College Guide for U.S. Service Members

Whether you are currently on active duty, retired from military service, a veteran, or a military family member, there are services available to help you reach your education and career goals. A host of programs and services, with your needs and specific challenges in mind, are provided through government agencies and partnerships, as well as non-profit organizations.

This guide will help you identify education and training opportunities, find support as a college-level learner, and fund your pursuit of higher education.

Access to Academic and Career Programs

Know that many colleges and universities are accustomed to working with military service members and veterans. They understand not only the need for flexibility, but also the often-complex nature of the paperwork and policies. This section of the guide outlines several organizations and programs designed to further assist you with the processes involved in becoming a college student.

Servicemembers Opportunity College (SOC)

The SOC is a consortium of 1,900 colleges and universities interested in helping military service members and their families to “complete degrees rather than just accumulate course credit.” Member institutions have created policies that facilitate transferred credit, reduced residency requirements, academic credit for military training, and credit-by-exam options for military students.

Search for SOC Consortium schools by state or name to find out more. Research the eligibility requirements and opportunities available at each institution.

Career Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) Degrees Program of the College of the American Soldier (CAS)

This is one of two programs offered by the College of the American Soldier. Active duty U.S. Army NCOs may elect to pursue this pathway to receive academic credit for completed military education and leadership training. Participating institutions have primarily identified business and management degree programs that may accept this form of credit as determined through transcripts documenting military training.

While this initiative focuses on Combat Arms NCOs, soldiers in any MOS can apply. Meet with an Army Education Counselor to find out more about the Career NCO Degrees Program’s eligibility requirements. A list of eligible associate and bachelor’s degree programs can also be found on the SOC website.

Enlisted Education Program (EEP) of the College of the American Soldier (CAS)

The second program offered via the CAS is aimed toward providing higher education opportunities to students in the Combat Arms occupational specialties (i.e., Infantry, Field Artillery, Air Defense Artillery, Armor). Soldiers working in these career management fields can earn credits toward an associate degree through their completion of Basic Training, Advanced Individual Training, and other military experience.

Soldiers interested in pursuing this opportunity should work with an Army Education Counselor to find out more about participating colleges and eligibility requirements. A list of associate degree programs currently selected to be part of the EEP can also be found on the SOC website.

Finding Education and Career Support

Did you know that military training and service often lead to academic credit? Or that there are programs in place to help you make the most of your military experience in a new career? We’ve reviewed a range of available resources, including exam and transcript evaluation options and on-base/on-campus support centers.

Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES)

DANTES, affiliated with the U.S. Department of Defense, has a mission of “creating directing, and managing superior education solutions designed to enrich service members and veterans.” In addition to partnering with Servicemembers Opportunity College, DANTES sponsors a variety of support services including testing, counseling support, and special training programs.

Exams

DANTES offers a wide range of testing options through multiple locations that include military installations and national testing centers. Taking these tests usually comes with a fee, but funding is often available for active duty personnel, Reservists, and National Guard members.

Credit by Exam: Did you know you that you can earn academic credit through testing? DANTES offers access to the following exams, which evaluate your knowledge in specific areas of study:

Entrance Exams: These exams are used as one way to measure your prior knowledge and skills. Many colleges and universities consider test scores as part of the admissions process. Common entrance exams include:

  • SAT at the undergraduate level
  • ACT at the undergraduate level
  • GRE at the graduate level
  • GMAT for business school admissions
  • LSAT for law school admissions

Other Exams: Additional exams available through DANTES include:

Troops to Teachers (TTT)

The goal of TTT is to “assist transitioning service members to become employed as teachers” in kindergarten through high school levels.

  • Eligibility: Current and former military personnel categorized as having honorable service are eligible to apply.
  • Registration: Online registration is required, which includes creating a user account and completing a form with information about experience and interests.
  • Program Highlights: A network of state-level TTT offices is available to assist those interested in becoming teachers with the process of achieving certification and finding employment.

Counselor Support

Counselors who work with active and transitioning service members are assisted with career and goal setting tools available to individual users through DANTES. While a pilot program with the Kudor Journey system of assessments is scheduled to conclude at the end of 2013, check the DANTES website for more details and related services.

