resulting in the amount of student aid granted, to extending out the time to pay back student loans, to granting relief in other financial aid situations too numerous to mention here.DANTES

The Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) helps service members and veterans pursue their educational goals and earn degrees or certifications both during and after their service. The way the program works is eligible members can take end-of-course college exams without having to endure taking the course. The exams are usually for introductory-type first or second year college classes.

Passing a test awards the same college credits as taking and passing the course. Not only does using DANTES save time to a degree, but it conserves GI Bill entitlement that can be used later, toward an advanced degree.

There are three different DANTES test categories:

Most DANTES tests take around 90 minutes to complete. With each exam awarding on average three credits, taking 33 CLEP tests alone could earn 123 credits. However, be sure to check the school’s policy on transferring in credits as most would not accept that many on a transcript. But by combining DANTES and the ACE conversion credits awarded for military service, veterans could be well on their way to a degree. The power of DANTES is great, yet highly under-utilized.

U.S. Military Education Centers

Military Education Centers found on most posts and bases are an asset worth their weight in gold. From helping fill career and education needs while serving, to planning and assisting with transition to the civilian world when getting out, they are a broad-spectrum education resource. While most Education Centers fill basic education and transitional needs, each military branch work a little differently and because of this difference, additional services provided are highlighted below.

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