Scholarships Honor Service Members, Veterans, Families

There are many sources of educational aid available to those who have served our country.

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Amariee Collins (left) wants an increase in the education benefits offered to soldiers such as this group from a White House ceremony.
Amariee Collins (left) wants an increase in the education benefits offered to soldiers such as this group from a White House ceremony.

Memorial Day is a day of remembrance for the soldiers, sailors, and all who gave their lives in service to the nation, and it's also the traditional transition between the school year and the summer. As such, the recent Memorial Day holiday provides an ideal time for us to take a look at educational scholarships and financial aid opportunities for veterans returning to the homefront and looking to head to school.

For active duty veterans who have been honorably discharged within the past 15 years, the G.I. Bill remains the No. 1 financial aid option. The G.I. Bill has been around in various forms since the end of World War II; the most current iteration is the Post-9/11 G.I. Bill. If you're a veteran with 36 months of service or more, it will pay full tuition and fees at public institutions, plus a housing allowance and textbook stipend.

Those with shorter service terms will receive a sliding percentage of the benefit; those going to private schools will receive up to $17,500 toward tuition and fees per academic year; active reservists are also eligible for funding under the Reserve G.I. Bill. Different options and criteria abound, so check out the site thoroughly.

[Read about challenges facing veterans going to college.]

The G.I. Bill provides a great opportunity for service men and women to further their education, but it's also not a one-size-fits-all solution. If there are gaps in your educational funding after your G.I. Bill benefit, we'd encourage you to check out this listing of veterans' benefits provided by each state. Each branch of the military also provides a tuition assistance program that may be able to supplement your funding.

Finally, if you find yourself transferring frequently, make sure you're familiar with the Servicemember Opportunity Colleges; this consortium of 1,900 colleges and universities works with the armed forces to ensure smooth transfers of credits and relaxed residency requirements for service members, so you don't have to retake classes or pay out-of-state costs.

Private scholarships can also provide assistance for both general education and specific programs. The Pat Tillman Foundation's Tillman Military Scholars program awards renewable scholarships to active and veteran service members and their spouses, in tribute to the former NFL player and Army Ranger who lost his life in Afghanistan. The application for this year closed in mid-March, but keep an eye out for next year's opening dates. And AMVETS, the American Veterans group, gives out a number of different annual scholarships to veterans, their children, and their grandchildren.

[Read why scholarships are essential.]

For more specific scholarships, there are programs such as the one through Swift Transportation, which provides 1,000 full-tuition scholarships to the company's four trucking academies; if your service has been geared toward transportation, it's an opportunity to consider. And if you've spent some time working in the chow hall and want to further your cooking career, the International Culinary Center just announced that it will be awarding $1 million in scholarships to veterans for study at its New York and California campuses.

Finally, your military service can mean tuition benefits for your spouse and dependents, too. In addition to the programs mentioned above, spouses and children of active-duty soldiers can benefit from the ThanksUSA scholarship, a program started in 2005 by two elementary-school sisters who wanted a way to thank the nation's troops. This year's program just closed; applications are typically accepted between April 1 and mid-May.

The Military One Source site lists a number of other options for spouses, including the MyCAA career-advancement program, recently restarted after being discontinued for a few years.

Last, but certainly not least, the families of those who have lost their lives in service can turn to the Department of Veterans Affairs for survivor and dependent assistance, to the specific military branches for programs like those offered by the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, and to funds such as Tribute for the Troops, which provide for surviving dependents pursuing college.

Matt Konrad has been with Scholarship America since 2005. He is an alumnus of the University of Minnesota and a former scholarship recipient.