You, just like many others are questioning, “does the military pay for college?” Or if you’re considering being a part-time soldier, “does the Air Force Reserve pay for college?”

Yes absolutely, the Air Force will in fact pay for college. It is a big deciding factor as to why many airmen join the Air Force.

However, just having the GI Bill isn’t always sufficient enough. The Post 911 GI Bill does cover up to 36 months of your education. Though if you are like me, it isn’t always enough to complete your degree from start to finish. So to get a jump start, begin using the other military education benefits you receive while in the service, like Air Force tuition assistance. Plus, you can speed up the process by taking CLEP tests or DSST exams in addition to college classes.

Why You Should Avoid Using The GI Bill While In The Military

You can use your Post 911 GI Bill while still in the Air Force, but you’d be crazy to do so. For one, you don’t receive 100% of the benefits right off the bat. You’d have to serve 36 months before receiving the full benefits. Anything under that is based on a percentage scale. Just to receive 50% expect to have served a total of 6 months not including the time spent at BMT and tech school.

And two, if you are active duty, you wouldn’t receive the additional housing allowance the Post 911 GI Bill offers because the military is already providing you with housing. Whether that be by physically housing you on base or providing you with additional money already for housing. So using the GI Bill while in the Air Force you’d simply be losing benefits you could have used later on after the service.

The Post 911 GI Bill payout for the housing allowance is based on E-5 with dependents pay. What that means is you’d receive the same housing stipend as a Staff Sergeant with a family. Even if you leave the military with a lower rank. That could be the difference of hundreds of dollars.

While in the Air Force it’s also possible to transfer the Post 911 Bill to your dependents, like your children or spouse. Doing so does require an additional 6-year enlistment, so expect to have at least 10 years put into the Air Force in order to transfer benefits. Though within that time you can use Air Force tuition assistance to complete a degree while providing your dependents an education as well.

There is no upside to using the Post 911 GI Bill before your time in the Air Force is over. Instead, stick to using Air Force Tuition Assistance while in the military. Nearly every airman in the Air Force going to school uses it.

Air force Tuition Assistance

One way the military pays for college is through Air Force tuition assistance. Available to all eligible airmen, the Air Force currently provides 100% paid tuition up to $4,500 per year towards college classes. Paying up to $250 per semester hour credit or $166 per quarter hour credit.

The military promotes self-improvement and as a result, in the Air Force, it essentially has become a requirement to pursue education. Being an enlisted airman, your EPR (enlisted performance report) will suffer if you don’t. Without attending school, your yearly EPR will have a subpar rating which makes you less likely to be retained in the Air Force when it comes time to reenlist. So school is important even when it comes to the military.

Using Air Force tuition assistance, if you’re active duty, you’ll typically attend a local college near your Air Force base. Sometimes classes are even offered on base. Online classes are also an option, American Military University is a popular choice for many airmen. Making it easy for classes to be taken stateside, overseas, or even on deployment.

I personally attended American Military University and its pretty nice having online classes made up largely of military members from different branches. Plus, my teacher was pretty understanding and lenient on due dates. Being military, sometimes there is base-wide exercise training taking place that lasts for days or any other number of reasons to prevents homework from being completed.

Some of the requirements for receiving Air Force tuition assistance are:

  • Your supervisor must approve your tuition assistance request. You may be denied if you are in upgrade training, on a temporary duty assignment during the course, moving to another Air Force base during the course, or for having too heavy of a course load that it impedes your Air Force job.
  • Must have passed your most recent physical fitness test and you can’t be overdue for one.
  • You must maintain a cumulative undergraduate GPA of 2.0 or higher at the undergraduate level after completing 15 semester hours. Air Force tuition assistance will no longer be granted until your GPA is raised.
  • If you are taking graduate-level courses, you must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher after completing 6 semester hours or its quarter equivalent.

It’s pretty favorable using Air Force tuition assistance to go to school. You can pursue more than one major within the same degree. Or, if you started a degree path but realized it wasn’t the best choice for you, you’re allowed one degree change if less than 50% of the total degree is complete. All of which is on the Air Forces dime.

However, you are expected to pass your classes. When taking an undergraduate class it’s best practice to not receive a D or below, and for taking graduate classes don’t receive a C or below. The Air Force maintains high standards and GPA requirements. If you receive these grades expect to personally pay out of pocket for the class.

With the out of pocket warning aside, using Air Force tuition assistance, it’s one of the great military education benefits to have. It helps so many airmen receive an advanced degree for free. Which can help inside and outside of a military career.

Air force Reserve Tuition Assistance

Being a part-time airman in the Reserve offers Air Force Reserve tuition assistance. Largely similar to the regular active duty Air Force program, it still offers up to $4,500 in college assistance a year. With the same credit hour payout of $250 per semester credit hour and $166 per quarter credit hour.

Some of the ways that the Air Force Reserve tuition assistance is different from its active-duty counterpart is:

  • After completing BMT sometimes there is a waiting period between going to tech school. While waiting, as a Reserve airman, you can begin using Air Force Reserve tuition assistance as long as it doesn’t interfere with tech school training.
  • The Reserve will only pay for your tuition cost. Any additional fees like lab fees, technology fees, or parking fees will not be paid for you.
  • To be eligible for assistance expect to be actively participating in “pay for points” and remain in good standing while attending classes.

So if you decided to join the Reserve, basically you’d be able to attend school paid by the Air Force, while still having a normal civilian life. Still receiving many of the perks you’d get being an active duty airman.

Military And College At The Same Time

Balancing the military and college at the same time can be challenging, but it absolutely can be done. The military provides the means for education even when time is limited, other credit achieving methods are available. Like taking CLEP tests or DSST exams.

These are simply timed tests of 100 to 200 questions, instead of attending a class for weeks at a time. If you pass the test, you receive college credit for being proficient in the subject matter. It’s a great way to earn college credit if you already have knowledge in a subject area. Military base libraries often have study guides to help prepare as well.

The CLEP test has 33 different subject areas to choose from and the DSST exams have dozens as well. The Air Force funds one CLEP test in each of the 33 subject areas, and your first attempt at each DSST exam. After that expect to pay $80 out of your own pocket to retake a test.

It’s a good idea to take as many subject tests as possible. Many airmen do it and you’d be surprised at the number of classes you can knock out and receive credit towards. Whether that be put towards elective credit or core classes needed for a CCAF degree (Community College of the Air Force), or other degree types.

When I was trying to do the military and college at the same times, these tests were a huge help. I was deployed overseas and still able to take exams and earn college credit. I passed two tests and received 6 credits all without stepping foot in a classroom. Another airman I deployed with took multiple tests and walked away with 20+ credits in a matter of weeks. He knew his stuff.

So whether you are deployed overseas or working long hours stateside, there are still ways to take classes or tests and receive credit.

To Wrap It Up

Joining the Air Force to pay for college is something many airmen do. You receive military education benefits, so use them. Take advantage of the Air Force tuition assistance if your going active duty, or use the Air Force Reserve tuition assistance if you’ll be a part-time airman.

Be sure to take any and all CLEP tests and DSST exams. It looks good on your EPR and can really push your degree completion ahead of schedule.

Corey Porter

Corey Porter

Air Force Veteran

Corey is an Air Force veteran and the lead writer at Basic to Blues. He refueled fighter jets as a young airman and deployed twice to the Middle East. Now Corey can be found hiking in the Pacific Northwest.

Who the hell… POL!

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