By Allison Perkins
Military Spouse Guest Writer and editor of Salute to Spouses
College application time is exciting - when you are a senior in high school.
As a military spouse balancing children, deployments and a career, returning to school can be more stress inducing than glee filled.
Perhaps the most difficult decision for an adult student is not choosing a course schedule, but instead finding a way to pay for those classes.
If you are willing to do the research, you will find that military spouses and veterans have an entire universe of additional funding available only to them.
GI Bill Funding
There is no doubt that the GI Bill is one of the best benefits that service members and their families currently have access to. The Post-9/11 GI Bill recently underwent a complete overhaul. The changes made it possible for qualifying service members, their spouses and children to earn a degree with the federal funding.
The money now covers not just traditional classes but also correspondence courses, non-degree programs, apprenticeships and flight school, among other options.
Students, depending on their eligibility, can also use the benefits to cover the cost of housing, license or certification tests, admission exams and book fees.
Each branch of the service, including the Coast Guard, offers education programs specifically for spouses and family members. For example, the Army offers the Stateside Spouse Education Assistance Program, a need-based education assistance program to help pay tuition, supplies and book fees. The Air Forces' General George S. Brown Spouse Tuition Assistance Program provides partial tuition assistance to Air Force spouses who attend college programs at overseas locations. The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society offers a similar program to their spouses also stationed at an overseas location. Many of these programs will cover several thousand dollars each year in education costs and are definitely worth the time it takes to search them on the internet or visit the local education office on base.
The Local Community
Think high school kids are the only ones who have the opportunity to earn local scholarships? Not true. Many on-base spouse clubs and military organizations offer scholarships specifically targeted to military families. Larger national organizations such as the National Military Family Association and the Navy Wives Clubs of America also give thousands of dollars each year to deserving spouses.
Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA)
This program was wildly popular with all military spouses until it literally ran out of money. When it did, it was restructured to serve its original purpose - to give educational opportunities to lower ranking enlisted and officer spouses. Now, the benefit offers up to $4,000 to eligible spouses to work toward an associate degree, certification or licensure. Some schools tried to fill the financial aid gap once the MyCAA program closed its doors to senior spouses by offering more scholarships to all military spouses. At Bryant & Stratton College, for example, military spouses can apply for the Salute to Spouses scholarship program, a fund that was launched specifically to fill the void left by changes to MyCAA. In 2011, that school alone awarded 68 scholarships totaling $105,000 just to military spouses. This year, the school has granted funds to 37 spouses, amounting to $109,000 - and the award period has not ended yet. Whatever school you do apply to, be sure to ask if there are financial aid programs or scholarships that are specific to military families.
Returning to school is never an easy task, especially with the added strain of an ever-changing military life. However, with those sacrifices, come rewards, often in the form of scholarships and additional money for school. This fall, as you embark on your educational journey, remember that a little research into scholarships and education programs can go a long way in paying for your degree. As a military spouse, you have lived a life dedicated to your community. It's time to reap the benefits.
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