Scholarships for Military Service Members and Dependents

by TBS Staff

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Military duty is more than just service to your country. It can also be a smart investment in your educational future.

Veterans and active members of the military have access to a variety of special benefits, including healthcare, housing and homeownership programs, and financing opportunities, as well as discounts. They also have access to caregiver support, tax preparation assistance, and career development assistance.

Military and veteran benefits extend to education through the GI Bill® and related programs, which are designed to support members of the armed forces, their spouses, and their dependents.

Whether you are active duty, a veteran, a dependent of a veteran, or a high school or college student considering options for your education, this guide can help you understand your options when it comes to military benefits.

Can You Use the GI Bill® with Scholarships?

Financial aid is available to active-duty service members, veterans, and their dependents from every branch of the U.S. military, including Reserves and National Guard. GI Bill® benefits cover a lot, but not everything, and scholarships can help make up the difference.

Because most schools do not consider the GI Bill® financial aid, students using it are also eligible for loans, scholarships, and Pell Grants. However, the income you receive from the GI Bill® can reduce the amount of student financial aid for which you are eligible.

There are two types of scholarships for military personnel: fenced scholarships, which pay for tuition, and non-fenced scholarships, which pay for other expenses. The GI Bill® will pay the difference between what a fenced scholarship covers and the school's full cost, as well as other school-related expenses such as housing, books, and supplies.

Students will be eligible for different amounts of GI Bill® benefits depending on whether they attend public or private colleges and whether they enroll in state or out of state. There is no limit on reimbursement for students who attend an in-state public school, and the GI Bill® covers up to $25,160 of tuition and fees at private schools.

Type of Institution Maximum Annual Tuition & Fee Reimbursement
Public 2- or 4-year college No limit for in-state students
Private 2- or 4-year college Up to $25,160
Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs
Monthly Housing Allowance for Fully Online College for 2020-2021 Annual Books / Supplies Stipend for 2020-2021
$916.50 Up to $1,000
Source: U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs

Who Is Eligible for Scholarships?

Veterans, active duty military, and their families are typically eligible for the same scholarships as other students, but they can also find military-specific opportunities for financial help when pursuing a college degree.

Individual colleges and universities commonly offer scholarships specifically for military personnel, as do community organizations and corporations. Scholarships for active-duty military members, veterans, and their dependents often support specific branches of service.

Many scholarships also support the spouses and children of military members and veterans, sometimes targeting relatives of soldiers who have lost their lives or who have been injured in the line of duty.

Students who plan to serve in the military can also apply to a military academy. Each branch of the military has its own federal academy that offers free tuition and provides a stipend to students. In return, students enlist in active duty service after their training is complete, usually for a set minimum period of time.

For many students, military service is the most viable financial aid option, though not the only option. Students who sign up to serve in the military can gain access to the GI Bill® and scholarships for tuition, housing, books, and supplies.

Active Duty Scholarship Options

Active duty military personnel can use scholarships to fund their education and more easily transition to college.

Scholarships usually have specific eligibility requirements, such as meeting a minimum GPA or choosing a particular field of study. Others are awarded based on years of active duty service, general technical (GT) scores, rank, or financial need.

The criteria for eligibility, benefits, and award amounts vary between different branches of the U.S. military, so it's best to contact your branch for more detailed information.

Veteran Scholarship Options

Veterans scholarships cover educational costs not covered by the GI Bill.

Eligibility requirements vary by scholarship, but an honorable discharge is a common requirement. Other discharge statuses are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Other eligibility conditions may include service time, financial need, or GPA.

Many scholarships are available specifically for disabled veterans. They are typically awarded through school and local or regional organizations rather than state or federal governments.

Scholarships for Veterans' Dependents

Dependents of active duty service members and veterans — such as spouses and children — can also access military-specific scholarships.

Eligibility rules vary. Scholarships can be awarded based on academic merit, age, or specific fields of study. Some go specifically to dependents of soldiers who died or became disabled while on duty.

Each U.S. military branch offers its own scholarships for dependents of military personnel and veterans. Dependents are also eligible for general military scholarships, which are provided for all branch members.

Scholarships for High School and College Students

High school and college students can access military-specific funding for their education by pursuing a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship or attending a military academy, both of which usually require military service after graduation.

Reserve Officer Training Corps

ROTC programs — and ROTC scholarships — look a little different depending on the branch. In the Army, for example, high school students can apply for a scholarship that covers 2-4 years of full college tuition, or they have the option to use scholarship money for room and board, to cover books and fees, or for living expenses.

