What's the Best Way to Use the G.I. Bill? Cont'd

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Several more readers tackle the question:

I dispute your reader’s characterization of community college as necessarily squandering one’s GI Bill. I served in the USAF during the Vietnam era and started college at the community level. I felt intimidated by the thought of going to university, and anyway, there wasn’t one in convenient proximity. I got my first 40 credits at Mohawk Valley Community College in Utica, New York, then transferred all those credits to the state university level and completed my undergraduate degree in under four years. Some of the alleged private training colleges have such bad records that they should not even be eligible for GI bill recipients.

Another reader takes the other side:

I have to second what the Marine wrote: don’t waste the ridiculously generous post-9/11 GI bill on low-ROI “schools” or programs. I cringe when I see billboards around town for various training programs that tout their acceptance of the GI Bill.  Reminds me of the exorbitant student loans racked up by students at some of these awful, for-profit schools, or of old land swindlers from centuries past. “Same as it ever was ...”

As for me, I will not be using my post-9/11GI Bill on myself (though I often have daydreamed about using it to enter Siebel Institute of Technology’s master brewer program, which, using my GI Bill, I could do); rather, I have transferred my benefits to my children.

Essentially, I can pay for an entire (public) university education for one child, or I can pay half for each of my children … and this includes housing assistance and a stipend for books each semester. I can hardly believe I can do this. It’s such a generous benefit, I cannot imagine it lasting.

More details on that transferability here. Another vet’s experience:

When I was on the GI Bill, first, I went to a miserable for-profit online college for approximately six months. That short experience accounted for 80 percent of my college loan debt.

Then I transferred to a large in-state public university, where I received the rest of my Bachelor’s degree with no debt, and with an education that is actually worth something.

Another reader mentioned trade skills for military members who are on active duty.  I agree that many of the military schools we attend should have better accreditation to transfer these skills to civilian life. Some of the military schools are accredited, but many are not.

One more reader expresses thanks:

After two years of college, working part time to support myself, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I did an enlistment in the Army. I was a peacetime medic in the mid ‘80s.

When I was on a rotation in Panama with an engineering company, I got to do a little microbiology, and from that I found out what I wanted to do. The Montgomery GI Bill allowed me to finish up undergrad and get into a great graduate program in food safety. I was subsequently a microbiologist in the research arm of the USDA studying a variety of really interesting topics, including projects on Listeria in ready-to-eat meat products and on the global spread of antibiotic resistant Salmonella. I am now a research microbiologist and team leader with DuPont Molecular Diagnostics, a division of DuPont that makes PCR test kits for the food industry.

I will always be grateful for my time in the Army, and for the GI Bill that put me on a path to a great career and a great life.

My dad is an infantry vet of Vietnam, and after he retired as a lieutenant colonel in the Army, he maxed out his Montgomery GI Bill benefits on two degrees—a BA and an MA—in education, which he used to teach at middle- and high schools in inner city Kansas City. And as it happens, the friend I’m eating at Chipotle with right now (yes, I’m being rude) used the post-9/11 Bill for her undergrad degree at George Washington University—a notoriously pricey school, but one that also has the Yellow Ribbon Program, which paid for the remainder of her tuition after the GI Bill was exhausted. She nearly paid nothing—her first semester fell under the old GI Bill, so she had to take out a small loan—and she even racked up credits toward a half a master’s.

Eleven years out of school, I’m still paying off undergrad loans from one of those “awful, for-profit schools,” as the reader put it.