5 Ways to Find College Scholarships for Military Families

military scholarships

There are 5 million U.S. military family members, according to the Department of Defense. That amount includes 2 million children.

If you count yourself in this group, you can also count on financial aid for college. Whether you’re a parent considering going back to school, or a teen on your way to college for the first time, there are military scholarships tied to your family member’s service.

They’re all around. You just have to know where to look.

5 sources of military scholarships for dependents

You can Google “military scholarships.” You can also use scholarship tools to find free money for college. That might lead you to search engines like Scholarships.com or Military.com.

That’s not a bad way to go. But you can save time and energy by going directly to the source. Here are five sources for military scholarships.

1. The federal government

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) should be your first stop. Use the VA’s GI Bill comparison tool to see what sorts of educational benefits you qualify for at certain schools.

Even if you’re already enrolled in school, you might be eligible for multiple military scholarships or benefits programs. Here are the most wide-ranging among them:

If you need help navigating your options, visit your regional VA office.

There are also grants for military children via the Department of Education. If your parent died while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, you could be eligible to receive a Pell Grant.

If you do not qualify for a Pell Grant based on your Estimated Family Contribution (EFC), you could instead apply for an Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant of equal value. For the 2017-2018 academic year, that grant amounts to $5,920.

You could maintain access to these grants by filling out the FAFSA each year you’re in school. Remember, these grants are like scholarships in that they don’t need to be repaid.

2. Your family’s military branch

There are many foundations dedicated to supporting members of all five branches of the armed services. Be sure to ask your branch about organizations it recommends. You’ll likely be pointed toward the following:

Some of these organizations just list military scholarships. Others offer relief in the form of grants and interest-free loans. Always prioritize applying for aid that doesn’t need to be repaid.

The offerings of the foundation that’s most applicable to your situation could vary. For example, the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation has awarded $110 million in scholarships since 1962. The Army Emergency Relief organization handed out $61 million (including $8.6 million in scholarships) in 2016 alone.

Like other scholarships, the opportunities listed on these websites often have specific requirements. Your eligibility for awards could depend on your family member’s status in the military, disability or death, and your age.

3. Charitable foundations for children and spouses

No matter what branch of the military your loved one served in, you have a wealth of other charitable foundations at your disposal. The Department of Education recommends these four longstanding organizations:

  1. The American Legion
  2. AMVETS
  3. Paralyzed Veterans of America
  4. Veterans of Foreign Wars

But that just scratches the surface. There are many organizations, including ThanksUSA, that specialize in supporting the educational goals of military spouses and children. You can zero in on the right foundation by looking at those that specialize even further.

After all, the more closely you align with the audience a foundation is trying to serve, the more likely you’ll score one of its scholarships.

For example, sons and daughters of a deceased parent should review scholarships for military children, such as from the Fallen Heroes’ Children’s Education Fund and Fallen Patriots. If your military parent is alive, you might instead apply to the Fisher House Foundation, The Military Officers Association of America, and Folds of Honor.

Similarly, husbands and wives of military members should seek out charitable organizations that specifically aim to help them. The National Military Family Association, for example, only offers military spouse scholarships. As you scan through these opportunities, be aware of their eligibility guidelines. You might not qualify if you remarried, for example.

4. Your state government

Just as the federal government offers gift aid, your state might also have military scholarships and grant programs to help you attend (or return to) school.

To learn about the programs available to you, find the website for your state’s department of higher education and your state’s office of veteran affairs. You might have to troubleshoot from there.

If you’re a surviving child of a servicemember in New York, for example, the Division of Veterans Affairs website offers resources in its Military Corner. There, you’ll find information about two scholarships for military children:

If you aren’t able to find military family aid details on your state government’s websites, call the listed phone number for more information. Explain your situation so they can direct you to the best resources for aid.

5. Your school

If you’re enrolled in school, don’t forget to foster a relationship with its financial aid office.

Explaining your circumstances — such as a widow seeking military spouse scholarships — will encourage the campus representatives to help you.

If you got the service bug from your family member, you might learn about worthwhile scholarships for dedicated volunteers.

Even if the school itself doesn’t offer scholarships and grants for the spouses and children of military members, it likely has a resource page that can point you in the right direction.

At Florida State University, for example, its Student Veterans Center focuses on providing information about gift aid for service members. But it also lists off military scholarships for dependents. This way, you might find out about a prestigious, national scholarship program like the one offered by the Pat Tillman Foundation.

Applying for military spouse scholarships and scholarships for military children

Applying for military scholarships and grants is much like trying to win gift aid in general. You meet certain eligibility requirements, provide application materials by a set deadline, and await the response.

The difference is that you’ll already be given the benefit of the doubt. Governments, schools, and charitable organizations focusing on military families have a sense of what you’re going through. They want to send help, but you’ll have to take the first step of asking for it.

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