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College Guide for Military Members and Veterans

The United States has the second largest military in the world, with more than 1,281,900 active members and 801,200 in reserve. Thanks to the G.I. bill and other programs, U.S. military service members and the nation’s 22 million veterans can affordably earn a college degree. In fact, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 62% of veterans and military service members are the first in their family to attend college, compared to 43% of non-military students. In this guide, we will examine the benefits and resources that are available to address the unique challenges that military students face.

Understanding Military Statuses

There are few factors that can impact a student’s program or financial aid eligibility as fundamentally as military status. Where a student is in their military career can determine the type and amount of financial aid they can receive, what resources are available to them, and whether they can apply their service towards receiving college credit. By understanding the benefits available at each stage of service, you’ll know when and how to start planning for college.

Active Duty

This status designates personnel who are serving full-time in a military occupation and may be deployed at any time. Service members who have recently enlisted are typically ineligible for financial aid. Many begin researching academic programs and benefits halfway through their first tour of duty so that they can develop a strong plan for their future before their completion date.

Inactive Duty

Personnel who have fulfilled their active duty requirement must also complete a period of inactive duty, during which they have few service obligations but may be recalled if needed. Reservists are also considered inactive duty service members, but have a very different range of opportunities and educational benefits than other military personnel.

Discharged

Honorably discharged individuals are usually eligible to participate in the same educational and financial aid programs as veterans, although this may differ between different branches of the military. Those with a general discharge under honorable conditions may be eligible for some assistance, but cannot receive benefits through the G.I. Bill.

Retired/Veteran

A veteran is considered to be any member of the military who has served on active duty and was discharged under any condition other than dishonorable. There are also certain reservists who may be considered veterans. Veterans have a wide range of educational and financial assistance programs available to them.

Educational Programs

In an effort to develop expertise, drive, innovation, and improve the lives of military personnel, the government has introduced a variety of educational programs specifically for service members and veterans. While some of these programs are designed to train personnel in advanced skills and concepts that are crucial to military operations, others help personnel transition back into civilian life and employment. Many of these programs offer free or discounted tuition to eligible participants, as well as employment assistance and advocacy services.

Depending on your service branch and status, you may be qualified for one or more of these programs. All branches of the military employ counselors who are responsible for helping service members determine which programs and services they are eligible for. Veterans can also receive assistance by contacting a counselor through their former branch, or through veterans affairs organizations.

Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES)

Created by the Department of Defense, DANTES makes complicated subjects a bit easier. The website provides military personnel and veterans from all branches with a comprehensive source of information about education programs, benefits, financial aid, and more. DANTES may also fund or reimburse academic and certification exam fees for eligible students.

Branches Eligible: All

Additional Requirements: None

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Troops to Teachers

This program was created to address nationwide problems with both veteran unemployment and teacher shortages. Troops to Teachers offers financial assistance, career counseling, and mentoring opportunities to veterans pursuing careers in K-12 education. Participants receive job placement assistance and other support throughout the certification process.

Branches Eligible: All

Additional Requirements: Financial aid is available only to those who apply within three years of ending their period of service or active duty members who plan on retiring in one year or less.

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Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Degree Network System

This network of institutions provides active duty service members, veterans, and their spouses and children with access to flexible and affordable college degrees and technical education programs. Participating schools offer reduced academic residency requirements, credit transfer guarantees, and distance learning opportunities.

Branches Eligible: All

Additional Requirements: After completing six credits, participants must sign a student agreement with their home college. This agreement protects students from changes to their program and awards college credit for select military experience.

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American Council on Education

The American Council on Education (ACE) is a major coordinating body for American colleges and universities. ACE is also a strong advocate for veterans and service members in higher education. This organization works alongside federal policymakers with the goal of expanding and improving educational benefits for current and former members of the military.

Branches Eligible: Membership is restricted to institutions; resources are available to personnel from any military branch

Additional Requirements: None

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ACE

In addition to policy reform, ACE advocates for service members by evaluating and assigning college credit to occupations and courses offered through the armed forces. These credit values can be found in the organization’s Military Guide. Those who have been denied credit by their institution can request further assistance through ACE’s Lifelong Learning Resource Center.

Branches Eligible: All

Additional Requirements: None

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GOARMYED

GoArmyEd is the ultimate reference for current and former soldiers pursuing higher education. Managed with assistance from ACES, this site maintains a database of military-friendly colleges and degree programs, financial aid opportunities, and academic services. Students can apply for tuition assistance and a variety of educational programs directly from the GoArmyEd website.

Branches Eligible: Army, including National Guard and Reserves

Additional Requirements: Eligibility for some programs may be judged on an individual basis.

