If you are currently attending school, or thinking about going back, you should definitely fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
While you may plan on using your Post 9/11 GI Bill or Montgomery GI Bill benefits, you might also be eligible for financial aid from the federal or state governments. Your GI Bill may not cover all your educational expenses, so it’s always good to have something to fall back on if that is the case.
“Student veterans using Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits should definitely complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Financial aid can be offered in addition to Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, and options can possibly include grants, scholarships, work study, and student loans,” said Heidi Stuckert, coordinator for military and veterans in Student Financial Services at Colorado State University.
Grants are money for school that you do not have to pay back. The government will send the school of your choice a check which will be applied toward your tuition and fees. Any money leftover will be sent back to you.
“Grants are possibly available to all students, including veterans. Most grants require a student to demonstrate financial need as determined by FAFSA information. Grants can possibly be funded from the university, federal and state governments,” said Stuckert.
Grants you may be eligible for include:
Federal Pell Grant – Only available to undergraduate students. Based on financial need and tuition costs. The maximum amount you can receive is $5,775 per school year.
Federal Supplemental Education Opportunity Grant – Only available to undergraduate students with exceptional financial need. You can receive anywhere between $100 to $4,000 per year.
Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant – Available to students who plan on becoming a teacher in a public or private elementary, or a secondary school that serves students from low-income households.
State Education Grants – Many states offer need and merit-based grants. You may have to apply for them separately, so be sure to do some research and find out which ones you qualify for.
“A student veteran may utilize financial aid before their Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit to preserve their benefit for an advanced degree in the future. If a student veteran is using this strategy, they should be mindful that their benefit can only be used for up to 15 years after separation from active duty. Another reason a student veteran may use financial aid instead of the GI Bill is if they plan to transfer their benefit to their dependent,” Stuckert said.
If your GI Bill and grants don’t cover the full cost of your tuition and educational expenses, you do have the option of taking out student loans.
Student loans should not be taken lightly. You do have to pay them back, and they are generally not eligible for discharge during bankruptcy. That means you are pretty much stuck with them until they are paid off.
Loans you may qualify for include:
Subsidized Stafford Loan – Direct Subsidized Loans are for students with financial need. Subsidized loans do not accrue interest while you are in school at least part-time and during deferment and grace periods.
Unsubsidized Stafford Loan – Unsubsidized loans are available to all students regardless of financial need. Interest starts accruing as soon as you borrow. You can pay the interest while in school, as well as during grace, deferment and forbearance periods, or you can allow it to accrue and have it added to the loan total.
Perkins Loans– Federal Perkins Loans are available to students with exceptional financial need. These loans are low interest (capped at five percent), and are awarded through your school’s financial aid office.
Veterans are automatically considered to be an independent students, which means that no matter your age, you do not need your parent’s tax information when you fill out the FAFSA. Their income will have no bearing on how much aid you are eligible to receive.
You can fill out the FAFSA for free at https://fafsa.ed.gov/.
Even if you you don’t think you qualify for grants and don’t want to take out student loans, it’s still a good idea to fill out the FAFSA anyway. You never know what you are qualified for unless you apply, and you don’t have to take out loans if you don’t want to, it’s just a great backup option in case you aren’t able to cover educational expenses with other resources.
“The Post 9/11 GI Bill is generous in helping to cover tuition and fees while also providing an allowance for housing and books/supplies. Financial aid can help with expenses beyond those covered under the GI Bill like child care or housing costs that exceed the allowance. Not all Post 9/11 GI Bill benefit users are at the 100 percent entitlement rate. Financial aid can help bridge any expense gaps for those students at less than 100 percent.”