If you thought that entering the armed forces meant sacrificing your ambitions to pursue higher education, then you’d be mistaken. In the US, future or active military personnel, veterans and those related to or dependent of personnel and veterans, may be eligible to receive funding for university via scholarships managed by the federal government, through the FAFSA, individual military branches, or even a number of supporting non-governmental organizations.
It’s important to remember that these military scholarships, with the exception of some FAFSA scholarships, are benefits for military employees, and that all students who accept these scholarships will be expected to complete their service contract after graduation.
Scholarships for military personnel
While many military scholarships and grants are reserved for students pursuing subjects of obvious application within military life (medicine, military strategy etc.), some are more general and are awarded based on merit or need. While eligibility and funds vary widely, scholarship winners are also able to apply for additional funding from using applications such as FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) if needed.
Although not a scholarship, the Montgomery GI Bill is one of the most successful financial aid programs of its type. These funds are open to anyone enlisted in the US Armed Forces who signs up to be a part of the bill, which requires them to give US$100 a month during their first year of service. This is a small amount in comparison to education costs, and, depending on their military role and length of service, those receiving university funding from this source can receive up to US$72,900.
Asides from this bill, all the main branches of the US military offer Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs, which are partnered with universities across the nation. ROTC provides full or partial scholarships for students in exchange for their enlistment upon graduation. This route is not to be taken lightly, as it is a contractual agreement binding students to a specified number of years in the military after university. For information about specific ROTC programs, follow the links below:
Scholarships from the US Army
The US army and its supporting organizations offer many scholarships for active duty and/or retired service-members, including the Health Professions Scholarship Program, the US Army Women’s Foundation Legacy Scholarship and the Army Staff Sgt. Special Agent Richard S. Eaton Jr., Scholarship. The Army Scholarship Foundation is also a large provider of scholarships.
Scholarships from the US Navy
Instead of many military scholarships, the US Navy offers educational assistance programs which give recruits the opportunity to undertake undergraduate and graduate studies on site and at a traditional university campus. Costs are subsidized heavily – sometimes even in full – by the Navy itself.
Scholarships from the US Air Force
The US Air Force offers scholarships, tuition assistance programs and its own community college. Information for commissioned officers seeking higher education is available here, while other enlisted personnel will find the relevant information here.
Scholarships from the US Marine Corps
The US Marine Corps offers just a few opportunities for funding, such as the Women Marines Association Scholarship and the Frederick C. Branch Scholarship. For more information, click here.
Scholarships from the US Coast Guard
As well as offering its own academic institution free for enrollees (the United States Coast Guard Academy), the US Coast Guard also offers funding to support students who want to enroll after first completing a traditional university education. The College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative works like the ROTC program, offering up to two years of tuition fees for eligible students at sophomore and junior level in exchange for a minimum of three years’ service as an officer in the US Coast Guard after graduation.
Scholarships for military spouses and children
The US military also does a good job of helping to provide education for the families of its service members, and there are many scholarships for military spouses and the children/dependents of active, retired, disabled or deceased US military personnel. Again, eligibility varies for each fund.
The Spouse Education Assistance Program is offered to the military spouses and children of US Army service members, while the General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program, Scholarship for Air Force Enlisted Member’s Dependent Children and the AFSA Scholarship Program (for dependents of Air Force Sergeants Association members) are funded for service members of the US Air Force.
The US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard also offer scholarships for military spouses and children through organizations such as the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (for interest-free loans and grants), the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation and the Coast Guard Foundation.
Other military scholarships
Depending on where you live in the US, it’s likely that your state government also offers grants and scholarships for military spouses and children. For details of availability and eligibility, contact the Department of Higher Education or Office of Veterans Affairs in your state. Examples of the types of programs available are the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund and the Iowa War Orphans Educational Aid.
For a comprehensive list of military scholarships in the US, visit a military scholarship search site. If you are currently on active duty in the US military, you should speak to your commanding officer or division commander for more information.