4 Big Mistakes Vets Make With Their GI Bill

popular
Photo by Master Sgt. William Wiseman

Editor's Note: A version of this article was originally published on Hirepurpose's Career Compass. 


The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill is the most valuable piece of compensation for your service in the military. In exchange for no fewer than 36 months of honorable and faithful active service after Sept. 11, 2001, you’ve received the Holy Grail of economic mobility.

It offers as much as the maximum cost of in-state tuition in your home state. Additionally, under legislation passed in 2014, public colleges and universities receiving G.I. Bill funding must offer veterans the benefit of in-state tuition, regardless of their residency. The G.I. Bill will pay a $1,000 book annual stipend. Vets on their G.I. Bill receive basic allowance for housing equivalent to an E-5 with dependents according to the zip code of your school. There’s even a $500 relocation allowance for veterans who are moving to a new school from a rural community.

Done right, you could go from no college background at all to a degree from a top university in four years, and be financially comfortable along the way.

Related: How veterans screw up college »

But it’s all too easy to squander. Here are four of the worst (and most common) ways veterans waste their G.I. Bill:

1. Using your G.I. Bill while you’re on active duty.

Attempting to gain college credit while you’re still on active duty is an honorable (and often strategically prudent) endeavor, but using your G.I. Bill to do it is a big mistake.

There are three main reasons for this. The first is that if you are stationed on a base, your education options will likely be limited. You don’t want to waste an opportunity like the G.I. Bill on a school that isn’t the perfect fit for you, or on online classes.

The second reason is that you’ll be missing a lot of the financial incentives that come along with the G.I. Bill. When a vet uses the G.I. Bill on active duty, he or she is ineligible for the relocation allowance and the basic allowance for housing that come with the G.I. Bill benefits. In using your G.I. Bill on active duty, you’re lessening its value by tens of thousands of dollars.

The last reason not to use your G.I. Bill on active duty is that you don’t need to. Every branch has some form of tuition assistance that will let you take college classes for free while not dipping into your G.I. Bill benefits.

2. Wasting your money on a predatory school.

Through the G.I. Bill, the federal government pays out a ton of money to enable modern veterans to obtain an education. But, wherever there’s money, there are people who want to exploit it.

One unfortunate byproduct of the G.I. Bill is the rise of predatory for-profit colleges that seek to take advantage of the money the bill offers veterans. There are three types of colleges: public schools that are run by the state or local governments; private not-for-profit schools that are run independently, but rely heavily on endowments and fundraising and don’t seek to make a profit from tuition; and for-profit schools that seek to make money by charging tuition and turn a profit.

Not all for-profit schools are bad, but far too many of them are. While we don’t want to name names (*cough* University of Phoenix *cough*), the key thing is to research your school before you apply and enroll. The worst of these for profit schools will seek to keep you enrolled as long as possible, so they can continue to get money from you. After one or two years, you’re left with no G.I. Bill, possible debt, and a degree that isn’t looked at favorably among many civilian employers.

3. Using your G.I. Bill on an online school.

We get the appeal of online colleges; really, we do. You get to study on your schedule and go to work and raise a family, things that many veterans understand. But there are risks in attending an exclusively online school.

In going to school online, you will decrease the value of your G.I. Bill. For students on their G.I. Bill who take all of their classes online, their monthly housing allowance is equal to half the national average of the BAH for an E-5 with dependents, or just over $700 per month.

Even if you went to school in one of the locations with the lowest housing rates in the country --- Owensboro, Kentucky, or Alpena, Michigan; for instance --- you’d receive more than $1,000 in monthly housing allowance, substantially more than the online rate. If you go to school somewhere with high housing rates, like New York City or San Francisco, those allowance rates are more than $3,000 a month. We’re talking serious money that you’re missing out on by going to school online.

So if you must go to school online, do so through a program that has a brick-and-mortar campus. All you have to do is take one class in the classroom in order to get the full housing allowance based off of the zip code of that school. If you want the flexibility of online classes, that’s the way to go.

4. Using your G.I. Bill before you get to your ideal school.

Maybe you knew you were going into the military after high school, so you don’t have the grades or SAT scores to land at the school of your dreams. Maybe you have your sights set on a graduate school. Or maybe you know you want a college education, but you aren’t sure what field of study you want to pursue. In any event, don’t tap into your G.I. Bill until you get to the smartest place for you to use it.

If your end goal is to go to Penn State, but you know that you need to do a couple of years at your local community college before you can apply to transfer, don’t use your benefits on those community college credits.

Think about it this way: you’re using you G.I. Bill on a school which costs $3,000 per year with the intent of getting into a school that costs $40,000 per year. When you do get to that more expensive school, you’ve burned your G.I. Bill trying to get there. Instead, consider paying for community college out of pocket, and only tapping into your benefits when you’re where you want to be. It’s a hell of a lot easier to scrap together $3,000 than $40,000.

Pearl Harbor survivor Lauren Bruner attends the dual interment of fellow USS Arizona survivors John D. Anderson, boatswain's mate 2nd class, and Clarendon R. Hetrick, seaman 1st class, at the USS Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, as part of the 75th anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy/Petty Officer 2nd Class Somers Steelman)

Just before 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning 78 years ago, Lauren Bruner was preparing for church services and a date that would follow with a girl he'd met outside his Navy base.

The 21-year-old sailor was stationed as a fire controlman aboard the U.S. battleship USS Arizona, overseeing the vessel's .50-caliber guns.

Then alarms rang out. A Japanese plane had bombed the ship in a surprise attack.

It took only nine minutes for the Arizona to sink after the first bomb hit. Bruner was struck by gunfire while trying to flee the inferno that consumed the ship, the second-to-last man to escape the explosion that killed 1,177, including his best friend; 335 survived.

More than 70% of Bruner's body was burned. He was hospitalized for weeks.

Now, nearly eight decades after that fateful day, Bruner's ashes will be delivered to the sea that cradled his fallen comrades, stored in an urn inside the battleship's wreckage.

Read More Show Less
Joshua Kaleb Watson (Facebook via Business Insider)

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Joshua Kaleb Watson has been identified as one of the victims of a shooting at the Naval Air Station Pensacola, CBS News reported.

The 23-year-old Alabama native and Naval Academy graduate was named to the Academy's prestigious Commandant's and Dean's lists, and also competed on the rifle team, Alabama's WTVY reported.

Read More Show Less
Mohammed Saeed Alshamrani (Courtesy photo)

PENSACOLA, Fla. (Reuters) - The Saudi airman accused of killing three people at a U.S. Navy base in Florida appeared to have posted criticism of U.S. wars and quoted slain al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on social media hours before the shooting spree, according to a group that monitors online extremism.

Federal investigators have not disclosed any motive behind the attack, which unfolded at dawn on Friday when the Saudi national is said to have began firing a handgun inside a classroom at the Naval Air Station Pensacola.

Read More Show Less
Saudi air force Second Lt. Mohammed Saeed al-Shamrani (NBC News)

The Saudi military officer who shot and killed 3 people at Naval Air Station Pensacola on Friday reportedly hosted a "dinner party" the week before the attack "to watch videos of mass shootings," the Associated Press reports, citing an unnamed U.S. official.

Read More Show Less
Soldiers from the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) hold folded flags before military funeral honors. (U.S. Army/Elizabeth Fraser)

The Minnesota National Guard has released the names of the three soldiers killed in Thursday's helicopter crash.

Read More Show Less