For some people, the path from high school to career is straight and easy to navigate. You do as well as possible in high school, apply to colleges, choose a major, and spend a few years earning your degree.

After graduation, you find a job. Other young people choose to take a different path, though, first joining the military to gain life experience, serve their country, and gain access to the educational benefits provided to veterans. If you are a veteran, this quick resource guide can help you determine which ongoing educational opportunities are available to you and how you can use your benefits to pay for them.

Universities and Trade Schools

Veterans who want to go back to school must decide between attending a university or going to a technical college or trade school. Receiving an education from a university provides a wider range of degree options and may open up more job opportunities, but it also takes at least four years to complete a university program.

Some veterans prefer to enter the workforce as soon as possible, which is why many opt for a technical college or trade school. Programs in these educational facilities focus on skilled labor and other practical professions, such as computer technology, automotive mechanics, and electrical work. They typically take about two years to complete, and graduates often make more money right out of school than those who attended a four-year program.

Education and Career Counseling

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provides several excellent resources, including free educational and career counseling services. Eligible participants include those leaving active duty within six months, those who left active duty within the last 12 months, qualify under another VA program, or already currently receive education benefits from the VA.

Those who use the service sit down with a counselor to discuss which civilian or military jobs they may be interested in and how to find the right training program for the desired job. Counselors can also provide assistance with academic adjustment for those who need help transitioning back to a classroom environment successfully. The VA website provides an easy-to-fill-out application for veterans who wish to see if this service is available to them.

Understanding the GI Bill

The GI Bill has been providing veterans with tuition assistance for college, graduate school, and various other training programs since 1944. In addition to the original bill, several other forms of it exist as well. The second most common, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, provides assistance for those who served active duty after September 10, 2001. There are also two versions of the Montgomery GI Bill. Active Duty is for people who served on active duty for at least two years, while Selected Reserve assists people who served as a member in the Reserves or the National Guard.

Each version of the GI Bill has its own eligibility requirements, although each one does require you to either still be enlisted in the reserves or to have been honorably discharged. Some recipients of the GI Bill are eligible for other assistance as well. Schools that belong to the Yellow Ribbon Program may have assistance for costs not covered by GI, for example. You can also receive assistance from tutors and opt into programs such as the Tuition Assistance Top-Up or the $600 Buy-Up Program.

Additional Education Benefits

Outside of the GI Bill, Veterans Affairs provides two more programs that may help you complete your educational goals. The Veterans’ Educational Assistance Program (VEAP) provides a $2-to-$1 match for educational assistance. This is available for people who entered the service between January 1, 1977, and June 30, 1985, who put money into a VEAP account before April 1, 1987, and who finished their first period of service without receiving a dishonorable discharge. Members of the Air Force must meet additional requirements.

The final option is the National Call to Service Program, an alternative to the Montgomery GI Bill for those who performed a period of national service. Those who are eligible can choose between a $5,000 cash bonus, repayment of qualifying student loans up to $18,000, or two types of educational assistance with equal value to the MGIB.

Continued education gives you access to better job opportunities, higher salaries, and more confidence in yourself and your abilities. Consider your passions and skillsets to determine which opportunities might be right for you and how Veterans Affairs can best help you reach your goals.

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