The Best College Grants for Veterans Available in 2020

Written by: Kristyn Pilgrim
Updated: 1/07/20

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) helps active-duty service members, military veterans, and their qualified family members, such as spouses and children, to attain higher education with tuition assistance.

Grants and scholarships are forms of free money that are gifted to you and don’t have to be paid back. Most of these are in the form of federal student aid. Unlike private student loans, for example. 

If you have served or are serving in the United States military, you may be eligible for benefits, including scholarships and grants. Your spouses and dependents may also qualify for benefits.

The following are some of the college scholarships and grant opportunities for men and women with current or former military status and their families.

  • Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD)
  • Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SD)
  • Post-9/11 GI Bill
  • Chapter 35 Benefits, or Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Program
  • Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grants
  • Fry Scholarship
  • Yellow Ribbon Program
  • Federal Pell Grants

The VA is a great resource to help you determine your education-related benefits and options as a military veteran.

Grants for Veterans

If you have served in a branch of the United States military, such as the U.S. Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard, National Guard, or Marines, you may be eligible for specific grants that are open to veterans.

Two of these programs, the Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) and the Post-9/11 GI Bill, offer tuition assistance and money to help pay for school. Funds can cover up to the full cost of attendance.

  • Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD)

To be eligible, you:

  • Served at least two years on active duty
  • Earned a high school diploma
  • Were honorably discharged
  • Served within the past 10 years
  • Meet additional service requirements

Benefits include:

  • Up to 36 months of education benefits through an approved school or training program
  • Funds up to the full cost of tuition, school fees, books, room and board, and money for supplies
  • Potential qualification for up to $5,400 in additional GI benefits if you opted into the $600 Buy-Up Program in full

You can apply online for GI benefits.

  • Post-9/11 GI Bill

To be eligible, you:

  • Served on active duty for at least 90 days on or after Sept. 11, 2001, or 
  • Were a recipient of a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged, or
  • Served on active duty for at least 30 days on or after Sept. 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged with a service-connected disability

If your service ended before Jan. 1, 2013, you have 15 years to use these benefits. If your service ended after that date, they do not expire.

Benefits include:

  • Full cost of tuition for a public, in-state school. Private, foreign, and out-of-state school tuition may be covered as well, with a current capped rate of $23,672 per academic year.
  • Monthly housing allowance based on the cost of living in your school’s area (for students in school more than half-time)
  • Up to $1,000 per school year toward books and supplies
  • One-time payment of $500 to help you relocate from a rural area to go to a school that is at least 500 miles away

If you served for at least three years, you might be eligible for 100% of these benefits. You will need to apply for benefits.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill Yellow Ribbon Program may also be offered through your chosen school, which can increase the amount of tuition assistance and benefits you receive. If your degree-granting institution participates in the program, you can receive additional funding toward higher education as a veteran through the Yellow Ribbon Program. To find out if your school participates, check here.

You may also qualify for Federal Pell Grants if you demonstrate extreme financial need and are seeking your first undergraduate degree. You may receive up to $6,195 for the 2019-20 school year at an eligible college or university. 

Educational Opportunities for Active-Duty Military

If you are currently in the U.S. Armed Services (serving in the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard Reserve, Army, or Air National Guard), you can use your GI Bill benefits or Federal Pell Grants to help pay for college.

For the MGIB-AD, you will need to have been on active duty for at least two years. The Post-9/11 GI Bill requires 90 days of active-duty service. There are also GI Bill benefits for members of the U.S. Army Reserves.

  • Montgomery GI Bill Selected Reserve (MGIB-SR)

To be eligible, you must:

  • Agree to a six-year service obligation with the Selected Reserves, or
  • Currently be an officer in the Selected Reserves and have signed on for an additional six-year service obligation, and also
  • Have a high school diploma or its equivalent
  • Have already completed your initial active duty for training (IADT)
  • Remain in good standing while serving in a Select Reserve unit that is active

Benefits include up to $384 a month for school expenses for up to 36 months. Just like with other GI Bill benefits, you will need to apply through the VA.

Grants for Military Spouses 

If you are the spouse of an active-duty military member or the spouse of a veteran, you may be able to use some of the tuition and education benefits through the VA, as well.

For example, active-duty military, Selected Reserve members, and veterans can transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to a qualified dependent. This includes both spouses and dependent children. 

To transfer your service member benefits to a spouse, you will need to be active duty and have completed at least six years of service with a commitment for at least four more, or you will need to have completed at least 10 years of service before filing the request. 