Distance Learning Program

Online learning and other nontraditional education opportunities can help service members complete degree requirements while working around tough schedules and from remote locations. In addition to providing access to three distance learning catalogs, DANTES provides the Distance Learning Readiness Self-Assessment to help you set realistic expectations of what online learning will be like.

Consult with an education counselor to explore funding opportunities through Tuition Assistance and the GI Bill. Many online learning options are eligible through these financial assistance programs.

American Council on Education (ACE)

DANTES partners with ACE’s transcript service to help service members earn academic credit for past military training and service. ACE evaluates military training and experience gained while working in specific military occupational codes, then recommends the equivalent academic credit.

Find out more about the opportunities available through College Credit for Military Service programs:

  • The Military Guide: This searchable collection features both formal training courses and occupational fields. Each course or job specialty is documented in an “exhibit” that includes categories such as learning outcomes, related competencies, and credit recommendations. View the following examples:
  • Joint Services Transcript (JST): In an effort to coordinate and consolidate efforts across branches of the armed forces, members of the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps now receive the JST to document their training and experience, as well as ACE recommended academic credit. More than 2,300 institutions recognize these transcripts. For more information about the recent implementation of the JST you can review webinar materials. Here are examples of the JST and other documentation listed by branch of service:
    • Army [PDF]
    • Navy [PDF]
    • Marine Corps [PDF]
    • Air Force [PDF] through the Community College of the Air Force
    • Coast Guard [PDF] through the Coast Guard Institute

GoArmyEd

This online portal serves as a virtual gateway for education programs and services available to the U.S. Army’s active duty soldiers, reservists, and members of the National Guard. Eligible members can use this site to access information about testing, transcripts, tuition assistance, and more. One resource provided is a list of Multi-use Learning Facilities (MLF)/Army Learning Centers (ALC) located worldwide.

Find out more about the training and education resources provided through each branch of service by exploring the following websites:

Student Veterans Centers

The programs mentioned so far illustrate some of what you’ll find when the military and affiliated groups reach out to colleges and universities to coordinate services for military learners. However, schools are also reaching out to their military and veteran students to help them succeed in their academic programs. Explore the resources provided through veteran-specific offices at your institution or the schools you are interested in attending.

As increasing numbers of veterans enter college after recent military service, the support available to these students is expanding both online and on campus. The Veterans Resource Center at Syracuse University, Student Veterans Center at Florida State University, and the Military Division of the University of Phoenix provide examples of the assistance you may find.

Find Financial Support

In addition to the many academic support programs available to active duty service members, veterans, and their families, a wide range of funding opportunities also exists. Federal financial aid options and a host of targeted scholarships can help defer the ever-rising costs associated with the pursuit of a college-level certificate or degree.

Military Education Benefits

Through your military service, or that of a family member, you may be eligible for education benefits designed to help you pay for college. This section of the guide takes a closer look at programs that address not only tuition, but also related fees.

GI Bill

The GI Bill originated as The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, helping World War II veterans transition to civilian life and careers in part through higher education. It is provided through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) as a benefit, which has evolved through the years and continues to support military learners today.

  • Montgomery GI Bill
    • Active Duty (MGIB-AD): Active duty service members must enroll in this program and pay $100 per month for 12 month to receive education benefits after completing their service obligation. Additional benefits are available through the Buy-Up Program. Four categories of benefit eligibility are outlined on the VA website.
    • Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR): Reservists and National Guard members who have a six-year service obligation and are actively drilling are eligible for this program. Application details are provided on the VA website.
    • Key Provisions: If eligible, you may receive up to 36 months of benefits. The amount paid and the number of years you can use the benefit vary based on type of training, length of military service, your category of eligibility, and eligibility for other types of funding.
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill
    • Overview: This revision of the GI Bill addresses additional benefits for those who have served since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.
    • Eligibility: Service members with a minimum of 90 days of active service after September 10, 2001, who are on active duty or were honorably discharged, meet the basic eligibility requirements. Those who were discharged with a service-related disability after 30 days of active service may also be eligible.
    • Key Provisions: If eligible, you may receive up to 36 months of education benefits. The amount of assistance received is based on length of aggregate active service, as well as tuition and fees. A books and supplies stipend of up to $1000 per year is provided, and a monthly housing allowance may also be available.

