8 Ways Veterans Can Cut Their Child’s College Costs

As college costs continue to rise, funding what could be a substantial education expense remains a common concern for many parents. And although there are several great ways to save for your child’s education, from 529 plans to Coverdell accounts, the best way to reduce the overall financial burden of higher education is to cut the college bill. In addition to Federal student aid, there are more than a few ways the financially savvy veteran can cut their child’s college costs.

1. Transfer Your GI Bill

The most comprehensive education benefit you could provide your child is, of course, the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Most veterans are very familiar with this benefit and the fact that you can transfer it to your spouse or dependent children, so I won’t cover the basics. However, the major drawback is that you must have transferred your benefits while on active duty, as once you leave active duty, it’s too late to make the transfer (select reservist may be eligible).

2. VA’s Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) Program

Although not as robust as the GI Bill, the VA’s Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance (DEA) program or Chapter 35 offers monthly payments for education and training to eligible veteran dependents. The current monthly benefit for full-time attendance is $1,265, and benefits can be received for up to 36 months.

To be eligible, the student must be the dependent of a veteran who (1) died or is totally disabled due to a service-connected disability, (2) died while on active duty, or (3) was declared missing in action or captured in the line of duty. Additionally, dependent children must use their benefits between the ages of 18 and 26 (some exceptions exist). You can read more about the DEA program here.

3. State Tuition Waivers

Some states offer tuition waivers for state public schools. For example, California offers the College Fee Waiver for Veteran Dependents, which waives the tuition and fees at any State of California Community College, California State University, or University of California campus for dependents of disabled veterans. This program covers tuition and student service fees; it does not cover campus-based fees, books, parking, or room and board. Similarly, Texas offers a tuition exemption for eligible veteran dependents. You can read more about the CalVet Tuition Waiver here.

4. Get Early College Credit

Have your child enroll in Advanced Placement (AP) classes when in high school. Advanced Placement classes can count as college credits, and every credit earned in high school is one less college course needed.

5. Start at Community College

Considering the substantially lower fees at community colleges, it’s no surprise that many students opt for completing their first year or two there. And since many universities have agreements with local community colleges that guarantee admission if the minimum grade point average is earned, having your child attend community college before transferring to a four-year institution is a great way to cut costs.

6. Attend An In-State School

While deciding which school to attend is not an easy decision, attending a public in-state college remains an effective way to reduce college costs. In addition to the tuition savings, attending an in-state school often means lower transportation and living expenses.

7. Part-Time Work

Working part-time while in college can help your child pay for personal expenses, supplement the college savings fund, and give them valuable work experience. Additionally, many schools offer financial perks for work-study positions, such as Resident Advisors (RA).

8. Scholarships

Lastly, the tried-and-true way to chip away at the tuition bill – scholarships. Have your child start their search early and apply every year they are in school. Also, be sure to check for scholarships for veteran dependents, such as the Purple Heart Scholarship, AMVETS Scholarships, and the Mg James Ursano Scholarship Program.

Final Thoughts

Whether your kiddos are still young or getting ready to ship off to college, utilizing the costs cutting methods discussed can be a valuable part of your college funding plan. Since planning for your child’s education can be complicated, ideally, you’ll start early to ensure you can utilize every tool at your disposal. If you do not feel confident in creating a college funding plan on your own, or if you would like an expert opinion, you should consult with a qualified financial planner.


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Author: Jose Armenta, MsBA, CFP®, ChFC®, EA

Jose Armenta is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional who specializes in helping federal employees get the most out of their federal benefits. Jose's experience serving federal employees provides him with valuable insight into the unique financial planning needs of federal employees.