6 Top Tips to Maximize Post 9/11 GI Bill Benefits

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Are there some tips I can use to maximize my Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits? -- Ellen A.

Good question! There are several scholarship, grants and loans that can provide extra money for your education, but if you are using the GI Bill and use the wrong funding sources, many of them can reduce the amount you receive from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Not only is using some of these funds counterproductive, it is not the best way to maximize your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits.

Instead, consider using these tried and true tips on how to reduce your education costs while at the same time not reducing your GI Bill benefits:

1. Attend a community college for one or two years. Community college tuition costs can be substantially lower than most four-year colleges and universities. At the end of your community college experience, you can transfer to a four-year school to continue your studies.

2. Commute to college. While it is many college students’ dream to live away from home, it can be expensive doing so. If you are within a reasonable commuting distance, living at home while in school can save you as much as $6,000 per year, plus you still get the same amount of GI Bill housing allowance, even if your servicemember sponsor is still serving. If you can’t realistically live at home and commute everyday, look at doing most of your education through an online college where you don't have to commute as much. Take just one class per semester that pertains to your degree plan on-campus with the rest of your classes online, and you can still get the full housing allowance.

3. Use the DANTES Program. Find out if your school accepts College-Level Examination Program (CLEP), DANTES Subject Standardized Tests (DSST) and Excelsior College Examinations (ECE) credits. If so, arrange to take the tests applicable to you. By passing these tests, you can get the college credits but you don’t have to pay for the courses. This leaves more entitlement on your GI Bill for other courses you do have to pay for.

4. Convert Your Military Experience into Credits. The American Council on Education (ACE) evaluates all military courses and Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) and breaks them down into applicable college credits. By having your training and military jobs converted into credits, you can save entitlement by not having to take classes in the awarded subject areas. Be sure your school accepts prior military experience credits.

5. Be a Resident Advisor. Most residential colleges and universities hire resident advisors either per dorm or per floor depending on the size of the housing facility. In exchange for keeping the peace and handling residents’ problems, resident advisors can get either reduced room and board costs or in some cases free room and board.

6. Buy Used Books. You don’t need brand new books. Not only do they cost up to twice as much as used ones, you don’t get much in return when you sell them back to your school. Another trend catching on is to either buy or rent books from online book sellers such as Amazon.com. You can get either a hard copy or digital copy and read it on your computer or mobile device. If you buy a hard copy, you can sell it back to Amazon in exchange for a gift card that you can use to purchase more books. By either buying used or digital from Amazon, you can stretch your book stipend so less comes out of your pocket for book costs.

Using these six tips doesn't reduce your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits and some tips can even save you entitlement. Leftover entitlement allows you to start working on an advanced degree at some point in the future.

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