Resources for Veterans Applying to and Starting Grad School

For the modern veteran looking to do their PhD (or other graduate degrees), there are many helpful resources to help them apply to, get accepted to, and pay for their program. I will assume that you are a veteran whose service has ended and is either unable or unwilling to return to service. This article will focus solely on veterans and mostly exclude programs and benefits for active duty, reserve, and national guard members.

This article excludes things like: Military Tuition Assistance (MILTA), Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS), the various service-related medical/nursing programs, and R&D dependent graduate schooling (such as when a branch will send an officer engineer to get an advanced degree to help with the development of a research program). This article will also exclude any program which requires a service commitment such as ROTC, the Armed Forces Health Professions Scholarship, and the various service exclusive medical/nursing programs.

(If you find this post useful, you should check out this great blog post on misconceptions of applying to grad school as a veteran.)

Federal and State Programs

The first category of programs veterans ought to be aware of are the various federal and state programs. I will not cover these programs with much depth because all veterans are briefed numerous times on these benefits during active duty.

Montgomery GI Bill

Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) is the first federal college payment program. Service members are eligible for this benefit if they pay $1200 and complete 36 months of active duty service. Using the Buy-Up program, service members can increase their MGIB benefits by paying an additional $600 during active duty. From my experience, very few people know about the Buy-Up program (including at base education offices). The MGIB pays students directly, and the students pay their tuition from the money given. Service members have ten years from when they leave the service to begin using this program; otherwise, they lose it.

Post 9/11 GI Bill

The Post 9/11 GI Bill is the newer federal education benefit. This program requires no buy-in and covers the full cost of tuition at public universities. This benefit also scales based on the amount of time a veteran is on active duty. To receive the full benefit, the service member must serve 36 months on active duty. To obtain the minimum, benefit the member must serve at least 90 days. This program pays up to $1000 per year for school supplies and pays a housing benefit based on locality. The Yellow Ribbon program is an addendum program that can cover tuition costs not covered by the Post 9/11 GI Bill. In most cases, it is far superior to the MGIB. From my own experience, using the Post 9/11 GI Bill netted me much more money than the MGIB.

Veteran Readiness and Employment

An additional (although more niche) federal education benefit is Veteran Readiness and Employment (VR&E). This program is only open to specific service-disabled veterans who need help getting placed into a career. VR&E can help veterans who have used up their GI Bill Benefits transition to a new career. I have heard that some people can use VR&E to get various graduate degrees at no cost, but eligibility for particular degrees depends on individual circumstances.

A note, members of the Guard and Reserve are eligible for their own versions of the MGIB and Post 9/11 GI Bill, and the programs are not significantly different. Guard and Reserve members also gain access to MILTA. Some states (such as California, New York, and Ohio) offer members of the guard/reserve and some veterans tuition waivers at certain public universities. To see if you are eligible based on your status and state check here.

Career Counseling

The VA also offers free career and education guidance and counseling (called Chapter 36). To be eligible, veterans must either be recently separated, qualified for an education benefit, or using an education benefit (the vast majority of veterans will be eligible for this). I have known people who used this benefit, and the VA helped them find jobs, prepare college applications, or negotiate for promotions at their current positions. Career and education counseling is a valuable resource that many vets ignore. This covers the majority of federal programs; I will now cover some state programs.

State Programs

Because state programs are too numerous to list in their entirety, I will only cover the top five most populated states: California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. On their own, these states comprise roughly one-third of the total US Population.

California offers the California National Guard Education Assistance Award Program, which provides free college to National Guard Members on active service.

Texas provides the Hazelwood Act, which provides up to 150 credit hours of free education at certain public universities for eligible Texas veterans who have used up all their GI Bill benefits.

In Florida, Purple Heart recipients (and higher combat awards) have all tuition waived for undergraduate education at public universities.

New York offers veterans who served in a time of war free tuition at some public universities.

Pennsylvania offers the Pennsylvania National Guard Education Assistance Program, which provides up to 10 semesters of covered tuition at certain public universities for those who completed their contract in the National guard.

Scholarships, Funding, and University Resources

Scholarships are a source of funding for many students both at the graduate and undergraduate levels. Many schools will automatically apply admitted students for specific scholarships. These are the best scholarships because they require no extra work from the student. You can also find smaller scholarships by looking to organizations you might be a part of, such as the American Legion, VFW, and DAV. Concerning smaller scholarships, I have applied to a number of them throughout my academic career and never had any luck. Although you will probably do better than I did and get many scholarships.

Many (if not most) PhD programs offer funding for their students. The funding comes in the form of tuition remission and a stipend paid for research and teaching activities the student performs. I noticed in applying for funding as a veteran that, the moment most schools find out you have the GI Bill (assuming you still have it), they will no longer offer funding opportunities. You cannot use GI Bill in conjunction with university funding. Most universities would rather you use all your GI Bill before they provide any funding.

Check out this great YouTube video on fully funded PhD Programs.

A final note is that when applying to and starting at any university, find the university’s office of veteran affairs (sometimes called Vet Success Office or Veteran Center). The staff there can help you make contact with members of your department during the application phase. They can liaison with faculty to help you understand the research needs of the university. In some rare cases (if they are not too busy), they may help you read over your application materials before you submit them. Service2School is also a great resource for vets looking to do a graduate degree.

There are a lot of resources for veterans applying to and starting PhD programs. Understanding your resources can mean the difference in acceptance in rejection in some cases. If you use them properly, you can achieve your goals and get admitted to your dream program.

This post was written by Zachariah Renfro, a USAF veteran and a third semester PhD student in Business Administration on behalf of Dave Maslach. This is part of the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback software). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world.

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