What Is the GI Bill®?

young infantryman on a cot

The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.

Since 1944, the Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) GI Bill® has been helping veterans and their families pay for expenses associated with college, graduate school, and career training programs.

There are two, primary GI Bill® benefits that may be used to pay for college, but you can only use one or the other, not both – either the Montgomery GI Bill® or the Post-9/11 GI Bill®.

What is the Post-9/11 GI Bill®?

If you’re a veteran or service member who has served at least 90 days on active duty after September 10, 2001, you’re eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill® (veterans must have received an honorable discharge). Unlike the Montgomery GI Bill®, you may also be able to transfer your benefits to your spouse or dependents through the Post-9/11 GI Bill®.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill® provides for up to 36 months of education-related benefits, as well as a housing allowance and an annual book/supplies stipend.

What is the Forever GI Bill®?

In 2017, President Trump signed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act known as the “Forever GI Bill®.” This is the latest iteration of the GI Bill®, adding some extra provisions to the Post-9/11 version that improve on the benefits package. Chief among those improvements is the removal of the 15-year time limit to use the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. Now, if your release from active duty was on or after January 1, 2013, GI Bill® benefits will never expire for you or your dependents.

If you served less than 36 months, your eligibility is based on the amount of time you served in active duty:

What is the Montgomery GI Bill®?

soldier on computer at homeThe Montgomery GI Bill® is an older program that is still in effect that offers education benefits very similar to the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. It gives active duty service members and reservists the option to put $1,200 of their own money, usually in $100 monthly installments, during their first year of service. Participation is 100% voluntary.

What sets the Montgomery GI Bill® apart from standard Post-9/11 GI Bill® is that college education benefits are paid directly to you rather than directly to the college you attend. It’s a predictable flat payment each month that you can apply to your tuition payments, books, housing, and other expenses. This gives you more control over your personal budget and more freedom to choose how to manage your tuition payments with other education and cost-of-living expenses.

Most would agree that new provisions and additional housing stipend make the Post-9/11 GI Bill® the better option for most full-time students, while some part-time students would argue that receiving direct payments through the Montgomery GI Bill® make it worth the upfront investment.

Montgomery GI Bill® – Active Duty (MGIB-AD)

Provides for up to 36 months of educational benefits to those who have served between 2 and 4 years in active duty, depending on the initial service agreement and time of enrollment. This benefit is available for 10 years from your last period of active duty.

Montgomery GI Bill® – Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)

Provides up to 36 months of education and training benefits for service members with a 6-year service obligation in the Selected Reserve (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps or Coast Guard Reserve, Army National Guard, or Air National Guard) or officers in the Selected Reserve who have agreed to serve 6 years in addition to their initial service obligation. Your eligibility for this program ends the day you leave the Selected Reserve.

How Much Does the GI Bill® Cover?

Both Post-9/11 and Montgomery GI Bill® educational benefits pay for up to 36 months of college for students attending full-time. Educational benefits for both programs change a little bit each year, typically increasing to account for rising tuition rates.

You can use either the Montgomery GI Bill® or the Post-9/11 GI Bill® to pay for college, but not both…. But, if you paid in the $1,200 for the Montgomery GI Bill® and meet all the other enlistment length and service renewal requirements to qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill® too, then you get another full year of monthly payments. That means a total of 48 months of education benefits versus the 36 months you would ordinarily get.

Post-9/11 GI Bill®

As of the 2022 academic year, payment rates for the Post-9/11 GI Bill® were:

If you served at least 36 months of active duty, you’ll earn 100% of this benefit, which includes up to 100% of the cost of tuition and related fees, up to $1,000 a year for school supplies, and a monthly housing allowance (generally the same as a Basic Housing Allowance for an E-5 with dependents, although other factors such as location of school can influence this allowance).

Montgomery GI Bill®

As of the 2022 academic year, payment rates for the Montgomery GI Bill® (MGIB – AD) were $2,150 monthly for full-time students ($25,800 annually) and between $537.50 – $1,612.50 monthly for part-time students.

