Getting a Certificate of Eligibility for VA educational benefits is the first step in using the GI Bill.
The Department of Veterans Affairs educational programs are a huge thing for military members. Being able to transfer the Post 9/11 GI Bill makes it an even bigger benefit. While it’s great, it can also be intimidating and overwhelming.
This article assumes that benefits were transferred according to the required rules. This includes when the benefits can be transferred, and the completion of any service obligation. If you don’t know about this, the VA website is a good place to learn more.
Certificates of eligibility are applied for by the student, not the parent who transferred the benefits. Applications require that the student create a login to access the VA system, using their own information. They will also need to know information about the person who transferred the benefits.
However, if the child is under the age of 18 and has not yet graduated from high school, then the parent applies on behalf of the student. Isn’t THAT confusing?
If you want some help with your college financial strategy, including making the most of your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, hire me to help. You can schedule a free 30-minute call to discuss your family’s specific concerns by using this link to my Calendly schedule.
Use The VA GI Bill Website
Go to the VA’s How to apply for the GI Bill and related benefits page and click on the green “Find your education benefits form” button.
That will open a series of questions on the same webpage. Answer each question as it is presented.
Once you have finished answering the questions, click the green Apply Now button. It will take you to a page that starts like this:
Click on the blue button that says “Sign in to start your application.” A new window will pop-up (you may need to disabled any pop-up blockers.) It will look like this:
You’ll have to either establish one of these forms of login, or figure out what your password is, or reset your password if it has expired. You may need your military ID, so have that handy. Depending on what credentials you already have established, the authentication process may include a soft credit pull to verify your identity.
Fill Out the Certificate of Eligibility Application
Once you’ve successfully logged in, the page will now look like this:
Click on the green “Start the education application” button. If you’re logged in, you will get a pre-filled page. If you’re not logged in, you will need to enter information. It will start like this:
The application has five parts, but several parts have more than one page. If you are not already logged in, you will need your sponsor’s information and the bank account you want to use for payments.
Pro tip: Many parents open up a separate bank account for GI Bill benefits, with the child’s name and their name on the account. The monthly housing allowance and book allowance will be deposited into the designated account. Having a separate account for this can simplify bookkeeping. They may or may not tell their child about this account. Who am I to judge?
Once you complete the application, you will receive a confirmation page that looks like this:
The VA usually reviews applications in around 30 days. Then, they’ll send you a Certificate of Eligibility by regular US mail. If they have questions, or your application is denied, that will also happen by regular US mail.
If you are overseas or in a hurry, you can submit a request via AskVA and get them to send you the CoE via email.
When To Apply for the COE
When you want to apply for the COE depends on several factors. You may want to apply earlier if the student is competing for limited Yellow Ribbon spots, or if the school needs it for another reason. In other situations, you don’t need to apply until mid-summer, to get it back before that first bill is due at the end of July or beginning of August.
On the flip side, there’s no reason to wait. Getting a Certificate of Eligibility does not obligate you to use benefits, and no information is sent to schools. So if you want to knock this step out early, go right ahead!
Every situation is different.
Don’t forget, if you need to apply for the COE before the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, the parent applies on the child’s behalf.
What To Do With The Certificate of Eligibility
Once you receive your Certificate of Eligibility, make a copy and then give it to the VA Certifying Official at your school. The Certifying Official usually works in the Financial Aid Office, or the Financial Aid Office will know where to find them. The Certifying Official will help you through the next steps.
The process to apply for a Certificate of Eligibility isn’t terribly hard, and will take less than 1/2 an hour if you have login credentials already established. Plan for a longer time if you need to set up those credentials. It’s the first step to using those GI Bill benefits, and it does take time to get the paperwork back, so go ahead and do it now!
More places to learn about the GI Bill and paying for college: