How To Pay for College: Four Alternative Ways to Make It Happen

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With the costs of education continuing to rise, finding ways to pay for it seem impossibly linked to debt, but for those who are willing to sacrifice their time, options do exist. The US Military is famous for their benefits ranging from education to recreation. Not everyone is cut out for the military. It can be a demanding lifestyle and in fact, one that may demand your life. Many people aren't comfortable with that idea. Luckily for those that are looking to serve others in a different way, the Peace Corps operates worldwide. It's not always a picnic. They often work in areas of extreme poverty and in difficult climates. In either case, you're almost ensured of creating experiences that 99% of our citizens will never have. During my time with the US Navy I visited countries throughout the world and while my friends back home were celebrating college football wins with fraternity parties and sorority formals, I was getting my walking stick stamped at the top of Mount Fuji, scuba diving the Mariana Trench off Guam, and exploring the Northern Territory of Darwin, Australia in true Crocodile Dundee fashion. In fact most of the people I went to boot camp with cited the education benefits as their biggest reason for enlisting. 

ROTC

For those who have already been admitted to college and would like assistance, the Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC) can provide thousands in tuition or living assistance while enrolled. There cadet is obligated to assume a commission as an officer in either the Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard upon completion of their education. In order to qualify, the student must also participate in both basic and advanced military training in addition to their undergraduate studies. 

The Montgomery GI Bill 

The Montgomery GI Bill is available through all four branches of the armed services and can afford the volunteer up to $51,000 in education costs. These funds can be used at any level of formal education, including technical and trade schools. The funding lasts over 36 academic months. The fund doesn't pay its monthly stipend during the months when the student is not actively enrolled and attending school. This money also does not preclude the recipient from receiving the Pell Grant and Stafford Loans. 

To qualify, one must complete at least two full years of active duty service, have completed high school or an equivalency exam, and have contributed $100 per month for 12 months while on active duty to the program. 

The College Fund

As a supplement to the Montgomery GI Bill, servicemembers can opt to increase their benefits by enrolling in the GI Bill Kicker, commonly known as The College Fund. This supplement can increase your monthly benefit by up to $950.  As a student, you could be eligible for as much as $2,366 per month in military benefits to pay for living costs, tuition, books and materials. 

Having used these two programs myself, I can personally attest to the program and its effectiveness. My benefits were paid with minimal amounts of paperwork and were always timely. 

The Peace Corps

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One of the biggest challenges I hear from people is funding a Master's Degree. Far fewer options are available, even for loans. The Peace Corps qualifies the volunteer for the PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness) program and offers up to three years of deferment. Upon completion of your contracted time with the Corps you may be eligible for scholarships and stipends toward your Masters through the Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program. The education benefit vary from school to school.  As you research Peace Corps education benefits among the schools, you'll find large tuition discounts, scholarships, and more.