In the military, almost all personnel are investigated at some point for a security clearance. Do you know what the #1 reason for not getting a clearance is? No, it’s not criminal activity or personal conduct; it is in fact your financial health. Financial stress makes a person vulnerable and it’s that vulnerability that makes you a target to compromise national security. Financial stress can also derail the most successful collegiate careers. And who do you think high interest loan sharks will target most? Just like our enemies seek out financially vulnerable for security information, loan sharks seek out the financially vulnerable for predatory loans. Lack of financial planning in the beginning can cause students to work more outside of school, study less, or worst of all drop out.The great news is that all of this can be avoided with some forethought by understanding what funds are out there for you and which ones are creditable.
The first mistake a student veteran can make is to mistakenly think, “I have the G.I. Bill, that covers it all”. The G.I. Bill is a wonderful resource but it doesn’t cover it all. The Post-9/11 G.I. Bill covers tuition, fees, and a small monthly stipend. Departing the military means you you leave behind your salary too. Yet life still has expenses that need funds and the truth is ‘college student’ has very lousy pay. College is an investment but like most investments the payoff is down the road a ways. Furthermore, the G.I. Bill is only a 36 month benefit. This is a finite resource with minimal room for error; you may in fact need funds beyond this benefit. So what else is available to help you get to the finish line financially healthy?
School Funds: Before you even apply to a college. Call the veterans service office and ask what funding options are available. Many schools have scholarship funds privately hosted for veterans and/or lists of trusted scholarships available. For example, The Carson School of Management at the University of Minnesota hosts a veterans fund which offers free graduate tuition and a stipend.
Federal Student Aid: I’ve heard way too many student veterans say they didn’t think they qualify for student aid since they already have a scholarship. Almost all federal and state grants and loans require your fill out Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Once completed you can apply for Pell Grants and others. By the way grants are exactly that, a gift you don’t have to pay back. Other scholarships listed require only a short essay along with your FAFSA application. [LINK here]
Pat Tillman Scholarship program: Highly selective but scholarships are need based meaning the amount can vary dependant on your funding needs. One of the most beneficial part of being a Pat Tillman scholar is your continued access to the network of former scholars, future scholars, and mentors.
Student Veterans of America (SVA): SVA is one of the most trusted resources for funding options and they even have a few scholarships of their own. Are interested in a STEM career (science, technology, engineering, math)? SVA in partnership with corporate sponsors offers $10,000 that you can apply for here.
This list is not comprehensive but rather a starting point. As a Navy pilot we used to jokingly say that the fuel at the end of the flight is far more important than the fuel at the beginning. The same can be said for money in college. Make sure your a planning for the full time commitment to get your degree. In summary, make sure you fill out your FAFSA then check in with your school veteran’s director and the SVA for vetted funding sources. You have options that extend beyond your G.I. Bill but they can be a little more difficult to find. Mentors are here to help support your academic journey.