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Joint Services Transcript

A joint services transcript (JST) is a record of the courses completed and any military occupations attained by an individual during their term of service. It may also include test scores and certifications. This transcript, which can be accessed online for free, assigns college credit recommendations to each course or position.

Branches Eligible: All, including veterans of all branches

Additional Requirements: None

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NAVUB

NAVUB is dedicated to improving the lives of veterans through education. This organization offers scholarships, college preparation assistance, tutoring, and a variety of other benefits to eligible veterans. Participants must be low-income, first-generation college students who have served more than 180 days in active duty service.

Branches Eligible: Veterans of all branches

Additional Requirements: Some programs may be state-specific.

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Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges

This network of military-friendly colleges highlights flexible educational opportunities for service members and their immediate family members. Participating institutions offer degree plans and courses created specifically with military students in mind. Some coursework may be delivered to deployed personnel in alternative formats.

Branches Eligible: All

Additional Requirements: Participants must sign a student agreement with their home college to receive credit for courses completed during service.

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Advanced Civil Schooling

Advanced Civil Schooling (ACS) offers soldiers the opportunity to complete a fully-funded graduate-level degree at a civilian university. Degree programs must pertain to the student’s branch, specialty, or functional area, as they are often required for officer positions. ACS selection is competitive, and the number of annual participants is limited.

Branches Eligible: Army

Additional Requirements: Only regular Army, active duty soldiers are eligible to apply. Participants are selected according to criteria such as GRE scores, aptitude, and officer recommendations.

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eArmyU

Since 2001, this initiative has allowed soldiers to earn their degrees remotely through more than 100 distance learning programs offered by accredited colleges. Although tuition fees are covered by Army Tuition Assistance, students must pay for any required materials, including books, out of pocket.

Branches Eligible: Army, including National Guard and Reserves

Additional Requirements: Participants must meet all service requirements defined by the Army. In addition to completing a program readiness profile, they must also apply and be accepted to their home college prior to beginning the eArmyU program.

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College of the American Soldier

This program is open to all soldiers in any Military Occupational Specialty (MOS), although it is geared toward soldiers with combat arms specialties. Its two education pathways are designed to maximize credit received for military service and minimize academic residency requirements. The Enlisted Education pathway allows soldiers to earn an associate degree within their first term of enlistment.

Branches Eligible: Army

Additional Requirements: None

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Navy College Program

Sailors pursuing higher education through the Navy College Program have a wealth of resources at their disposal. Counselors are available to assist prospective students in selecting and developing educational paths, applying to schools, and signing up for financial aid and tuition assistance programs.

Branches Eligible: Navy

Additional Requirements: Eligibility for individual programs and benefits may depend on command. Tuition assistance is available only to active duty sailors and select reservists and officers.

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Community College of the Air Force

This organization is comprised of Air Force schools, education offices, and civilian universities that provide applied science degrees and credentialing opportunities that advance both civilian and military careers. Participants can choose from over 200 undergraduate degree programs that are offered in on-campus, online, or hybrid formats.

Branches Eligible: Air Force

Additional Requirements: None

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Training Commands

Training commands don’t grant degrees, but they do provide service members with a comprehensive education and life-changing opportunities. Building on skills developed during service, members of a training command will develop a MOS in one or more specialized areas. Depending on the branch, these areas could include everything from combat arms to emergency medicine. Some MOSs prepare personnel for other opportunities in the military or civilian education programs, or both.

Naval Education and Training Command

This command trains both sailors and civilians in cutting-edge technology and practices related to the naval forces. Participants gain technical skills and specialized knowledge that is highly sought after in high-ranking naval offices as well as the civilian workforce. Active duty sailors may also seek apprenticeships through this command.

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Air Education and Training Command

Offering technical training and continuing education in a broad range of specialized fields, this command trains airmen in a variety of MOSs from applied air tactics and medical operations to network engineering and chaplaincy. Airmen who pursue an MOS through flight training can specialize in piloting tankers, bombers, or helicopters.

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U.S. Marine Corps: Education and Training Command

In addition to courses in tactical training and the use of specialized, state-of-the-art weaponry, Marines can pursue an MOS from less common fields such as historiography, network engineering, and geopolitics. Many courses are offered through the command’s Marine Corps University division, including a master’s of military studies degree program.

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U.S. Coast Guard Educational Services

Active duty service members, veterans, and civilian Coast Guard employees may earn credit for Coast Guard courses, but only active duty personnel can apply for tuition assistance towards one of more than 20 degree paths. These programs cover a variety of topics, including marine science, culinary studies, aviation maintenance, and public affairs.

