by Bennett Leigh
These days, there really is no reason for a member of the military, including the National Guard and Reserve, to not get a college education — even if you are deployed while working towards your degree.
From the generous benefits of the Post-9/11 GI Bill to the tuition reimbursement and student load deferment programs in place, there are so many ways to earn your degree at little-to-no out-of-pocket cost.
Most overseas installations now have internet access— even the remote forward operating bases (FOBs) — and if you can swing the wild time zone changes, there are ways to keep up with your stateside classes.
First, before you leave, be sure to check in with your course instructor to let him/her know your situation. Most online class instructors will be fine with your odd schedule, but some may suggest that you defer your class until you return to a more predictable schedule. It’s better to find this out before you go, and make the necessary arrangements.
To be successful in completing coursework while deployed, you must be very organized, have access to working internet, and have access to a laptop or a computer to do your online work. Schedule time each day to commit to your coursework, and try to get assignments done early, to leave you some wiggle-room if a mission comes up unexpectedly.
But what if you attended college before joining the National Guard or the Reserves, and you are still chipping away at that student loan debt you incurred? The U.S. Department of Education has you covered.
If you took out your student loan (or other loans, for that matter) prior to your military service, your interest rate can be capped at 6% during periods of active duty, thanks to the Service members Civil Relief Act (SCRA).
Other options allow for you to defer your student loans for up to three years or even enjoy a 0% interest rate on your student loans for up to 60 months.
To qualify for 0% interest, you must show proof of your deployment to a hostile area. That proof could be a certifying official’s statement and signature, military orders showing you’re serving in a hostile area or an LES showing you’re receiving hostile or imminent danger pay.
To qualify for deferment, the service member must be serving on qualifying National Guard duty during a war, other military operation, or national emergency as declared by the President. The deferment applies only to certain types of loans, and there are other eligibility requirements, which you can find at https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/sites/default/files/military-student-loan-benefits.pdf. Also, if granted, the deferment lasts only for the duration of your qualifying military duty, up to a maximum of three years.
For deferment after you leave active duty status, you can complete a Post-Active Duty Student Deferment Request form.