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photo courtesy UMUC

Picking the ‘right school’ for you

July 24, 2019 - 3:58 pm

As summer unwinds and you think about using your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to go back to school, there is a lot to consider as far as selecting the ‘right’ school.

The best place to start is to first understand what YOU need from a school. 

  • Do you need daytime classes? 
  • Do you need night classes or online classes, because you work or have other commitments during the day. 
  • Do you want face-to-face classes, or some combination of face-to-face and online?
  • Do you want to participate in activities on campus?
  • Are you interested in specific credentials or certifications tied to your job or career field, that only certain schools offer?
  • Is location important?

Figure out what your three to four priorities are, write them down, and do not concede on any of them.

As you start to identify those ‘must haves,’ make sure that you understand how the Post-9/11 GI Bill works. This is really important as you think through the types of classes you’re going to need – daytime, nighttime, online, face-to-face or some combination. 

Depending on your percent of eligibility – which will be stated on the Certificate of Eligibility or eBenefits page you obtain from the VA – the Post-9/11 GI Bill covers some or all of your tuition and fees, a book stipend and a Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA). 

As a general rule, you have to serve more than 36 months on Active Duty (since 9/11/2001) to be 100% eligible for all Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits.  If you served less than 36 months, the amount of benefit paid by the VA is prorated to a lower percentage based on how long you actually served on Active Duty.

Tuition & fees and the book stipend are pretty straightforward: paid based on your percentage of eligibility and whether you are a full-time or a part-time student. 

MHA is much different. There is a large difference in how much is paid to you based on whether you are taking face-to-face classes, online classes or some combination.

  • If you attend classes all online, the MHA will be paid to you at 50% of the national average, which is typically around $800-$850 per month. You can see the exact amount on the Post-9/11 GI Bill rates page.
  • If you take face-to-face classes or ‘hybrid’ classes (a mix of face-to-face and online), the VA will pay MHA based on the zip-code at which you attend the majority of your classes.  To determine how much that is, visit the VA’s GI Bill Comparison Tool and search for the schools you’re considering.

The decision about what kind of classes to take – online, face-to-face, hybrid or some combination – should never be about money or how much housing allowance the VA will pay you.  That decision needs to be based on YOUR academic needs as a student, and which kind of classes best meet those academic needs.

However, as you put together your class schedule with an academic adviser, understanding the difference in how the Post-9/11 GI Bill MHA is paid could mean thousands-of-dollars’ difference in how much you receive. 

Every school which is approved by the VA to certify veteran’s educational benefits is required to designate a School Certifying Official who can answer your questions. Make sure that you know who your school’s Certifying Official is, and use them—along with your academic adviser, and fellow student-veterans at your school—as you put together your class schedule.

University of Maryland University College is a proud partner of Connecting Vets.