Financial Aid

Military Education Benefits: Join Military to Pay for School

Learn the four ways you can use military education benefits to help you pay for school.

Shawna Newman

November 09, 2023

Military Education Benefits: Join Military to Pay for School
Join the military & drastically cut the cost of college!
The cost of college continues to rise and graduating college with too much student debt is a real concern for many students. According to Forbes, 56% of students need to borrow in order to pay for tuition and fees. Among those who do, the average balance is a hefty $28,950. Yet, the college degree payoff still prevails. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more education means lower unemployment rates and the highest earnings. Median weekly earnings for those with a bachelor’s degree were nearly twice as much as those with a high school education. While many students realize the importance and opportunity of attending college, they lack the resources. Fortunately, there are ways to pay for college without taking on student loan debt, like joining the military.

The Benefits of Enlisting to Help Pay for College

If you enlist in the military, you’ll have similar career or job choices as you would in the civilian world and countless leadership opportunities. You can be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, data scientist, cyber security specialist, drone pilot and so much more. Whether you’re in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Coast Guard or Space Force, you’ll have a specific job and develop a trade in the military branch you choose to serve. Students take the ASVAB to learn the best military job fit. references the number of careers offered in each branch and you’ll find that there are more than 750 careers to choose from. As a service member, you'll learn what it means to be dedicated and respectable, and how to work as a team through basic training. You may even have the chance to see places you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so otherwise. In a way, these diverse interactions and relocation possibilities could be compared to the college experience.
Military service is more challenging than college, but the leadership, discipline, and real-world skills you will acquire are priceless. Joining the military is also a great way to ensure a steady income and access to housing and food while you go to school. For students seeking higher education and looking for big ways to get a degree without all the debt, enlisting in the military to pay for school is a great way to offset college costs. highlights, “Not only does the military pay up to 100 percent of college tuition while you serve on active duty,” but it “also offers the GI Bill (about $36,000) to use for college up to 10 years after leaving the service.” The Post 9/11 GI Bill provides financial support for education and housing, up to 36 months, for individuals with at least 90 days of active duty after September 11, 2001, or those with a service-connected disability after 30 days.
Tuition assistance is also provided by each military branch and other military scholarships offered at colleges. You can get your degree for much less than you would as a civilian by enlisting in the military. These scholarships and grants are in addition to the Federal student aid you may receive after completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). There are several paths to consider as you’re exploring joining the military to pay for college: 1.) Join the armed forces after high school and work on your college degree while you’re on active duty. Most military bases have access to colleges and classes right on base. This close-to-home location makes it much easier to stay focused. Of course, you also have the option to enroll in online classes at most universities nationwide! Use your time in the service to nail down what jobs you dislike and what you prefer doing as a career. After your four-year military commitment is over, you could very well enter the civilian world with a college degree. Bonus: Your skill set will supersede other recent college graduates, giving you a serious advantage in the job market! 2.) Start college as a civilian (someone who is not enlisted in the military), graduate with your associate or bachelor’s degree and become a military officer. Many colleges have Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs designed to help students prepare for the military, while in college. These programs allow you to connect to other students that want to join the military too. You’ll be a United States Armed Forces reserve cadet, training to become a commissioned officer after college graduation. According to reports each armed force has their own ROTC program. You choose the service branch and the career path you prefer. Qualifying students can receive ROTC scholarships that cover the cost of their education! 3.) Serve in a military reserve branch or the National Guard while you’re in college. If you’re not ready to serve in the military full time, you can choose to join the reserves or the National Guard on an as-needed basis. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “The purpose of the Reserve is to provide and maintain trained units and qualified persons to be available for active duty in the armed forces when needed.” The National Guard includes the Army National Guard and the Air Force, Air National Guard. These are Federal programs organized and managed by the state. As a guard member, you’d help American communities in times of critical need, such as national disasters or state emergencies. Similar to the active-duty military, you would be trained in a specific job role. The skills you learn will enhance your resume and help fund your college education. Military reservists and Guard members also have education assistance programs that help pay tuition and other educational expenses. 4.) Apply as a student (aka cadet) in a military academy. The cost to attend a military academy is $0. According to a U.S. News & World Report, in addition to a zero cost of attendance, all five military colleges provide cadets with a yearly salary or stipend. You will not have to pay for room and board, food or your textbooks. There are, however, terms and conditions you'll need to consider. Admissions into any of these schools is a prestigious endeavor as most require a letter of congressional nomination as well as specific admissions requirements, fitness tests and more. The five military academies in America rank as some of the top universities in the nation and include: • U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York • U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland • U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado • U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut • United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York You will take college courses and graduate with an accredited college degree. Unlike the typical college experience, there are physical fitness standards you must meet, and you’ll be required to serve in the military after graduation. All five academies require a minimum of five years of service commitment. The Merchant Marine Academy requires graduates to maintain an officer's license for six years along with a service obligation.

A Patriotic Way to Pay for School

Considering military enlistment to help you pay for school is smart. The financial aid awards you'll qualify for will help you avoid taking out private student loans. Additionally, job prospects after your military service are great. HR departments are following an initiative to find and hire employees with military experience, including these 28 companies.

Military Recruitment Info and Scholarships for Veterans and Military Families

Whatever path you choose, if you enlist in the military, you’ll graduate with zero to little student debt and have numerous leadership experiences to showcase. Looking for more military-related information? Contact a recruiter to learn more about the educational benefits offered by the military or visit If you’re a military veteran, check out these Veterans Scholarships that will help you pay for school. Thank you for your service to our nation! Are you a spouse or child to a current or veteran military member? Look at this list of College Scholarships for Military Children & Spouses.

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