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Studying Online While Serving Your Country: What Military Personnel Need to Know

Jan 29, 2008 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Tuition assistance is a big incentive for new military recruits.  But you don’t have to wait until you’re done with your tour of duty to go to school.  Study online instead, and you could leave the military with your degree already in hand.

Online schools are making it easier for military personnel to complete their education. Today, you can get your degree while on reserve or even deployed.  If that sounds like good news to you, here are a few things you should know.

The G.I. Bill covers online education

The G.I. Bill was first introduced after World War II to help returning veterans establish a civilian life.  It assists with college tuition as well as loans and unemployment compensation.

Most people believe that the bill covers tuition assistance only for traditional schools.  But in most cases, it gives the same amount of money for online tuition—and the same rules apply.  Assistance is available for four-year programs and advanced degrees.  You can take classes at more than one school, as long as they all count towards your major, and you can also get more than one degree.

Tuition assistance may not cover all your costs

The G.I. Bill isn’t a blank check.  The bill covers 100% of tuition costs, but only to a certain amount.  The amount changes based upon your situation: whether you’re active-duty or on reserve; whether your program is part-time or full-time; and a number of other factors can affect your benefits.

You may be eligible for additional benefits

If your school costs more than the bill covers, you may be on your own.  But there are some options for those with high tuition bills.  Depending on your status, you may be eligible for the Army, Navy, or Marine Corps College Funds—additional aid that can double your payments. 

In addition to the general education benefit, there are tuition reimbursement programs specifically for injured vets, active-duty personnel, survivors and dependents of veterans, and more.  One of these may be a better deal, but you can only receive one set of benefits.

It’s not taxable—and it’s not financial aid

Most schools do not consider military tuition assistance to be financial aid.  The aid offered to you by the school will not affect your military benefits; in most cases, you can receive grants, scholarships, and loans without reducing the amount you’ll receive through your military service.

The government won’t tax you on your education assistance, but you will have to report it as income to your school—so it may affect your eligibility for some needs-based aid.

You can leverage your civilian degree for promotion in the military

Earning a degree while you’re in the military doesn’t just prepare you for an easier transition to civilian life.  It can also help you advance your military career, and earn a higher salary while you serve.

The Army and Navy awards promotions to the enlisted based on a point system.  Each class you take in a civilian college or university adds to your points, making you more eligible for a promotion—and a pay raise.

Some schools are more military-friendly than others

Some online schools have more experience working with military students, and a few cater to them exclusively.  A military-friendly school will be more knowledgeable about your benefits.  It will also offer have military-specific scholarships and allow you to postpone or get a refund for courses scheduled during an unexpected deployment. 

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Being in the military keeps you out of the civilian workforce for years—which can put you at a financial disadvantage when you return.  In the past, returning vets then had to postpone their entry into work by a few more years while they earned a degree. 

Today, you can earn a degree while you’re in the military and be ready to enter the job force when you come out.  You can also increase your military salary by earning a degree while serving.  By helping veterans and enlisted personnel increase their earning power and make a strong transition into a civilian career, online schools truly know what it means to support the troops.




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