During a recent conversation with my financial aid advisor, I was reminded was once again of how lucky I am to be at a school that is so accommodating to students with military benefits. I am currently in the unbelievably exciting process of planning a semester abroad, and after going to an info session, meeting with a study abroad advisor, and spending hours sifting through the many programs Rochester has to offer, it was time to get in touch with financial aid about funding my trip.
For the average student planning to study abroad, their financial aid package stays relatively consistent, maybe shifting slightly in proportion to the costs of their particular program. If they need help covering the remaining costs, there is a wide variety of scholarships and grants available, making studying abroad feasible to anyone willing to put in a little effort. But what was the deal for me? The vast majority of my tuition and fees are covered by military benefits, transferred to me from my father. Would I still be eligible for these benefits if I were to attend school somewhere other than Rochester? The moment I considered the possibility that I would not, I began to panic. Studying abroad is something I’ve looked forward to my entire life—the thing I was (and continue to be) most excited for in terms of my college experience. What on earth would I do if my plan for paying for it fell apart??
Thankfully, I didn’t have to panic long. As soon as I sat down in my financial aid advisor’s office, he quieted my fears with the simple, magnificent statement: “All your benefits transfer.” My sense of relief was immense. But as he explained to me that Rochester’s study abroad system (which allows direct application of financial aid and transcript-viable grades for over 75 University-sponsored programs) was set up the way it is precisely with students like me in mind, I quickly realized that I’d had nothing to be concerned about. Really, when it comes to Rochester and military affairs, I’ve never had anything to worry about.
Back in 2008, the Post-9/11 GI Bill was enacted allowing both veterans and active members of the military to transfer their education benefits to their immediate family members. These benefits include partial funding for four years of college tuition, a monthly housing allowance, and an annual books and supplies stipend. Along with the new bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program was established to allow universities the chance to enhance these benefits. For any university willing to commit supplementary aid beyond what the bill guarantees, the US Department of Veterans Affairs will match the dollar amount of the school’s aid with their own additional funding. For my dad, a Commissioned Corps Officer of the US Public Health Service with two kids rapidly approaching their college years, these new provisions and programs could not be more exciting. Not only would his education benefits no longer go to waste, but there was a possibility that if I (the elder child) picked the right university, my schooling would virtually be paid for, leaving our college savings for the sole use of my younger brother. Fortunately for all of us, Rochester turned out to be just such a university and by an unbelievable stroke of luck, it also turned out to be my dream school in every other way.
Only a certain number of schools take part in the Yellow Ribbon Program, and among this group many have set caps on how many of their students can participate in the program as well as how much money they are willing to award them. Rochester, however, has placed no limits on either student participation or maximum awarded aid. What this means for me is that in addition to having one semester a year paid for by my dad’s GI Bill benefits, my second semester of tuition is also paid in full thanks to the Yellow Ribbon Program—Rochester covers half and the remainder is supplied by the VA’s matching commitment. So while we still have to pay for what my room and board stipend doesn’t cover, the vast majority of my college fees have been relieved.
But such generous participation in the Yellow Ribbon Program is not the end-all-be-all of Rochester’s commitment to supporting veterans and military families. Just this month, they opened a new Veteran and Military Services Office within the Office of Admissions dedicated to serving just this demographic. This office, staffed by full-time VA certified officials, is designed not only to help incoming students navigate the Yellow Ribbon Program, but continues to connect them with a variety of related services throughout their college careers. The Veterans Alliance organization serves a similar purpose, working to provide a support network for veterans on campus since the group’s inception last year.
So whether it comes to financing education (either for the long term or a trip abroad) or addressing the many unique needs of the military community, Rochester provides veterans and military family members with every resource they need to succeed. While my recent encounter with financial aid and the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday have certainly caused an upsurge in my appreciation of this fact, it’s really something I’m thankful for all year round and will continue to be for many years to come.