Military Service

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If you are ineligible for a grant and don't relish the idea of borrowing to pay for college, other financial-assistance options exist to pay for college. These options include military and community service.

Here are four major types of military-service options:

  • Military academies. Attendance at one of the nation's military academies is an all-expenses-paid college education. (Provided you make it through the rigors of life as a cadet or plebe.) When you graduate as a commissioned officer or ensign, you serve a minimum number of years of active duty. (It should come as no surprise that a high percentage of academy graduates aspire to lifelong military careers.)

    The four national military academies are the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York (U.S. Army); U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland; U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.

    Admittance to all of the military academies is very competitive. The major academies enroll about 1,200 applicants each year. The Coast Guard academy enrolls about 260 applicants.

    Applicants to military academies are often motivated more by a desire for public service than for financial assistance. However, attending a national military academy is probably the most comprehensive financial-assistance package available among the military-service options.

  • ROTC programs. Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) programs are available at hundreds of state colleges and universities. ROTC programs often include a number of fully funded scholarships for four years. Sometimes, scholarships are for fewer than four years. A ROTC scholarship pays tuition, fees, books and a tax-free monthly stipend to offset living expenses.

    In exchange for a ROTC scholarship, you must complete a minimum military obligation after graduation as a commissioned officer. For more information, see the Web sites of Army ROTC, Navy ROTC, and Air Force ROTC.

  • Tuition assistance and some student-loan forgiveness. As an enlistment incentive, National Guard and U.S. Armed Forces Reserve units offer tuition assistance for state colleges and universities. A loan repayment program may also be available as an additional incentive to active duty military members who have certain military specialties. For more information, see the college loan repayment program section of the Web site of the U.S. Army.
  • G.I. Bill benefits. The G.I. Bill helped to pay for college for hundreds of thousands of veterans returning from World War 2 and to pave the way to acquiring civilian job skills. The Montgomery or the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill, as they are currently called, provides tuition costs and a housing allowance or a fixed monthly payment to eligible veteran to attend college after leaving the military. For more information on the G.I. Bill and other education benefits for veterans, see the education benefits programs at the Web site of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Financial assistance may also be available for members of the Armed Forces currently serving on active duty. The Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges (SOC) is a consortium of colleges and universities that help active-duty sailors, soldiers and airmen earn a college degree.

In addition to military service, other federal programs offer financial assistance to help you pay for college in exchange for working in public service for one to two years. These programs include the Peace Corps and its sibling, AmeriCorps, which focuses on volunteer programs in the U.S.

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