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Credit for Experience

Some schools allow students to earn prior learning credits for certain life and work experiences, including military service. By submitting a copy of your JST, college counselors can determine how many credits, if any, you may qualify for. You may be required to pass a competency exam in one or more fields or develop a portfolio before these credits are granted. Since these policies differ from school to school, it’s important to contact prospective colleges for more information if you’re interested in earning credit from your military service.

SKILLS GAINED IN SERVICE

Some colleges offer credit for specialized skills gained through military service. While policies differ considerably between schools, many will examine your JST to determine any credit you may have earned while enlisted, or request a portfolio presentation on certain topics. Some institutions offer standardized exams that measure a student’s knowledge of specific subjects and confer credit accordingly. Below, we’ve listed some common skills that you may earn college credit for.

How to Choose a Military-Friendly College

Veterans and service members face unique challenges in their academic careers. Finding a school that accepts military tuition assistance and credit transfers is sometimes difficult, and deployment complicates matters even further. Fortunately, many colleges have adapted to meet the needs of military students. Military-friendly colleges are dedicated to the success of student service members and offer them additional support, flexibility, and credit opportunities. These institutions understand the needs of veterans and military personnel, and have adapted to meet those needs. Below are a few of the programs and benefits commonly offered through military-friendly colleges and universities.

Dedicated Veterans Center

These offices provide veterans with a dedicated space where they can meet with others of a similar background, receive assistance from financial aid counselors, and discuss career options. The staff at these centers are trained to assist veterans with academic, legal, and psychological issues.

Military Scholarships

Some colleges offer institutional scholarships and grants for students with military experience. Many of these scholarships are intended for students from certain ethnic or economic backgrounds, or those who have served in a particular branch of the military.

Credit for Military Training

Military-friendly colleges frequently offer credit for skills and knowledge gained during service. While standards vary from school to school, most grant some form of credit for military training and experience.

Campus and Community Support

Campus and community support can take many forms, ranging from mentoring programs and flexible degree options to social groups and PTSD counseling. Some of the most useful support services include tutoring programs and on-campus psychological counseling.

Veteran-Specific Spaces

Age and experience can sometimes alienate veterans from other college students, but veteran-specific spaces provide a comfortable place to connect with other veterans in a welcoming environment.

Expanded Housing Options

Finding housing on or near campus can be a struggle for military students and their families. Consequently, some colleges develop on-campus residence options exclusively for veterans and military service members, including family housing complexes and individual units that accommodate service animals.

Principles of Excellence

Offered at select institutions, this program demonstrates a commitment to providing affordable, quality educational opportunities for military students. It includes a guarantee that all service members will receive comprehensive academic and financial aid counseling, as well as accommodations for those who miss class due to military obligations.

APPLYING TO COLLEGE

If you’ve been out of school for a long time, applying to colleges can feel overwhelming. Fortunately, many institutions understand that veterans and military students have a great deal of academic potential. Even if your high school years are far behind you, the skills and experiences you gained through service can enhance your college application. Be sure to include your branch, rank, and any decorations received during your service when applying to college.

Most schools require applicants to submit an essay or personal statement with their application, both of which are great places to describe your military career in detail. You can showcase your desire to learn and the skills you acquired by talking about your specializations, achievements, and individual experiences, especially those related to your prospective degree program.

MILITARY SCHOOLS

There are many military colleges, such as The Citadel, that are well regarded for their prestigious academic programs. These schools are known for instilling discipline, physical strength, and intellectual rigor while preparing students for success in both military and civilian careers. While standards and academics differ from school to school, most combine military training with college-level coursework. Some also emphasize a particular field of study, such as war tactics or maritime law, while others offer a broader range of academic programs. Typically, students at this type of school are not required to perform additional service after graduation, but may still go on to pursue high-ranking military positions.

Service academies and military schools offer exceptional opportunities that benefit students in the service, the workforce, and beyond. However, admission is often highly competitive. Acceptance is usually limited to those with exceptional academic backgrounds, high standardized test scores, and a history of civic engagement.

Financial Aid Programs for Active Duty Military and Veterans

There are a wealth of financial aid opportunities available to active duty military members, veterans, and their families. While some programs offer benefits and tuition assistance to all members, others are specific to branch or status. Most branches provide financial aid counseling to help personnel determine their program eligibility.

Service members who have recently enlisted are typically ineligible for financial aid. Many begin researching academic programs and benefits halfway through their first tour of duty.

