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Need help paying for college? If you’ve served in the military, the Yellow Ribbon Program could be your answer to securing additional funds for education-related expenses. To help you understand the basics of the program, we’re breaking down who qualifies, how to find participating schools, and how to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program.

What is the Yellow Ribbon Program?

If you’re a veteran, you may already know that the Post-9/11 GI Bill provides financial assistance for education. But what happens if the cost of your tuition exceeds the maximum benefit rate? This is where the Yellow Ribbon Program comes in. 

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “The Yellow Ribbon Program can help you pay for higher out-of-state, private school, or graduate school tuition that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover.” If you qualify, your school of choice will step in and help pay for your tuition, books, living expenses, and other fees by way of scholarship or grant. The VA will then match the amount given, and issue payments directly to your school. 

Eligibility requirements

There are certain requirements both the student and the school must meet in order to be eligible for the program. Here’s a breakdown of the eligibility criteria sourced from the Department of Veteran Affairs website:

For the student

You must qualify for the maximum benefit rate under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

To qualify, at least one of these must be true. You:

  • Served at least 36 months on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service), or
  • Received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged after any amount of service, or
  • Received or are receiving the Fry Scholarship on or after August 1, 2018, or
  • Served for at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break) on or after September 11, 2001, and were discharged after 60 days with a service-connected disability, or
  • Are a dependent child using benefits transferred by a Veteran or a service member who has served for at least 36 months on active duty and qualifies at the 100% level

For the institution

All of these must be true. Your school:

  • Offers the Yellow Ribbon Program, and
  • Hasn’t offered the Yellow Ribbon benefit to more than the maximum number of students in their agreement with the VA, and
  • Has certified your enrollment with the VA and provided Yellow Ribbon Program information

How to find participating schools

There are two ways to find out if your school participates in the Yellow Ribbon Program. First, the GI Bill Comparison Tool allows you to search and compare education programs. This includes schools, employers with on-the-job training, and Veteran Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) providers. The search results allow you to compare estimated benefits and lists eligible veteran programs like the Yellow Ribbon Program. The second way is to search for your school by location in the List of Yellow Ribbon Schools on the Department of Veteran Affairs website.

Be aware that just because your school participates in the program, it doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the benefits. It’s up to the school to determine the awarded amounts for undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students. If you apply after the allotted amount for your program has been awarded to other students, you may be out of luck. 

How to Apply

Follow these steps to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program:

  1. Submit a Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit application. If you qualify, the VA will issue you a Certificate of Eligibility (COE).
  2. Use the COE to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program at your college or university. They will evaluate your application and notify you of their decision. 

The Yellow Ribbon Program can be a great source of additional funds to help cover the costs of returning to school. But while you’re researching schools that participate, keep in mind the amount of money you may receive is preset by the school and the VA, which may not cover all of your expenses. 

Looking for additional sources of financial aid? Check out Peterson’s scholarship search engine. Or shorten your time to degree with CLEP or DSST exams.