Preparing for Reality – The Real Costs of Starting College

In the last blog, I talked about how much the GI Bill is worth, but in this post I want to talk about anticipating school costs. Lately I see more servicemembers getting out of the military one month, enrolling in school the following month, and a couple of months down the road, they encounter financial trouble and end up having to quit school. Why is this happening? There are three basic reasons:

  1. Incorrect estimates of how much school would cost
  2. Underestimations of how long it would take to start getting GI Bill benefits
  3. A lack of financial preparedness to “weather the storm” before the GI Bill started paying

Estimating College Costs

Determining how much it will cost to go to college should start way before your ETS date. You have to know how much it will cost you upfront so that you can have at least one semester’s worth of expenses saved up before you start school. The costs of the school you plan on attending and how much you can save each month determine when you should start your cost estimation. Starting out a year or two before you plan on getting out is not too early.

The first step, of course, is selecting your school. After that, go to their website and track down the estimated cost of attendance for full-time enrollment, which includes:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Housing and meals
  • Books and supplies
  • Transportation
  • Other educational costs

Now that you have a fair estimate of gross costs, you will want to figure out how much of these will be paid by your sources of financial aid, such as:

  • – Your GI Bill(s):
    • * Montgomery GI Bill – Active Duty
    • * Post 9/11 GI Bill and Yellow Ribbon Program
    • * REAP
    • * VEAP
    • * Montgomery GI Bill – Selected Reserves
  • – Federal Pell Grant
  • – Grants from your school
  • – Grants from your state
  • – Other scholarships you can realistically expect to get

What you have left to pay, if anything, is your net semester of yearly costs, depending on how your school lists their costs. You should have at least one semester’s worth saved up before you start school. Pay your costs from your fund until your other financial sources, namely your GI Bill, start paying. Then you can replenish your fund and be ready for the next semester.

Many veterans are not aware that it can take 8 to 10 weeks before they see any money from their GI Bill, so if they are not financially prepared for it, they can get into money trouble real quick. Don’t get caught with your financial pants down! Prepare now for your upcoming education costs later. In the next couple of posts, we’ll start comparing  GI Bills, so you can make a better informed decision as to which one may be the best one for you, if you are eligible for two or more GI Bills.


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