FINANCIAL AID PROGRAMS BY BRANCH ELIGIBILITY

U.S. Army

College Loan Repayment Program

This program offers student loan assistance to active-duty and drilling soldiers enlisted in critical military occupational specialties training. A minimum of six years enlistment is also required. While the Army will repay a portion of an eligible soldier’s outstanding loans, the amount of funding received is dependent on type and length of service.

College of the American Soldier

Students participating in either education track offered through the College of the American Soldier qualify for tuition assistance. The amount of aid received depends on a student’s degree path and home college.

Concurrent Admissions Program (ConAP)

ConAP is different than other programs on this list. It encourages enrollment among current college students by emphasizing the financial aid and loan assistance benefits available to soldiers. A period of active-duty enlistment is required to participate.

U.S. Navy

Navy College Fund

This highly selective program offers funding to eligible sailors seeking degrees in fields with critical shortages. Benefit amounts vary according to each student’s basic allowance and duration of service, but are always based on the current value. Participants must be enrolled in the Montgomery G.I. Bill program.

Navy College Program

To qualify for tuition assistance,
sailors and select reservists must be on active duty for the duration of their course term. Students can receive up to $250 per semester hour toward the cost of tuition, but must pay for course materials and fees out of pocket.

Student Loan Repayment Program (CLRP)

New enlistees without prior military service may be eligible for up to $65,000 in student loan repayment assistance through CLRP. Sailors may apply to this exclusive program once they have completed basic training and one year of active duty. Only certain types of loans are qualified for repayment.

U.S. Air Force

The Air University

Enrollment in The Air University qualifies students to receive reduced military tuition at civilian institutions around the country, as well as in select distance learning programs. The cost of tuition varies between institutions and may sometimes be covered in full.

Community College of the Air Force (CCAF)

Enlisted students pursuing a degree through this two-year college program can have up to 100% of their course costs funded by the Air Force. Participation is limited to active duty, guard, and reserve personnel.

Scholarships for Outstanding Airmen (SOAR)

Active duty personnel currently enrolled in a college program can apply for this scholarship, which grants winners $18,000 annually for up to four years. Applicants must meet strict service, fitness, and academic requirements. Winners are chosen once a year by a selection board.

U.S. Marine Corps

Advanced Degree Program

The Marine Corps Tuition Assistance Program offers up to $4,500 in funding for active duty personnel pursuing graduate and postgraduate degrees. Students may receive financial assistance for no longer than twelve months.

Special Education Program

The U.S. Marine Corps covers all costs related to this
specialized postgraduate program, including tuition, travel costs, and course fees. Participants must be active duty commissioned officers who have previously completed a bachelor’s degree.

National Guard

Montgomery GI Bill for Special Reserves

Reservists with a six-year service obligation can receive up to 36 months of education benefits through the Montgomery G.I. Bill. The amount of funding received is dependant on the type of education or training program and whether a student is enrolled on a full- or part-time basis.

National Guard GI Bill Kicker

The Kicker is an additional amount paid in conjunction with a student’s monthly G.I. Bill benefit. These additional funds are awarded to students pursuing critical MOSs. Eligibility criteria and rates are based on status and rank.

Student Loan Repayment Program

Soldiers enlisted for a six-year term of service can receive up to $50,000 towards qualifying student loans. State and private loans are ineligible, and service members must continue to make monthly payments throughout the duration of the program.

Scholarships for the Military and Veterans

Scholarships are a great way to fund your college education. Unlike student loans, scholarships do not need to be paid back. Similar to financial aid programs, scholarship are often awarded by branch and include a variety of different criteria. Regardless of your field, you may wish to apply for a few of the scholarships listed below.

U.S. Army Scholarships

  • AMVETS Scholarships: $4,000; must be a veteran or active duty service member not in default on any student loan, or convicted of any drug offense to be considered.
  • Army Women’s Foundation Legacy Scholarship: $2,500; applicants must be female active duty soldiers or veterans who served or are serving honorably in the Army, Army Reserve, or National Guard. Their children are also eligible for this scholarship.
  • Army Nurse Corps Association Scholarships: Varies; open to nursing students who are currently serving in the U.S. Army or have received an honorable discharge.
  • Joseph P. and Helen T. Cribbins Scholarship: $2,000; applicants must be enlisted or honorably discharged soldiers who are pursuing a degree in engineering or a related field from an accredited school.