The Navy and Marines divide their program into two parts: The Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (NJROTC) is for high school students, and the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) is for college or university students. Scholarships generally offer full tuition and fees, plus stipends for books and monthly living expenses.

The Air Force ROTC offers a variety of scholarships to high school and college students. Some cover the full cost of tuition at schools with an Air Force ROTC detachment, along with stipends for books and living expenses, while others pay a set amount each year. The AFROTC also offers a scholarship program specifically for nursing students.

The Coast Guard does not have a ROTC program for college students. The two programs it does offer for high school students are located in Miami, Florida, and Camden County, North Carolina. However, the Coast Guard does offer a "Pre-Commissioning Initiative" scholarship, which pays full tuition, books, fees, room, board, and medical benefits for up to two years of college.

Upon graduation, students in ROTC programs generally enter their chosen branch of the military as an officer.

Military Academies

Federal military academies also train students for service in one of the nation's armed forces. To apply for entry to a federal military academy, candidates must present documents demonstrating excellence in academics, service, and leadership. Support from a political official and attendance at summer programs can also help applicants.

Once admitted to a federal military academy, students receive full tuition, room and board, and costs for books and supplies. In this way, military academies support students through their entire undergraduate degrees.

During four years at a military academy, learners earn degrees comparable to those offered at colleges and universities around the country. Instructors supplement humanities, engineering, and social science coursework with military training, research activities, and physical programs that prepare students for service.

After graduation from a federal military academy, students attend basic officer training and enter vocations within the armed forces. They must typically serve for a set minimum number of years, after which they can advance within the military, transition to a reserve role, or enter a civilian career.

Students can also find scholarships through their guidance counselors, representatives from prospective schools, or online scholarship databases and guides. Additionally, and U.S. Veterans Magazine offer content about financial aid specifically for service members.

Another good place to look is the Federal Student Aid website, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. It offers information on government funding, including scholarships for military families, active-duty personnel, veterans, and those who plan to join the military.

Where to Look for Scholarships

Students can also find scholarships through their guidance counselors, representatives from prospective schools, or online scholarship databases and guides. Additionally, and U.S. Veterans Magazine offer content about financial aid specifically for service members.

Another good place to look is the Federal Student Aid website, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education. It offers information on government funding, including scholarships for military families, active-duty personnel, veterans, and those who plan to join the military.

How to Apply for Scholarships

Most scholarships are highly competitive, so applying to multiple scholarships is the easiest way to increase your odds of success. Be sure to check scholarship guidelines before submitting any materials; many scholarships limit eligibility based on demographics, income level, and academic performance, and some have conditions related to how they are spent.

To streamline the application process, we recommend collecting necessary information, paperwork, and details in advance.

Scholarship Application Preparedness Checklist

  • Transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essays
  • Details of volunteer or community service
  • Past military service, including a copy of your DD-214
  • Current military duties, including a Memorandum of Understanding showing you are in good standing
  • Future military goals

Submitting scholarship applications on time is key, so it's best to contact potential references well in advance of the application deadline. You should also request transcripts, write and revise application essays, and secure other required documents in advance. This will help you avoid problems during the application process.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the VA Offer Scholarships?

The Veterans Administration (VA) offers the VA Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) for medical or dental students and the Fry Scholarship for dependents of active-duty service members who died in the line of duty on or after September 11, 2001.

How Do I Know If I Qualify for the GI Bill?

Eligibility for the GI Bill varies by individual and military branch. For example, veterans with a dishonorable discharge may be restricted from benefits. Learn about your personal eligibility through the GI Bill Comparison Tool.

Which States Offer Free College for Veterans?

Military members can sometimes receive free tuition at public universities, but eligibility requirements and benefits vary by state, military branch, and institution. For example, public colleges and universities in West Virginia offer up to 100% tuition discounts for members of the National Guard.

Do Dependents of Veterans Get Free College?

Yes, in specific cases. The GI Bill pays up to the full amount of in-state tuition and fees for public colleges for up to four years. For dependents to qualify for the maximum amount, military service members must serve (or have served) at least 36 months since September 11, 2001.

Can Active Duty Military Use FAFSA?

Yes, all active-duty service members can use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to help pay for college.

How Long Do You Have to Be in the Military to Get the GI Bill?

The Post 9/11 GI Bill requires at least 90 days of active duty to be eligible for 40% benefit. The full, 100% benefit requires at least three years of active duty. Service members must also pay into the benefits while serving in order to access them after discharge.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the VA. More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government Web site at

Image Credit: PeopleImages | Getty Images

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