I’m thrilled to pull my favorite sections from my book Homeschooling for College Credit to share with you! Today’s excerpt is from Chapter 9: Completely Free Tuition. The entire chapter is dedicated to exploring the hundreds of free tuition options you may not know about!
There are 8 ways your teen can get free tuition:
1. Free tuition for everyone
2. Free tuition by geography
3. Free tuition by income
4. Free tuition for college employees
5. Free tuition for military service (this post)
6. Free tuition while studying abroad
7. Free tuition by occupation
8. Employer reimbursement programs
Q: What do I mean by free?
A: My definition of “free” means 100% free tuition. Every college scenario in this chapter meets that definition. You may have to pay in time or service, but you won’t pay cash.
Q: What about living expenses?
A: No matter where anyone lives, there are always living expenses, and living expenses aren’t free. Your living expenses are a variable beyond the scope of this book. However, a frugal student with a part-time job during the school year and full-time work during the summer can cover modest living expenses and graduate without student loan debt. There are a couple of programs here that provide a stipend for living expenses, but as a rule, those costs are on your own.
Q: What kind of tuition is free?
A: For this book, every option here results in a full degree; either an associate’s (2-year) or bachelor’s (4-year) degree.
Q: What about scholarships?
A: There are a handful of fantastic scholarships that help worthy students attend college. Most scholarships, however, are not fantastic. Most scholarships are nothing more than marketing tools or gimmicks budgeted into financial aid packages to entice enrollment. A student who accepts a $5000 scholarship to attend a school he can’t afford can end up deep in debt and will end up repaying their “scholarship” dozens of times over as loan interest. If your student is gifted or exceptional in some way, it is possible to receive a full-ride scholarship, and who can argue with that?
Q: Will you tell me how to go to (my college) for free?
A: Unfortunately, no. If your goal is free tuition, flexibility is your friend. Often colleges that are very popular don’t have to provide tuition incentives since most people are willing to attend at any cost. I would encourage you to go into the process with an open mind. There are thousands of good colleges to choose from.
Q: What about deaf or blind students?
A: Almost all public colleges and universities in the United States will waive tuition for students who are legally blind or deaf. If you live in Texas, it’s the law! If you are blind or deaf, be sure to investigate free tuition waivers in your state before chasing down scholarships or loans.
Q: What about a college’s rank?
A: College rank is how hyper-competitive research universities battle with each other for students, research grants, and public approval. Most well-read adults couldn’t generate a list of 200 colleges, because most colleges are unranked. With thousands of accredited colleges to choose from, I do not want my readers to assume I’m promoting a ranked college over an unranked one. At the time of my research, if a college was ranked by U.S. News and World Reports, I included that on their fact sheet, but merely as a point of interest.
Q: A lot of the colleges here are competitive, my teen is pretty average. What can he do?
A: As a rule of thumb, this chapter was written from hard to easy. The first section, Free Tuition for Everyone, is the most restrictive, and it goes down from there. As you progress past the first three sections, you’ll see that anyone can take advantage of those programs.
Free Tuition for Military Service
Unlike other sections in this chapter, you probably already know that “free tuition” is a common benefit in exchange for your service to our country, but the considerations and decisions about service are your own. In this section, we’ll simply look at the structure in which earning a tuition-free degree is possible.
It is important to remember that each branch of the military is set up a little differently, and each has a precise fitness, age, and admission criteria for different occupations. Be sure to investigate your teen’s eligibility early in the consideration process. This section should be used as a jumping-off point. You can delve into the finer details once you’ve settled on a branch, and taken your Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test (ASVAB). Your ASVAB test score, not personal preference, determines the jobs or Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) you’ll be eligible to train for. The training you receive, and the college credit that follows will be based on your MOS assignment.
Note: I use the term “soldier” to include all service members across all branches.
Official websites of our armed forces
(Notice that these are not dot com web addresses)
Air Force: http://www.af.mil
Air Force Reserves: http://www.afrc.af.mil
Army Reserves: http://www.usar.army.mil
Coast Guard: http://www.uscg.mil
Coast Guard Reserves: reserve.uscg.mil
Marine Corps: http://www.marines.mil
Marine Corps Reserves: http://www.marforres.marines.mil
Navy Reserves: http://www.navyreserve.navy.mil
Earning a degree in the military isn’t as straightforward as some other paths, simply because how and where you “start” determines some of the variables that you’ll encounter as you work toward your degree. Furthermore, each of these paths will take you to a degree, but some make better use of your benefits in the process. In this section, we’ll explore tuition-free degree opportunities for enlisted soldiers, aspiring officers, and veterans.
