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My Story: Life on the GI Bill

By Robert W. Johnson, College Connect  blogger

I bought my iPad and the tech leaned over my shoulder as I began entering my information to activate it. When I came to the list of professions, the tech looked up at me and then back to the screen as I made my selection.

I’m in my thirties, so when I picked “student” he made a sound of surprise—not quite a scoff, but more of a sound that communicated a kind of painful sympathy, and he said: “Student, that’s like the exact opposite of a profession.” I agreed.

Not Your Traditional College Student

Going back to school as an older adult is like calling a timeout on your life. But with a little planning, the new Post-9/11 GI-Bill makes the leap as stress free as imaginable. Take me, for example: I’m going to a state school with the best journalism program in the country, and I’m here as an out-of-state student. I will graduate in two years with a master’s degree, and I won’t owe a single dollar in student loans.

What the bill means for me is that I was able to choose a degree based on what I wanted to do rather than what I would need to do in order to make enough money to pay back student loans. With the economy still slowly building itself up, now is a great time for veterans to put their military service to work for them and pursue those dreams they once had but put on hold to serve their country.

Before making any decisions, however, it’s important to understand the basics.

Post-9/11 GI-Bill Basics

Almost any former soldier who served at least 36 months after Sept. 11, 2001, is eligible to receive 100 percent of the Department of Veterans Affairs education benefits, which include: tuition and fees, a monthly living allowance, and an annual stipend of up to $1,000 for books and supplies.

How much money are we talking?

Tuition: Education benefits reimburse tuition based on the highest in-state, per-credit fee at a public school. For example, if you go to school in Oklahoma, reimbursement is $188.60 per credit hour; in Texas, it is $1,549. 

Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH): The sum you receive every month is based on the ZIP code of the school you attend. This can be an important distinction when deciding on internships in metropolitan cities or study-abroad programs. The living allowance is equal to that of an active-duty E-5 with dependents. (It is basically enough money for a married couple with kids to afford rent in any given ZIP code.) If you’re single, have no kids, and rent a one-bedroom place or a small studio, you easily could have enough money left over to cover additional living expenses.

If you establish a reasonable budget and don’t begin school with a lot of extraneous monthly bills, you may not have to work during college. Knowing your financial obligations for the duration of your time in school is vital. Depending on how many college credits you were able to rack up in the military or from going to school prior to enlisting, an undergraduate degree could take less than four years to complete. You’ll need to go over your budget thoroughly and have a plan. 

Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website to learn more about the Post-9/11 GI-Bill and how it can help you pay for college.

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