Reserve Educational Assistance Program (REAP)

  • Overview: REAP is available to Reservists in all branches of service, as well as National Guard members, who have been “called or ordered to active duty in response to a war or national emergency declared by the president or Congress.”
  • Eligibility: Those who were activated for at least 90 days after September 11, 2001 may be eligible. Eligibility for REAP is determined by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.
  • Key Provisions: Payment amounts are based on enrollment time (e.g., full-time, 1/2 time), length of service, and/or level of training, and can be applied to a wide range of education and training opportunities. The Buy-Up program is also available for those who want to increase these benefits.

Veterans Education Assistance Program (VEAP)

  • Overview: VEAP is available to service members who elected to participate in this program through contributions from military pay while on active duty. The government matches these contributions 2-to-1.
  • Eligibility: There are multiple eligibility requirements, including completing an initial period of military service and release under conditions other than dishonorable discharge. Additional requirements vary by branch of service.
  • Key Provisions: These benefits may be used for degree and certification programs, as well as correspondence, apprenticeship, and other vocational training. Funds must be used within 10 years after ending active duty.

Survivors and Dependents Assistance

  • Overview: This program extends education benefits to family members of veterans who have a service-related disability, or who died while on active duty or as the result of a service-related condition.
  • Eligibility: Children ages 18 to 26 and spouses of veterans may be eligible to apply if they are not serving on active duty themselves.
  • Key Provisions: This program can be used to fund a variety of education and vocational training opportunities. Eligibility extensions, related to age and time to use the benefit, are also possible.

National Call to Service Incentive Program

  • Overview: This program is a benefit for those who perform a service to the nation through military duty or a recognized national service program. A choice of incentives is provided ranging from a cash bonus or monthly allowance to repayment of a qualifying student loan.
  • Eligibility: A three-tiered eligibility requirement exists that includes completion of initial training, a period of active service, and additional service on active duty, in the Reserves, or as part of an approved national service such as Americorps.
  • Key Provisions: Those who elect to use this benefit may not be able to receive some GI Bill or other education benefits.

Navy College Fund (NCF)

  • Overview: Funded by the Navy, this program provides education assistance in addition to the Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) basic allowance amounts.
  • Eligibility: Specific skills and specialties are identified by the Navy as “critical shortage areas, and new recruits who meet the qualifications are eligible to apply, although funding is usually limited.
  • Key Provisions: Enrollment in the MGIB program is required. Those accepted for NCF benefits receive a monthly “kicker” amount in addition to their MGIB benefits.

Army College Fund (ACF)

This program, similar to the Navy College Fund, provided monthly educational benefits in addition to those received under the MGIB. This program was suspended on October 1st, 2011, but may be reinstated in the future.

Tuition Assistance (TA) Program

  • Overview: This education benefit is available across military services to those on active duty as well as selected reservists, National Guard members, and civilian employees.
  • Eligibility: Each branch of service determines eligibility requirements and the application process to receive this benefit.
  • Key Provisions: Each branch of service determines the amount of TA that will be paid and what it can be used for, such as tuition and fees. Some restrictions do exist related to maximum amounts that can be received per credit hour and per year.

Tutorial Assistance Program

  • Overview: This benefit is intended as a supplement to other types of education assistance, and one that helps support student academic success.
  • Eligibility: If you already received VA education assistance, are attending school at least half-time, and need help in a course related to your approved program, you may be eligible for tutoring assistance.
  • Key Provisions: Monthly payment rates are based on the actual cost of tutoring and won’t exceed $100. The maximum total tutorial assistance benefit is $1,200. The application must be signed by the student, tutor, and certifying official (usually a professor or instructor).

Keep in mind that you may be eligible for more than one VA education benefit, and your selection of one can impact your eligibility for others. There are also separate application procedures for each program. Work with an education counselor and carefully compare your options before making a decision about education benefits.

Scholarship Opportunities

Most scholarships involve completing an application and are awarded based on specific criteria, which may include financial need, merit, or other qualifications as determined by each scholarship sponsor. While most scholarships do not have to be paid back, some of the following options do have service or other expectations after graduation.

Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC)

  • Overview: Graduating high school students and current college students can apply for two-, three-, and four-year military scholarships. These are merit based and usually require a commitment to fulfill military service after graduation. Participation in military-related course work and training while in college is also expected.
  • Eligibility: Each service determines eligibility criteria and application procedures.
  • Key Provisions: These scholarships apply to tuition, but can include additional allowances for books and fees, as well as some living expenses.

Fisher House Foundation Scholarships for Military Children

  • Overview: This military family support organization coordinates this scholarship program funded by donations from the Defense Commissary Agency and its partners.
  • Eligibility: Children of active duty, reserve, National Guard, and military retirees are eligible to apply. Recipients must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and be enrolled or plan to enroll as a full-time student at an accredited four-year institution.
  • Key Provisions: At least one $2,000 scholarship will be awarded at each commissary location that has qualified applicants.

American Patriot Scholarship

  • Overview: This is one of the scholarship and grant opportunities offered through the Military Officers Association of America.
  • Eligibility: Children of active duty, Reserve, and National Guard parents who died or were severely wounded while in active service may apply. Recipients must be 24 years old or younger, and plan to attend accredited institutions as full-time students.
  • Key Provisions: These scholarships are funded through donations, so the amounts awarded may vary. However, a minimum of $2.500 is awarded to recipients.

Heroes Tribute Scholarship Programs for Children of the Fallen and Children of the Wounded

  • Overview: The Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation offers these two scholarships, which support children of active and veteran Marines and Navy Corpsmen who have been killed or wounded.
  • Eligibility: Criteria for applicants include a minimum GPA of 2.0 and family income limits. Recipients are also expected to pursue their first associate or bachelor’s degree, or first technical certificate.
  • Key Provisions: The foundation offers multiple scholarships of up to $30,000 over four years.

Women’s Memorial Foundation Scholarship Program

  • Overview: Two scholarships are offered to female students through the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. The Kelly Scholarship supports those studying technical fields, and the Ellerman Scholarship is open to applicants in any academic field.
  • Eligibility: Criteria include enrollment at an accredited school seeking a bachelor’s or master’s degree, demonstrated financial need, minimum 3.25 GPA, U.S. citizenship, as well as current or previous military service on active duty or in the National Guard, Reserves, or Merchant Marines.
  • Key Provisions: Scholarships of $500 are awarded and there are two application deadlines each year.

National Association for Uniformed Services (NAUS) Scholarship Program

  • Overview: Awarded by NAUS, these scholarships benefit the spouses and children of organization members.
  • Eligibility: Applicants must be enrolled or accepted for enrollment in an undergraduate or certificate program offered by an accredited institution.
  • Key Provisions: Multiple scholarships of $2,500 are awarded each year.

Army Staff Sgt. Special Agent Richard S. Eaton Jr. Scholarship

  • Overview: This scholarship recognizes SSG Eaton, a counterintelligence special agent and Bronze Star recipient who died in Iraq in 2003, and is offered through the Lint Center for National Security Studies.
  • Eligibility: Applicants should be pursuing higher education in disciplines related to alliance building, counterintelligence, cultural understanding, and national security.
  • Key Provisions: In addition to scholarship funding of $1,000, awardees are connected with a mentor with experience in the national security field.

Navy/Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) Education Assistance

  • Overview: In addition to educational loans, the NMCRS also offers grants to students that can be used for tuition, books, fees, and room and board.
  • Eligibility: Children (under age 23) of active, retired, or deceased Sailors and Marines are eligible to apply. Spouses of active and retired Sailors and Marines are also eligible. Full-time enrollment at an accredited institution is also required, as well as a minimum 3.0 GPA and demonstrated financial need.
  • Key Provisions: Grant amounts range from $500 to $3,000 per year and are submitted directly to the college, university, or technical school.

Air Force Aid Society (AFAS) Merit Scholarship

  • Overview: This program is merit-based and available to children and spouses of active duty, retired, or deceased Air Force service members.
  • Eligibility: Applicants who have already completed the General Henry H. Arnold Grant application are considered for this scholarship as well, and will be contacted directly by AFAS.
  • Key Provisions: Multiple $5,000 scholarships are awarded annually.