You need to file a Transfer of Entitlement (TOT) through the Department of Defense (DoD) and have that approved before applying to use the benefits. Even after a divorce, you can still use the benefits unless the servicemember files to revoke the TOE.

As a spouse, you will need to enroll in the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS) to qualify for up to 36 months of unused GI Bill benefits toward tuition, housing, books, and supplies. If your spouse is currently active duty, you will not be able to qualify for a housing allowance.

Spouses can use transferred GI Bill benefits while the service member is on active duty or up to 15 years after separating from the service.

If you are a surviving spouse or a dependent spouse of a veteran, you may be able to qualify for Chapter 35 VA education benefits to pay for education and training, books and supplies, and tuition. If any of the following are true, you may be eligible for VA Education benefits:

  • Your service member spouse died in the line of duty after Sept. 11, 2001
  • Your service member spouse was captured by a hostile force or held by a foreign government or power while in the line of duty or is currently missing in action
  • Your service member spouse is being treated for a service-connected, total, and permanent disability
  • Your veteran spouse died on active duty or due to causes related to a service-connected disability
  • Your veteran spouse suffers from a permanent and service-connected total disability

Options for Surviving and Disabled Veteran Spouses

There are two main scholarships for spouses of military veterans.

  • Fry Scholarship (Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship)

This scholarship:

  • Is open to surviving dependents of service members who died in the line of duty after September 10, 2001
  • Can cover the full cost of public school attendance (or up to $23,672 at a private or foreign school) for up to 36 months
  • Offers up to $1,000 per year for books and supplies
  • Provides a monthly housing allowance to the student based on Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) for an E-5 with dependents that is paid monthly
  • Gives benefits up to 15 years from spouse’s date of death
  • Allows participants to also use the Yellow Ribbon program benefits at the same time
  • Is rescinded if the spouse remarries
  • Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Program

    This scholarship:
  • Is open to dependents of veterans who died in the line of duty, were captured, or were permanently disabled through a service-connected event
  • Offers a monthly amount of up to $1,224 that can be paid directly to the student
  • Gives spouses the ability to use this benefit up to 20 years after the death of an active-duty spouse or up to 10 years from the date of determined eligibility of a veteran spouse’s death
  • Gives benefits for up to 45 months to pay for tuition, work-study, apprenticeship, tutorial assistance, and certification tests
  • May be used at the same time spouse is receiving Dependency Indemnity Compensation (DIC) benefits.

As the surviving spouse of a veteran, you may be eligible for both programs, but you will need to choose which one you wish to use. Only one can be used.

Grants for Dependents of Veterans

As the dependent child of a veteran or service member, you can also qualify for tuition assistance.

Dependents can receive Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Here are the details:

  • The Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits can be transferred to you if the service member has completed at least 10 years of active-duty service.
  • The benefits can be used during active duty or after separation from the service.
  • You must be 18 years old and have a high school diploma.
  • You can use the benefit until you turn 26 years old.
  • You can qualify for the housing allowance even if your parent is active duty.
  • You may still qualify even if you get married.

For the Fry Scholarship, the same benefits and criteria for spouses apply to dependents, but children must use the benefits between the ages of 18 and 26. The same is true for the DEA program, but children become eligible at the age of 18 and have until age 33 to use them.

Surviving children of veterans cannot receive DIC benefits along with the Fry Scholarship.

Another grant for college for children of veterans is the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant. This applies to children whose parent was an active-duty military member who died in the line of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan after the events of 9/11. You will need to have been younger than age 24 when your service member died, or you were enrolled in college at least part-time when they died. 

To qualify for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, you cannot be eligible for a Federal Pell Grant. For grants disbursed between Oct. 1, 2018, and Oct. 1, 2019, you may be eligible to receive up to $5,717 for school expenses.

Additional Assistance for College for Veterans

Many times, the cost of college exceeds the grant funding you can receive as a veteran. In this case, you need to explore other options to fill the gaps.

The first place to look is federal sources by filling out your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This will help to determine which types of federal student aid you can qualify for and your loan eligibility. 

Federal student loans offer the most flexible repayment options, more loan forgiveness opportunities, and the most favorable fixed interest rates.

Beyond federal loans, you may want to consider private student loans. If you have a good credit rating, a stable income and job, and some money saved, you may be able to qualify for a low interest rate with a private student loan. 

When trying to pay for college, exhaust all of your options for free money in the form of grants or scholarships, then look into federal student loans. Use private student loans as your final option.