Terminology: enlisted soldiers are the military’s workforce, the officers manage the enlisted soldiers, and veterans are former soldiers or officers.
Enlisted Service Members
Enlisted service members make up the bulk of our military in every branch of the armed forces. Like civilian industries, enlisted soldiers can get promoted through hard work, time served, and by earning a college degree. Though promotions and college degrees are not always a soldier’s goal, the Department of Defense recognizes the value of higher education and has established a relationship with the American Council on Education (ACE) to make this path as painless as possible. While it’s not widely known, every service member has a transcript from the moment they enter boot camp. This transcript, called a Joint Services Transcript (JST), tracks every formal educational activity from day 1 to separation. College credit earned in high school through dual enrollment or by exam can be submitted to help a student get a head start. Boot Camp, for instance, is worth 4 college credits and is recorded on their JST. In addition, the military occupation during their service will also involve training, and in most cases, will be worth potential college credit. Many soldiers know they can use their occupational credit (frequently called ACE credit) toward a degree after separation from the service. Although you can earn a degree tuition-free that way, earning a degree during your service will squeeze thousands of dollars out of your education benefits. You may even have benefits left over to pursue a graduate degree, share with your spouse, or pass to your children.
Soldiers have access to Tuition Assistance, a benefit that pays 100% of undergraduate tuition up to $250 per semester hour ($166 per quarter hour) while on active duty. This benefit dissolves when the soldier separates from the service, and can’t be retained for future use. In other words, if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. An important aspect of Tuition Assistance is that it is completely separate from the soldier’s GI Bill benefit. Many colleges advertise “no out of pocket cost to soldiers” but what they don’t reveal is that they’ll require you to dip into your GI Bill, apply for scholarships, or seek out federal loans and grants. Resourceful planning allows you to seek a degree during service that uses only your Tuition Assistance and saves your GI Bill for later. All branches dictate a specific number of dollars or credits a soldier is entitled to use each year. To make up the deficiency of credit, the soldier can use a free credit by exam testing option called CLEP or DSST. These are multiple-choice college credit-awarding exams that any soldier can attempt. There is no limit to the number of exam credits a soldier can earn. Though it may have been difficult for enlisted soldiers to pursue a degree in the past, colleges now cater directly to our military through distance learning initiatives, the use of eTextbooks, and other methods that do not require a soldier to be in a physical location. The Department of Defense maintains a database of colleges that are approved to participate in Tuition Assistance. Currently, 2,708 colleges operating at over 12,000 locations are approved. It’s up to the soldier to choose, apply, and enroll in an approved degree program. As a civilian, you might not have access to an official list, but you can access an unofficial one at http://www.dodmou.com.
Aspiring Military Officers
For those aiming to become a commissioned officer, earning a degree is part of that process. There are four paths to becoming an officer that can be completed tuition-free.
1. Enlisted soldier completes his degree using Tuition Assistance while serving. Upon graduation, the soldier may apply to their branch’s officer training program (no cost).
2. Attend a Military Academy Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). Military Academy graduates enter the service as a commissioned officer with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in hand. Though the competition for admission is exceptionally competitive, all are tuition-free, cover living expenses, and provide a cash stipend to the student. ROTC is required as a component of the educational experience. See detailed information about each military academy earlier in this chapter under “Free Tuition for Everyone.”
3. Civilian ROTC. A civilian ROTC is a voluntary program that is housed in a civilian college. More than 1,100 ROTC programs exist at both community colleges and four-year colleges. ROTC students receive full-tuition scholarships. Most ROTC colleges also cover room, board, and a monthly cash stipend to the student. Your branch and enlistment preference (active or reserve), will determine your service obligation upon completion. See each branch’s current database of participating programs and criteria.
AIR FORCE, https://www.afrotc.com
MARINES, Use Navy ROTC program
U.S. COAST GUARD (Does not offer ROTC) See: College Student Pre-Commissioning Initiative
4. Health Professions Scholarships through the Army, Navy, and Air Force pay 100% of the student’s medical, dental, advanced practice nursing, optometry, pharmacy, veterinary, social worker, or physician assistant tuition. Since this program serves those seeking a graduate degree, candidates must already possess a bachelor’s degree.
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