These options can help make your GI Bill benefits stretch
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Scholarships are a no-brainer for students paying for college. It’s no strings attached money that can help reduce your bottom line.

Unless you are using the GI Bill.

Then it’s time to do a little math.

How It Works

Your GI Bill funds are based on length of service or service-related injuries that caused a service member to leave the military. Based on these factors, the VA will pay between 50 percent and 100 percent of in-state tuition and fees at public colleges based on your benefits tier. At private colleges, the VA will pay up to the annual maximum award based on your benefit tier.

The VA will pay your benefits for tuition and fees directly to your school. Any tuition or fees over the benefits amount is your responsibility. In addition, the Post-9/11 GI Bill will also includes up to $1000 per year for books and supplies. This benefit is based on the number of credits you are registered for each semester. There is also a housing stipend based on your current enrollment status, half-time, three-quarters time, or full-time, and location. This money is paid directly to you.


For students who have financial responsibilities beyond what the government will cover, scholarships can seem like a the obvious choice. However, there can be hiccups depending on the type of scholarship you receive.

There are two kind of scholarships: Fenced and non-fenced. Fenced scholarships must be used to pay for tuition. Non-fenced scholarships can be used for anything. When you are applying for scholarships, be sure to read the complete application and stipulations. Many scholarships with specify how the money can be used.

Yellow Ribbons

At in-state public colleges and universities, the GI Bill will cover 100 percent of tuition and fees. For students attending out-of-state public schools or private institutions, the VA will pay either the tuition and fees for the school or the national maximum, whichever is lower.

This can often leave students thousands of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses yearly. To help cover this gap, many colleges offer Yellow Ribbon Scholarships. These are funds contributed by the school and matched by the VA.

Participating schools offer scholarships to 100 percent qualified veterans using the Post 9/11 GI Bill. Each school has different stipulations and offer awards in different amounts. Some schools only offer a set amount of scholarships, only offer them to students who meet certain program requirements, or only offer up to specific dollar amounts.

Being awarded a Yellow Ribbon Scholarship one year does not guarantee it the next year. Award amounts may also vary year to year. Students who have received transferred Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits from a 100 percent qualified veteran may apply for Yellow Ribbon Scholarships. If you have received Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits from a 100 percent qualified veteran, you are also eligible to apply for Yellow Ribbon Scholarships. Active duty service members and their spouses are not able to participate in this program, but dependent children of 100 percent qualified active duty service members who have received transferred benefits may apply.

Who Pays What?

Military families with two health insurers already know that the federal government pays last. The same is true for the Post-9/11 GI Bill. When calculating your final bill, it’s important to remember that fenced scholarships, including federal scholarships, are subtracted from the tuition and fees first. Following that, any Yellow Ribbon and matching funds will be applied. The balance of the owed tuition and fee will be paid with any available GI Bill funds up to 100 percent of the total tuition and fees. Non-fenced scholarships do not have to be applied to tuition and fees. These are generally sent directly to the student to be used at your discretion. These are not factored into the final GI Bill calculations.

To calculate what you might possibly owe, check out the GI Bill Calculator. Plug in your information for your possible school to see how different scenarios might play out.

Let’s look at a few scenarios:

  • Boston University, a private college, charges $48,436 in tuition and fees yearly. The GI Bill will cover up to $22,805 per year at the national maximum for a 100 percent qualified veteran or transferee. You have claimed one of the 52 available Yellow Ribbon Scholarships at the maximum value of $3,500. Without scholarships, you would owe $18,631 in tuition and fees ($48,436 – $3,500 in Yellow Ribbon – $3,500 in matching VA funds – $22,805 in GI Bill Benefits = $18,631). Any additional fenced (tuition and fees only) scholarships would be applied before Yellow Ribbon or GI Bill funds. These fenced scholarships would further reduce the total out-of-pocket expenses.
  • UCLA is a public university. For in-state students, all tuition and fees ($12,763/year) are covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Any scholarships received would be deducted from the tuition first, and then the GI Bill would be applied to cover the remainder. If an in-state student received, for example, $3,500 in fenced scholarships, their GI Bill amount would be reduced by that same amount ($12,763 – $3,500 = $9,263 in GI Bill funds). Any non-fenced scholarships would not be deducted in the GI Bill calculations and would instead be “free” funds for the student to use as needed. For out-of-state students at UCLA, the GI Bill will also cover $12,763 per year out of $37,471 in tuition and fees. There are not Yellow Ribbon scholarships at this school for undergraduates. The remaining $24,708 would be the responsibility of the student. Any scholarships would be deducted from the total tuition before the GI Bill is applied, with the student paying the remainder.

For specifics related to you college or university, it’s important to double-check with their financial aid office.

By Meg Flanagan