Being the spouse of an active-duty or reserve military member is no easy task. From the long deployments, to the risks encountered in trainings stateside, it takes strong spouses to support our military members. Oftentimes the constant moving makes it difficult to acheive solid career progress, and a lack of formal education serves to make it even harder. Luckily, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) and specific military branches offer free education benefits to military spouses to propel their education journey.
Military spouses can qualify for the fry scholarship covering full in-state tuition, and or DEA assistance paying up to $26,000+ annually. In total, there are over 8+ programs offering everything from tuition assistance, to certifications and licesnses, to interest free loans. While surviving spouses and those married to disabled veterans receive the most financial assistance, the majority of military spouses will qualify for at least one educational program.
Military Spouse Education Benefits: Earn Your Degree!
Table of Contents
Determining What Benefits You Qualify For
There are tons of available educational programs at a military spouse’s disposal. However, discovering these programs can be quite an undertaking. The hope is that this post will help you find the best program to assist you along your journey towards a degree.
Generally speaking, the military education benefits are eligible for will be determined by the following factors:
- The branch and rank of your spouse
- When your spouse served
- Whether your spouse died in the line of duty
- Whether your spouse sustainted injuries/disabilites related to their military service
Since there are over 8+ programs set up by both individual branches and the VA as a whole, I have made a flowchart to help determine the best benefit you are eligible for.
PLEASE NOTE: While I aim to update this regularly, there is always a chance something in the flowchart may be off. These program eligibility requirements and benefits are subject to change at any time, and as such, there is a chance the flowchart may incorrectly say you are/are not qualified. While this is a helpful tool to discover educational benefits you may not have realized you qualified for, the only way to know your true eligibility is to call the official VA number: 888-442-455, open Monday through Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET.
Flowchart for Military Spouses
The flowchart below will help you determine which education benefits you are eligible for. First, begin by answering the question, “Are you a surviving spouse?” then follow the yes or no questions until you arrive at the highest financial assistance you qualify for.
After finding the relevant program for you, either click the program name from the table of contents, or simply scroll down the page further to learn more about the types of benefits you will receive, and how to apply for them.
The Fry Scholarship, getting its name from Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry, is available for spouses of certain Veterans. This scholarship is essentially a modified version of the Post-9/11 GI Bill offered to servicemembers and veterans, and will typically offer the greatest educational benefit for those who qualify. It’s worth noting that you can still get dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) payments while using the Fry Scholarship, however, remarrying will disqualify you for the Fry Scholarship.
- Surviving spouse of a member of the Armed Forces who died in the line of duty (regardless of active duty status) on or after September 11, 2001, OR
- Surviving spouse of a member of the Selected Reserve who died from a service-connected disability on or after September 11, 2001.
- Money for tuition (full in-state tuition costs at public schools )
- Money for tuition up to $22,805.34 per year for training at private/out-of-state schools
- Money for housing, books, and supplies
Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA)
The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program exists for spouses of a Veteran/Service member who has died, is captured, missing, or has disabilities. If you are eligible you may be able to get help paying for school or job training through the DEA program—also called Chapter 35. These benefits begin on either the day you are qualified or the date of the Veterans’ death, lasting for 10 years (20 years if active duty). These educational benefits will not interfere with your DIC payments.
*Please note: If you qualify for both the Fry Scholarship and the DEA program, you may only choose one program, and that choice will be permanent. Make sure to double-check which program will help you most*
- Must have been married to a service member who is permanently and totally disabled due to a service connected disability, OR
- Died while on active duty, or as a result of a service-connected disability, OR
- Is missing in action (MIA), or was captured in the line of duty by a hostile force, OR
- Was forcibly detained (held) or interned in the line of duty by a foreign entity, OR
- Is in the hospital or getting outpatient treatment for a service-connected permanent and total disability, and is likely to be discharged for that disability.
Recipients will receive a monthly payment to help cover the cost of one of the following programs:
- College/Gradute degree programs
- Career-training certificate courses
- Educational and career counseling
- On-the-job training
Similar to the Post-9/11 GI Bill, 100% of tuition and fees for public schools in-state will be covered, and up to $26,042 will be covered annually for private/Foreign schools.
My Career Advancement Account Scholarship Program
The My Career Advancement Account Scholarship is a workforce development program that provides financial assistance to eligible military spouses for the pursuit or maintenance (including continuing education courses) of a license, certification, or associate’s degree necessary to gain employment in an occupation or career field.