Payment rates for the Montgomery Bill (MGIB – SR) were $407 monthly for full-time students ($4,884 annually) and between $101.75 – $305 monthly for part-time students.

Other Frequently Asked Questions About the GI Bill®

How are my educational benefits paid?

The Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits are paid directly to the school you attend, while the Montgomery GI Bill® benefits are paid directly to you. If the cost of your degree is less than the benefits you receive through the Montgomery GI Bill®, you can pocket the difference.

The VA issues payments for the Montgomery GI Bill® after each month’s classes. For the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, the VA will pay all tuition and fees directly to the school and pay the housing allowance directly to you at the end of each month and the book allowance directly to you at the beginning of each term.

Will my GI Bill® benefits cover the full cost of my degree program?

soldier graduatingIn most cases if you are attending a public college, the answer is, yes. Both the Montgomery Bill and the Post-9/11 GI Bill® offer 36 months of educational benefits, which is four years (eight semesters) of a traditional academic (summers off) program.

If you’ve completed all college-level prerequisites for admission and receive 36 months of maximum benefits, the GI Bill® should comfortably cover the entire cost of your program.

If you don’t qualify for maximum benefits or the cost of your degree exceeds your benefits, you’ll need to consider options like the Yellow Ribbon Program to pay the difference.

Can I receive my GI Bill® benefits alongside financial aid, scholarships, and loans?

Yes, your GI Bill® benefits are not affected by other sources of aid, scholarships, or loans, so students should always complete their annual FAFSA and apply for scholarships and loans as they see fit. Learn more about veteran-specific grants and scholarships here.

Can I use the GI Bill® to pay for a graduate degree?

If you happen to already have a bachelor’s degree, or if after earning your undergraduate degree, you still have some remaining benefits under either the Montgomery GI Bill® or the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you can use them toward a graduate program.

Or, in theory, you can cover the cost of your undergraduate degree – with help from your family or other funding, for example – and simply save your GI Bill® benefits to cover graduate school. It’s up to you to choose when you want to use your GI Bill® benefits.

What about using the GI Bill® in Combination with the Yellow Ribbon Program?

You may also qualify for additional money through the Yellow Ribbon Program if you want to attend an out-of-state school or if the private institution you choose exceeds the maximum yearly benefit under the GI Bill®.

As of August 1, 2022, active-duty service members — and their spouses using transferred benefits— who have already served on active duty for at least 36 months are eligible for the Yellow Ribbon Program.

How do I know if the school I’m interested in qualifies for the GI Bill®?

college student on campusYou can use the GI Bill® Comparison Tool to quickly find out if the school you want to attend is approved for VA educational benefits. The majority of accredited colleges and universities in America have received this approval.

This interactive tool calculates your out-of-pocket expenses alongside your GI Bill® benefits according to amount of education benefits you qualify for, your enrollment status (part- or full-time), delivery method (online or on-campus), and more.

While VA stats show that most students on the GI Bill® attend a state school, you’ll want to take a variety of factors into consideration when choosing a program that’s right for you. Graduation rate, selection process, and strength of its residency program are just a few of the factors you should consider when choosing a program.

Does the GI Bill® cover online programs?

Yes, GI Bill® benefits are the same for both online and on-campus programs. However, keep in mind that if you choose an online program as part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill®, your monthly housing allowance will be based on 50% of the national average housing allowance.

With the increase in popularity of online programs, you’ll find a nice selection of great colleges and universities that will allow you to complete the majority of your program through distance-based study.

Applying for the GI Bill®: Steps to Take

Once you’ve been approved for your benefits, it’s time to submit your Application for VA Benefits (VA Form 22-1990), which can be completed online. Most claims for benefits are reviewed within 30 days.

Once approved, the VA will send you a Certificate of Eligibility (your award letter) in the mail. You will need to provide the college or university with the Certificate of Eligibility.

Need help completing your application? A VA regional employee can help you.

After you begin receiving GI Bill® benefits, you’ll need to verify your enrollment as requested by texting or calling the Education Call Center at 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551). The VA will send you with an updated Certificate of Eligibility, which you will provide to your school.