Army = $$$ for college (Straight Dope Req.)

Alright Teeming Millions, I am sure some of you have been in the army (which I use as a general term to mean the Army, Navy, Air Force or Marines). The advertisements talk about how joining the army will (or is that could) result in money to go to college. Well, a student of mine just graduated from high school. He wants to go to college but can’t afford it. He is thinking about joining the Army (literally the Army branch, in this case) to get the money to go to college. He has asked me (he beloved shihan :)) for advice and so I turn to you.

Who here can give me the Straight Dope on joining the army as a means to go to college?

“Glitch … Anything.” - Bob the Guardian

I think the G.I. Bill currently pays somewhere around $30,000 now - this is after 4 years of service. Please correct me if it has changed. Of course, you can also save a decent amount of money while in the army since you have a housing allowance in addition to your salary. Most people just drink this up, but you don’t have to.

A better option is to look into the ROTC program - you get some money for school (maybe not as much, but loans can cover the rest) spend your summers getting paid to do training, take some military classes and when you graduate you are a Second Lieutenant in the army reserve. I think you have to do 2 years as active (full time) reserve then you just do weekends and a couple weeks a year for another couple years. I don’t know the exact time requirements definetly he should talk with a recruiter or look at

The nice thing about ROTC is that if he likes the program he can end up making an extra few thousand for the rest of his life, and end up with a fairly decent retirement supplement. Rank progression is actually faster in the part-time reserves, so its not unrealistic to expect to get a part-time retirement on Colonel’s pay (if he is at least slightly more competent/harder working than average). This can be quite nice, I think perhaps $1000 a month before you get out of bed for the rest of your life, starting immediately after your 20 years (so he could start drawing at age 45 or so).

A good friend of mine did this, but I don’t know the exact details regarding service time, monetary amounts, etc.

My friend was in for 6 years, mainly stationed in Germany. When he was discharged, he was given a certain amount of money er month to be used for school related purposes. He had a certain amount of time he would be given this money, so he attended undergrad and grad school within the time limit. The money covered books, tuition, fees, etc but was also enough to have some left over.

Sorry I can’t be more accurate on info, but he seemed to think it was a pretty good deal.

Well, shut my mouth. It’s also illegal to put squirrels down your pants for the purposes of gambling.

A couple of our friends have done this, the “deal” changes so you need to see the army site and recruiter to find out what the current deal is.

Our friends had a ready made group of buddies in ROTC, emphasis on health, exercise and camping.

Be sure he finds out what happens if he leaves college for he will still have an obligation to repay the service - or what happens if his grades drop below ROTC standards.


I’ve known several people to go this route, and i can safely say…

Only do it if you’re already military inclined. It is NOT a quick easy way to get money. First, what your recruiter says, pay no attention, the drill sargeant won’t care what your recruiter offered. Second, you can’t change your mind, once your in, your in. Don’t get me wrong, military careers are absolutely legitamate careers, but i wouldn’t do it just to get school money.

tell him to work his way through college, that’s what me and most of my friends do. And besides, there are hundreds of scholarships and grants available if you apply yourself. maybe he’s the grandson of an alcholic elder that didn’t give him enought attention. (that’s a real scholarship, couldn’t make something like that up)

We live in an age that reads to much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

I do not know the monetary amounts, but I am fairly sure that it is the GI Bill that provides the money for college AFTER the service.

I would echo Cooper to do something like the ROTC. It is better to join the military after going to college than before. You can be a higher rank and make more and all. If you do the military first, it is harder to get anywhere.

Student loans might be better. Just my opinion.


Metroshane, please explain about the scholarship–I’m dying of curiosity :slight_smile:

I have it in a magazine at home, I’ll post it tomorrow.

We live in an age that reads to much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

Forget about ROTC, guys - the kid’s already graduated high school.

Why not just go straight to the horse’s mouth? Ask the Army what the deal is:

All the information is there to see. They have “cyber recuiters” you can chat with. Or have the kid pay a visit to his local recruiter - it’s not like they are keeping their locations a secret, is it? Why rely on anecdotal information?

Btw - an enlistee signs a contract with the Armed Forces, and his or her “drill sargeant” has nothing to do with or say about the benefits they receive.

Btw - an enlistee signs a contract with the Armed Forces, and his or her “drill sargeant” has nothing to do with or say about the benefits they receive

Hahahahahahahahah! Good one. my cousin has been in the navy for 4 years, never even seen a ship! My ex joined, everytime the drill sargent would do something that their not suppossed to, someone would speak up and they got the ‘ask your recruiter’ routine, along with a bunch of push ups.

We live in an age that reads to much to be wise, and thinks too much to be beautiful–Oscar Wilde

He has lots of facts about the amount of money and such. What he asked me was “Shihan, do you think I should sign up? Does it sound like a good deal to you?”.

Now, based on the facts, if you would enjoy being in the army it sounds like at least a pretty good deal (I agree with metroshane, IIRC, that if you aren’t militarily inclined this is a BAD idea), but the facts only talk with how it works on paper (and recruiters are likely to be at least a little biased). Personal experience speaks to how it works in practice.

