How to Get Financial Aid for College as a Military Spouse or Dependent

If you are a military spouse or dependent planning to pursue higher education, you may be eligible for various forms of financial aid specific to military families. In addition to the traditional federal student aid options, military families have access to provisions under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

This article will explore the two primary forms of student aid available exclusively to military spouses and dependents: the Machine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship and the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA). We will also discuss other financial aid opportunities and the proposed student loan benefits for military families.

The Fry Scholarship: Honoring the Sacrifice

The Fry Scholarship is a remarkable student aid program available to the children and spouses of active-duty service members who died in the line of duty after September 11, 2001. This scholarship covers up to 36 months of educational expenses, including tuition and fees.

Key Features and Eligibility

  • Eligible recipients can receive an amount equal to 100 percent of in-state tuition and fees at a public institution of higher education.
  • Funds for tuition and fees are paid directly to the school, while up to $1,000 per year can be awarded directly to the student for books and supplies, along with a monthly housing allowance. The scholarship can be used for traditional higher education as well as apprenticeships, flight training, tutoring, and work-study.
  • Children become eligible for the Fry Scholarship on their 18th birthday or graduation from high school, whichever comes first. They remain eligible until their 33rd birthday, irrespective of marital status.
  • Spouses can utilize the benefit until the 15th anniversary of the death of the service member unless they remarry, which terminates eligibility.

Application Process

If you qualify for the Fry Scholarship, follow these steps to apply:

  1. Use the GI Bill Comparison Tool to determine if your educational program is eligible.
  2. Complete the Dependents Application for VA Education Benefits (VA Form 22-5490) and send it to the Regional Processing Office serving the state where you plan to attend school.
  3. If you have already started classes, you can still submit your application directly to the school, which can then submit the necessary enrollment certification forms to the Veterans Administration (VA) on your behalf.

The DEA Program: Expanding Educational Opportunities

The Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program (DEA) is another valuable form of student aid available to the sons, daughters, and spouses of veterans. This program aims to provide educational benefits to those affected by disabilities or the death of a service member.

Key Features and Eligibility

  • DEA benefits are paid directly to the student and cover various approved educational programs, including apprenticeships and on-the-job training.
  • The duration of benefits provided is up to 45 months in most cases and up to 81 months under certain circumstances, depending on the type of program enrolled in.
  • To qualify, sons and daughters must be between the ages of 18 and 26. They can be married or single but cannot be on active duty or dishonorably discharged. Military service can extend the eligibility period up until the 31st birthday.
  • For spouses, benefits are available for 10 years after becoming eligible or from the date of the veteran’s death. An exception is made for spouses of veterans who became disabled within three years of their discharge, granting them eligibility for 20 years from the date of disability. Spouses of service members who died on active duty are eligible for 20 years from the date of death.

Application Process

The process of applying for DEA benefits is the same as the application process for the Fry Scholarship. Follow the steps discussed earlier to apply.

Other Available Financial Aid

In addition to the Fry Scholarship and DEA benefits, there are several other financial aid options available to military families. Consider exploring the following:

Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant

This grant is specifically designed for students whose parent or guardian died as a result of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan after September 11, 2001. To qualify, you must have been less than 24 years old or enrolled at least part-time in an educational program at the time of the parent’s death. The maximum benefit is equal to the maximum award under the Pell Grant.

Federal Pell Grant

If you do not meet the requirements for the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant but qualify for a Pell Grant, your Expected Family Contribution (EFC) is set at zero. This increases your eligibility for the maximum Pell Grant amount and potentially enhances your eligibility for other forms of student aid.

State Veteran Benefits

Several states offer additional benefits for the dependents and spouses of service members. Visit your state’s veteran service office or website for more details on the specific benefits available.

Proposed Student Loan Benefits

The Department of Defense, in collaboration with the Department of Education and Veterans Affairs, has proposed student loan benefits for military families. This benefit exempts members of the military from paying interest on certain student loans for up to 60 months while serving or having served in an area that qualifies them to receive hostile fire or imminent danger pay.

Qualifying for the Student Loan Benefit

To determine your eligibility for this benefit, follow these guidelines:

  1. Log in to “My Federal Student Aid” to check your loan type and servicer.
  2. Contact your loan servicer to inquire about the required forms of proof, which can include a leave and earnings statement showing receipt of hostile fire or imminent danger pay, a certifying official statement and signature, or military orders showing service in a hostile area.

Also check out: Best Financial Aid Options for Veterans and Their Families

Financial Aid Options for Veterans and Their Families: A Comprehensive Guide


As a military spouse or dependent, it’s crucial to explore the financial aid options available to support your educational journey. The Fry Scholarship and DEA program provide substantial assistance to those impacted by the sacrifices made by service members. Additionally, consider other financial aid opportunities such as the Iraq and Afghanistan Service Grant, Federal Pell Grant, and state-specific benefits.

Stay informed about proposed student loan benefits for military families as well. These avenues of support recognize and honor the contributions of military families in service to the country and help pave the way for a brighter educational future.

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