‘Tis the season for military spouses to shop around for scholarships.
Education, especially the type that leads to gainful employment, is important for military spouses. But it’s not cheap.
Some spouses may benefit from the transfer of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits from their significant other, but that program’s rules may change and some military couples may choose to pass those benefits onto their children.
Other options are available, including some geared specifically to help those in the military community. Over the last few years, more tools and resources have been developed to help spouses find these scholarships.
Many of these programs have application windows; now is the time to check them out, determine your eligibility and find out what you have to do to apply.
A great place to start is the Scholarships for Service search tool, developed by the Fisher House Foundation. The tool asks you a few questions and conducts an extensive search of thousands of scholarships available specifically for applicants with a military affiliation.
By clicking on the box that identifies you as a military spouse, you’ll see results for a variety of scholarships, ranging from those associated with veterans organizations such as the American Legion; local and national spouse clubs; military affiliations of various types, such as the Chief Petty Officer Scholarship Fund; and many more.
The Defense Department’s Spouse Education and Career Opportunities program offers the SECO Scholarship Finder, and you can find more DoD-backed resources here, including details on professional education consultants who can provide guidance on financial aid, scholarships, tutoring and other information.
WHAT’S OUT THERE
In addition to the offerings found via the searches above and the programs listed below, spouses should check with their school for available scholarships, including some that are available to those with a military affiliation. Some of these programs also offer scholarships to military children.
The dollar amount for each scholarship varies by group, and sometimes even within a given scholarship program. Some are based on financial need. Applicants shouldn’t put their educational eggs in one basket: Landing scholarships from numerous sources may allow students to cobble together financial aid that covers much of their college expenses.
Some programs to keep in mind:
1. DoD’s My Career Advancement Account tuition assistance program.
- What: MyCAA provides up to $4,000 in tuition assistance (with an annual cap of $2,000) to help military spouses pursue licenses, certificates, certifications or associate degrees required for employment in high-demand portable career fields and occupations.
- For who: Spouses of active-duty service members in paygrades E-1 to E-5; W-1 and W-2, and O-1 and O-2, including spouses of members of the Guard and Reserve in those same paygrades. The credential and associate degree must be obtained from a MyCAA scholarship-approved accredited college, university or technical school in the U.S.
- What else: After a spouse has created an education and training plan and received MyCAA scholarship approval, they can request financial assistance on a course-by-course basis no earlier than 60 days before the start of the course.
2. NMFA’s Scholarships and Career Funds program.
- What: The National Military Family Association program awards an average of $500 for career funding and $1,000 for degrees. Spouses are also eligible for funding to build their own businesses, generally $1,000. In addition, up to $2,500 is available for clinical supervision toward licensure in the mental health field.
- For who: Any spouse with a valid military ID is eligible, but head here for more specifics and application details.
- What else: The nonprofit organization partners with certain schools to offer scholarships and discounts for military spouses.
3. Military relief societies.
- What: These programs include scholarships as well as interest-free loans.
- For who: Eligibility is determined by each agency.
- What else: The Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is accepting applications here through May 1. Programs at the Air Force Aid Society and Army Emergency Relief begin in early January.
4. ThanksUSA scholarships.
- What: This nonprofit provides $3,000 scholarships based on a number of criteria, including financial need.
- For who: All military spouses are eligible (as are dependents under age 24), but they must meet certain academic criteria.
- What else: Applications are accepted from April 1 through May 15. Since 2006 ThanksUSA has provided more than 4,200 scholarships valued at more than $13 million.
MORE PATHS TO FIND AID
Local spouse clubs may be limited in the number and dollar amounts of scholarships they provide, but every bit helps.
One random example of spouse scholarships is the program of the Vandenberg Spouses’ Club; this group has awarded between $1,000 and $2,500 to scholarship recipients with ties to the Air Force base in California. Along with spouses of active-duty military members stationed at the base, spouses of retired or deceased members are eligible if the applicant lives in Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo counties. Application packets must be postmarked no later than March 19.
These are just a few examples of the many scholarships out there: Use search tools and Military OneSource education consultants to drill down for more sources.
Often, scholarship money goes unused because of lack of applicants. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a scholarship. But if you don’t apply for it, it’s guaranteed you won’t.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.