You made the decision to go back to school and retool. Good on you. But you are a military spouse. You and your service member have the rent, a car loan, some credit card debt and maybe only one income.
How do you pay for college when you haven't got a dime?
The good news is that military spouses are eligible for military benefits as well as programs available to civilians. With our guide to paying for school, you'll be cracking those books in no time.
Step One: Start Looking Into Military Benefits
For Nikki, it was easy. She said that until recently, college wasn't an option. “We married right out of high school, and there just wasn't time or money for college. I had to work," the 22-year-old sailor's wife explained.
But Nikki had always dreamed of going back to school. With her husband's recent promotion, things at home became a little easier.
Money wasn't as tight, and with a helpful neighbor offering to take care of her kids twice a week, she thought it was finally time to focus on her.
“I was ready. And things seemed to be going OK with the family. Everything was falling into place and it was finally my turn," she said.
Even with perfect timing, Nikki still worried about how her family could afford a college tuition bill. “I figured I'd work with MyCAA or the GI Bill," she said. “I knew there were options for military families, so I started there." And that's the same place you should start.
Step Two: Squeeze Your MyCAA Benefits
If you're looking for a two-year degree, MyCAA (My Career Advanced Accounts) is the best place for you to start. Offering $4,000 for an associate's degree, vocational training or professional licensing, MyCAA is a good resource for spouses of service members in ranks E1-E5, W1-W2, or O1-O2.
The eligibility is narrow, but every dime counts when you are starting to pay for a military spouse education. To find out more about whether MyCAA might be a good fit for you, be sure to check out our MyCAA guide.
Step Three: Jump on GI Bill Benefits
If you are married to a more senior service member, you won't qualify for MyCAA funding. If you want to earn a bachelor's degree or graduate degree, MyCAA won't pay.
Yet your military benefits may still enable you to pursue your academic dreams.
Your service member's Post-911 GI Bill Benefits may be transferred to you. Read our Military.com guide to those benefits.
This option isn't for everybody: Your service member will have had to serve for six years and be committed for at least four more years in the military.
There are also some new, tightened restrictions about who qualifies for transferability and how long they have to make those transfer decisions. Confused about your eligibility? Don't be. Learn more here.
The GI Bill was a great option for Nikki. She and her husband determined that he was less likely to go back to school than she was. Since Nikki was ready now, transferring their benefits made sense.
Nikki is now busy looking for schools where she can train to be a veterinarian -- her life-long dream. “Growing up, I just figured that was like dreaming to be president," she said. “It was never going to happen. And now it is!"
Step Four: Keep an Eye on Budget Cuts
As you start to look into military education benefits, you may find that more financial options existed during the surge.
Since the GI Bill is a benefit, not an entitlement, transferability may hit the chopping block due to sequestration and other budget cuts.
For example, over 4,000 soldiers lost their GI Bill transferability in January 2013. If it makes sense for your family to look into GI Bill transferability, don't wait another day. Start your application now.
While the options are fewer, these benefits are still yours. Take advantage of those that apply to you while you still can.
Talk to the financial aid officers at your school of choice. Think about other funding options that may be available to you like financial aid and federal student loans, finding a job that can help pay for school, investigating state education benefits, and thinking about scholarship awards. Call the education counselors at Military OneSource to discuss your particular situation.
Register on Military.com to get our Family Newsletter and keep abreast of all the changes in military education benefits.
Once you and your service member have decided that your continued education is the best plan for your family's financial health, keep moving forward. Paying for college may be simpler than you think.
Resources for choosing a school as a military spouse
Spouse Education and Career Opportunities
Choosing the right college or school is a big decision for anyone, but going back to school when you’re a military spouse may present additional challenges. It’s important to take time to assess your career goals, research occupations and consider earning potential and licensure requirements, which may slow the process of finding work when you move to a new location.
Your education is a major investment, and it’s important to do your homework to find the best option to fit your mobile military life. Consider using the following tools as you research your options and choose the school that is right for you.
Gain an understanding of how to get started choosing a school. You may want to visit schools (in person or virtually) or attend a college fair as you research more about the different types of schools.
Search for potential schools by location, degrees offered, program majors, tuition and fees, and more.
Find information on tuition and fees for public, private, two-year and four-year programs. You can also search for vocational programs and receive the tuition and net prices from schools that offer those programs.
When selecting a school, remember that frequent relocations may require you to transfer your credits to a new school. Make sure to research the transferability of credits and explore options for distance learning in case you move to a new duty station before you finish your program of study. Consider contacting your installation education office to learn about colleges that provide satellite programs with agreements for transferring credits to all installation locations. Visit militaryinstallations.dod.mil, locate your installation and then find “College/Technical Training” in the Get to Know the Installation section for more information.
Tuition is one of the major costs for postsecondary education. Tuition costs vary depending on the type of institution — public, private, two-year or four-year. When you’re planning for your education, it’s essential to compare the tuition costs among the institutions that fit your education and career requirements. Making this comparison will provide you with valuable information to help you make an informed decision about the institution that offers the best value for your money.
As a military spouse, you may be eligible for the My Career Advancement Account Scholarship program to help cover the costs of tuition for your associate degree or other type of training and certification at many institutions.