This is the third and final installment of a three part blog series sponsored by The American Women’s College
Choosing to invest in your education is one of the most important decisions you will make. Today, there are many more options available to military spouses than existed while my husband was serving. However, understanding how and when you can access these benefits can sometimes be a challenge.
Over the years, I have helped thousands of adult learners return to college. Today, as the deputy chief for partnership development at The American Women’s College, a great deal of my time is focused on connecting people, organizations and resources for impact. I am pleased to be able to share some of what I have learned to help you, as a military spouse, connect to the benefits and resources that will help you finance your education.
As I mentioned in part one of this series, “Here’s how military spouses can choose the right college,” one of the most helpful things you can do to reduce educational expenses is ensure that you are maximizing previously earned college credits, receiving credits for any prior learning, and utilizing resources for testing out of classes, such as the CLEP exam. Part of your work in choosing the right college should also be to ask about military discounts. Many colleges and universities today offer benefits for military personnel and some, like The American Women’s College, extend the tuition discount to military spouses as well. Active duty military families also qualify for in-state tuition rates for both the state where they are currently living and their state of legal residency.
Beyond that, it is important to know what financial benefits are available and how you can access them. If you are near a military base and have access to an education officer, they can be a tremendous resource in helping you to understand what is available and how to navigate the system.
Three options for educational financing for military spouses include:
1. My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA).
Military spouses of service members on active duty, to include National Guard and reserve spouses, in pay grades E-1 to E-5, W-1 to W-2, and O-1 to O-2 are eligible for MyCAA. This scholarship benefit provides up to $4,000 (over 2 years) of financial assistance for spouses pursuing a license, certification or associate degree in a portable career field.
To set up your MyCAA account, visit https://aiportal.acc.af.mil/mycaa and complete the required spouse profile. The system will confirm your eligibility in real-time with the Defense Enrollment Eligibility Reporting System (DEERS). Once your eligibility is confirmed you will be able to move forward and create your account and search for programs that are of interest to you. For additional information and assistance in establishing a MyCAA account you can call a Spouse Education & Career Opportunities Career Coach at 800-342-9647.
2. GI Bill Benefits.
Service members who decide not to use their GI Bill benefits for their own education, or only use a portion of them, can choose to transfer benefits to a spouse or dependent child. Service members are currently required to have at least six years of military service in order to be eligible to transfer benefits. Once the benefits have been transferred, the service member must agree to an additional 4 years of service. If this is something you or your spouse are considering, it is important to have this conversation together to ensure that you both understand all the implications. The GI Bill benefits can be given to one family member or split between family members, with some limits.
3. Federal Student Financial Aid.
Federal student financial aid can be an important resource for financing your education. Taking on debt in the form of student loans is a personal decision and everyone’s situation is different; however, if you have done your homework in choosing a college and a program of study, and you are smart about borrowing only what you need, student loans can be a useful tool for investing in your education. The FAFSA is available online and it is free to complete. Once you have completed the FAFSA your institution will be able to process the application and determine what type of financial aid award you would be eligible to receive. If you are considering applying for financial aid, it is important to do this as soon as possible in the application cycle, in order to give the institution time to process the FAFSA and give you time to discuss any questions you might have with them.
As you can see, the range of military benefits available to you as a military spouse depends on your spouse’s rank, length of service and plans for future service commitments. While federal financial aid programs will not have these same restrictions, it is important to do your homework, ask questions and ensure you never borrow more than you need to.