Three tips for taking advantage of the U.S. military’s education benefits

Thousands of young men and women decide to join the military each year, for many reasons. Some want to explore the world. Others feel compelled to be part of something bigger than themselves.

A common benefit all enlistees receive is a free education. The most common educational benefit is the GI Bill, which pays for up to 36 months of education upon separating from the military.

If your son or daughter has enlisted, it’s important to make sure they take full advantage of their educational benefits.

The most important first step is signing up for the GI Bill at boot camp. Signing up means a recruit’s military pay will immediately be reduced by $100 a month for 12 months. Alternatively, recruits can choose to pay a $1,200 lump-sum contribution.

Once enrolled, recruits have access to that benefit forever. If active-duty members don’t need all their GI Bill benefits, they may be able to transfer unused portions to their spouse or a dependent child. In this way, the lifetime benefit can be either for themselves, their children or a surviving spouse.

The second opportunity recruits have to pay for college credits during active-duty service is using tuition assistance. Military Tuition Assistance is a benefit paid to eligible members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Tuition assistance pays up to 100 percent tuition of expenses, up to a maximum of $250 per credit, and a personal maximum of $4,500 per student each fiscal year. Tuition assistance is not a loan and does not require repayment. A third forward-looking step recruits can take is to create a professional development plan, something they should do as early as possible in their military career. A great way recruits can get this job done is to meet with an educational or career counselor to discuss their vocational interest and possible civilian employment opportunities. Researching local or online colleges that offer degrees matching their preferences is another way to stay ahead.

The benefits afforded to our service members are more than just a congressional mandate – they are the way America says “thank you” to those who put their lives on hold in defense of this county. Recruits have earned this benefit, and all should take care to think about their education while they serve so they are prepared to take command of their future when they return as civilians.

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