Be a spouse of an active-duty servicemember in one of the following pay grades:
- E-1 to E-5, OR
- W-1 to W-2, OR
- O-1 to O-2
- Maximum tuition benefit of $4,000 (annual fiscal year cap of $2,000)
- Available for license, certification, or associate’s degree (bacherlor’s degree not included)
The ThanksUSA scholarship can provide need-based college, technical, and vocational school scholarships to serve as pathways to employment for military spouses.
- Be a spouse of an active-duty, discharged, or retired U.S. military personnel who served at least 180 days after September 11th, 2001, or was killed/wounded, AND
- Have at least a 2.00 cumulative grade point average (GPA) on a 4.00 scale or its equivalent on their relevant academic record (e.g. high school for incoming freshmen or post-secondary school record for those already enrolled in a college, vocational, or trade school program.)
- Up to $3,000 in scholarship money if accepted
- Scholarship money can be used for undergraduate course of study
- Scholarship money can also be used towards non-degree licensure and certification programs, even if an undergraduate degree has already been completed
National Military Family Association (NMFA) Scholarships
The National Military Family Association provides scholarships that can assist spouses in paying for degree programs (from GED’s to PhD’s), professional licenses, supervised clinical hours, business and entrepreneurial expenses, and more.
- Spouses of a post 9/11 service member that is an active duty servicemember, retiree (including medically retired), 100% disabled, Guadsman, Reservist, or a fallsen service member
- NMFA spouse scholarships are one-time/year awards averaging between $500 – $2500.
- The amount can depend on our donors and your educational or professional need. The average amount awarded is $1000.
Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Supplemental Grant Program (CGMA)
The Coast Guard Mutual Assistance Supplemental Grant Program (CGM) provides essential financial aid to active duty, reserve, and civilian employees that support the Coast Guard. In 2020 alone, 1 in 5 active duty service members received assistance, with 63% of all assistance going to individuals in pay grades E-6/GS-7 and below.
- CGMA client/family member, AND
- Enrolled in an undergraduate, postgraduate degree program, or a vocational/technical training approved by the VA or Department of education, OR
- Seeking a General Equivalency Diploma (GED)
- $500 grant money annually
- Reimsural for fees/books/studyguides/supplies (tuition not included)
Army Emergency Relief (AER) Spouse Education Assistance Program
The Army Emergency Relief (AER) Spouse Education Assistance Program offers the Mrs. Patty Shinseki Spouse Scholarship for spouses pursuing an undergraduate degree or professional certification who may receive assistance for up to four academic years of full-time study or eight academic years of part-time study. Spouses may apply year-round (no deadlines) and must re-apply every year.
- Spouses of Soldiers that are either Active Duty/Deceased Active/Retired/Deceased Retired/Medically Retired, AND
- Applicants must be listed as dependents of their Soldier Sponsor in DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System), AND
- Must be pursuing their first undergraduate degree (possible exceptions may be made for Spouse Scholarship Applicants)
- Funds are sent directly to school
- Funds may be used for tuition, fees, books, and supplies
Navy-Marine Corp Relief Society Education Assistance Program
The Society’s Education Assistance Program offers interest-free loans and grants for undergraduate or master’s degrees at an accredited 2- or 4-year post-secondary, or technical/vocational institutions in the United States. This financial assistance is available for spouses of active duty and retired Sailors and Marines.
- Spouse of an active duty or retired Sailor or Marine, AND
- Registered in DEERS (Defense Eligibility Enrollment Reporting System), AND
- Enrolled and registered as a full-time student for the entire year (Aug-May) at the same institution and pursuing an undergraduate or master’s degree at an accredited post-secondary/technical/vocation institution located in the US, AND
- Able to demonstrate financial need.
- Interest-free loans and grants that range from $500-$3,000 per academic year.
- Funds are to be used only for tuition, books, fees, room, and board.
- Funds are provided to the student’s academic institution, not the student.
Federal and State Financial Aid (FAFSA)
If you only qualified for FAFSA and no other military education programs, you aren’t at a total loss.
While anyone can apply for this benefit (not just military spouses), they are still a great way to make getting an education more affordable. In all, the federal government provides upwards of $150 billion per year in educational aid to college students. The aid comes in several forms:
- Pell Grants
- Subsidized Stafford Loans
- Supplemental Educational Oppurtunity Grants
- Federal Work/Study Programs
If interested, visit Federal Student Aid to find out more, or complete an online application for FAFSA for free!