U.S. Navy Scholarships

U.S. Air Force Scholarships

U.S. Marine Corps Scholarships

  • AOC Scholarship: $12,500; candidates must be students in a STEM field who are applying their knowledge to the field of national defense. Applicants must submit an essay to be considered.
  • Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarship: $10,000; open to active duty personnel and veterans enrolled full-time in a baccalaureate or graduate-level degree program who demonstrate exceptional academic and service ambitions.
  • Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship: Varies; applicants must be NROTC or Marine Corps members attending or planning to attend a historically black college, who maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0 and a minimum SAT score of 1000.
  • Central Florida Marine Corps Scholarship: Varies; must be an active duty Marine Corps member or honorably discharged veteran who served at least six months and resides in one of seven Florida counties to apply.

National Guard Scholarships

Coast Guard Scholarships

Military Families Scholarships

  • Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation: $30,000; applicants must be the child of an active duty Marine, Marine Corps veteran, or Navy Corpsman who served alongside a Marine unit.
  • Military Child of the Year Award: $10,000 plus other gifts; must be a legal military dependant between ages 13-18 to be considered.
  • Dolphin Scholarship Foundation: $2,000-3,400; eligible applicants must be the child or stepchild of U.S. Navy Submarine Force members. They must be unmarried, enrolled in school, and under the age of 24 to be considered.
  • EOD Warrior Foundation Scholarship: $2,000; must be the spouse, child, or grandchild of a NAVSCOLEOD command graduate and meet academic requirements to be considered.

Resources for Active Military and Veterans

DANTES

A comprehensive resource for personnel and veterans of every branch, the DANTES site offers links to scholarships, transcript services, standardized testing, and sources of information regarding military college programs and financial aid.

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The American Council on Education

In addition to advocacy and policy reform, this organization is committed to maximizing the amount of college credit that service members can receive for military service. The site contains a database of military courses and occupations and their corresponding credit value.

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GoArmyEd

GoArmyEd is the definitive resource for soldiers pursuing higher education offers. This program offers extensive services, including online training resources, JST assistance, and a list of financial aid programs, grants, and scholarships available to Army members and veterans.

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Vets.gov

On vets.gov, you can compare benefits offered through the G.I. Bill and other programs, determine your eligibility, apply for educational assistance, or even seek career advice from one of the site’s trained counselors.

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Air University

Airmen can compare the numerous educational opportunities available through Air University, including the Community College of the Air Force, vocational training programs, and credentialing opportunities.

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NAVUB

Serving the needs of veterans from all branches of service, this organization offers financial aid and counseling programs to eligible individuals seeking to improve their lives through education.

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Scholarships.com

This database catalogs scholarships of every kind, including those open to military personnel, veterans, their spouses, and their children. New scholarships are added periodically.

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Military.com

Along with general news regarding military operations, this site provides information regarding benefits, scholarships, educational programs, and any changes made to them. Veterans may be interested in the site’s job board.

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Military School USA

Military School USA provides a state-by-state catalog of college-level military schools from all across the country. The site also notes all application requirements, service obligations, academic programs, and recent tuition rates.

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Today’s Military

This site is designed to recruit new military members and includes easy-to-understand information about the benefits available to each branch, the G.I. Bill, and tuition assistance programs.

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Association of the United States Navy

This organization is dedicated to the advancement of Navy members and veterans and offers assistance with acquiring benefits and applying for scholarships. Membership is required to participate.

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VFW

The VFW offers a range of services and programs to veterans from all branches of the military and from every generation. This organization provides grants, scholarships, and employment services to those in need.

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Veterans Assistance Foundation

The Veterans Assistance Foundations is dedicated to helping veterans and their families get back on track. This organization helps eligible individuals find education, employment, and housing and also provides counseling and financial aid services.

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Financial Aid Finder

This site provides information about financial aid opportunities of every kind, including organizations dedicated to funding higher education for military members, veterans, and dependents, as well as state-sponsored scholarships.

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Imagine America Foundation

This organization offers several college grants and scholarships, as well as funding for vocational and trade programs that is designed to help veterans find employment in a variety of professionals fields.

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U.S. Department of Education

The Department of Education provides information regarding federal financial aid and student loans, as well as several resources for military personnel, veterans, and their families who are pursuing college degrees or technical training.

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Militarybenefits.info

This site is responsible for answering common questions about military education benefits. Militarybenefits.info includes an up-to-date list of military-friendly colleges and distance learning programs that offer discounted tuition for personnel and veterans.

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FinAid

On FinAid.org you can calculate the estimated cost of college, explore financial aid opportunities, and see what benefits your spouse or children may qualify for.

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VetJobs

VetJobs is a large online job board for veterans and their families. This site also offers a career aptitude test that can help you choose an academic or vocational path.

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GoGrad.org

GoGrad.org offers a comprehensive list of scholarships and grants for military member who are pursuing a graduate degree. The site also includes general information about selecting and preparing for graduate-level studies.

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