Well Pataki has been advertising a new program here in NY state lately. Join the National Guard and the state will pay your tuition to one of the State Univ. of NY colleges or the equivalent to a private school. Don’t know if any other states are offering the same. With tuition paid and a part time job he might be able to get to college without a long-term commitment.

As someone who works in the field of Student Financial Aid. I can answer this pretty easily. The armed forces will pay you to go to school after you finish their service. I would not go that way. There are always ways to pay for your schooling. I would suggest that your student get into the best school that he/she is able and not worry about the cost. There are plenty of federal and state grants that will alleviate the initial high cost. He/She will also probably receive other types of free financial aid. You can suggest that he/she go to and The latter website is the most diverse scholarship search on the web. Even after your student gets out of college, there are ways to alleviate the burden of payment. Many school districts (especially in areas that serve primarily poor or ethnic students) will reimburse teachers/counselors/or any other type of worker in the district if the person agrees to stay for at least three years. There is also the Peace Corps which will pay back your entire student loans (I don’t believe there is an upper limit, but may be wrong). I know the initial high cost of private institutions often waylay the attempt of students to continue their education but this is not really an issue. I will send you some information from work to your address, Glitch.


Gasoline: As an accompaniement to cereal it made a refreshing change. Glen Baxter

I don’t know what you meant by this, Nickrz; perhaps you think that ROTC is a program for high school students, or that someone must participate in a high school ROTC program (also known as JROTC) in order to get into a college ROTC program. Irregardless, both assumptions are incorrect; the U.S. Army offers up to $64,000 in scholarships for those that commit to a 4 to 6 year post-college career in the military. For more information go to Army ROTC info


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

FTR, retirement pay from the National Guard or the Reserves in the United States does not commence immediately after retiring with 20 years service.

First, one has to accumulate what’s called “20 good retirement years.” Those are years in which the reservist or guardsman has accumulated a minimum number of points towards retirement. This is important as the amount of retirement pay is based on points for reservists and guardsmen.

Second, after retiring at 20 (or more) good retirement years, the reservist or guardsman doesn’t receive the payments AT ALL until he’s either 62 or 65 (can’t remember which).

As far as I can tell from the responses so far I am the only one who actually has direct experience with this question. For the record, I enlisted at 17, did my three years, and (eventually) used the benefits to pay for a majority of my bachelor’s degree. Also for the record, neither the Army nor its representatives (recruiters) lied to me. They did, however, represent the best case scenario whenever possible. Does this surprise anyone? Read the fine print. Know the difference between a written promise and a verbal description. This is good general advice, not restricted to military enlistment.

On to the OP. Definitely tell him not to enlist only for the college money. He will spend several miserable years and perhaps sidetrack his life terribly. However, I disagree with the advice “go to the best college he can and use loans to pay for it.” Scholarships and grants are wonderful. Loans can cripple a person who struggles in or immediately after school. I have seen it happen. I would similarly caution against seeing ROTC as a panacea. An ROTC scholarship serves the right purpose, but if he has already graduated then it is probably too late to receive one. Without a scholarship, ROTC stipends are hardly enough to offset the costs of college to any significant degree.

Basically, it all boils down to the individual. Enlisting was the right choice for me for a number of reasons. The college money was simply a very nice bonus. If your student approaches it the same way, I would advise him to go for it. If he would enlist only because of the money, tell him to find another way. (In that regard, DO NOT rely on college financiall aid advisors to discover scholarship opportunities. The ones I have seen do not have the time or resources to do a thorough job and will always default to student loans for as much as the student can bear. Do your own legwork. If you want an education–work for it.)

This ran longer than I had anticipated, but it is obviously an important decision for the student in question. If you wish, you may pass on my email address to him. I do not claim my experiences were representative, but I will share them with him if he wishes.

The best lack all conviction
The worst are full of passionate intensity.

I appreciate all the replies. I noticed I did make a mistake in the OP. He hasn’t graduated yet, but is graduating shortly (after this semester). I guess my brain was in second gear at the time. I think the big question I will pose to him is “Do you really want to be in the army?”. Again, my extreme thanks to the Teeming Millions.

My daughter in college told me that the ROTC is offering to pay tuition for one year whether you continue or not after that. Kind of a trial offer. Where she is that amounts to $20K or more! Tempting, but she was too busy with athletics.

This may be a new program in NY, but I took advantage of the Army National Guard benefits over 10 years ago in Louisiana. They paid my tuition for 4 years, gave me a monthly paycheck for drill weekends, plus a monthly G.I. Bill stipend, and paid back 85% of my student loans. Add a little extra $$$ for summer duty, and I did very well.

And as an added bonus, I am now a Veteran because of being activated for the Gulf War. So, I would echo those who suggest not joining the military just for benefits. If you don’t want to fight, don’t sign up.

What college?

UCSD= $22,000 year
harvard= $50,000 year

$30,000 wont buy much.