Yellow Ribbon Program: Yellow Ribbon Program Explained

Brad R.

The transition to civilian life after military service opens a brand-new chapter full of possibilities. Regardless of whether you are pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree, it’s important to know your options for reducing out-of-pocket education expenses. One option is the Yellow Ribbon Program, a form of aid when your educational costs exceed your Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits.

What is the Yellow Ribbon Program?

The Yellow Ribbon Program can help you pay for higher out-of-state, private school, foreign school, or graduate school tuition and fees that the Post-9/11 GI Bill doesn’t cover. The program allows colleges, universities, and other degree-granting schools in the U.S. to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs to fund tuition and fee expenses that exceed the tuition and fee amounts payable under the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill covers the entire cost of in-state public school tuition, fees, and housing assistance, plus a stipend for books and supplies for qualified Veterans over a 36-month period, a normal pace to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree.

But what if you have other ideas about pursuing a college education? You may opt to move across state lines and then go to school. Or perhaps a private school may offer the best program option in your field. You may be enticed by a great opportunity to attend a university overseas. The government will still pay your educational benefits in these cases, but only at the rate, they would have to pay an in-state public school, putting a crimp in your budget.

The solution? The Yellow Ribbon Program.

How does the Yellow Ribbon Program work?

The Post-9/11 GI Bill pays all in-state tuition and fee charges at public schools, along with tuition and fees not to exceed a national cap at private schools. The Yellow Ribbon Program provides additional funds to help cover unmet costs for out-of-state students and students attending more expensive private schools. The program allows participating universities to sign up to accept a certain number of GI Bill students. For anything that school charges over and above the top rate offered by the GI Bill itself, the school agrees to kick in a certain amount of funds to help cover it. The government will then match that amount, effectively doubling it. And that’s enough to keep many Veterans from paying out-of-pocket to attend the school of their choice.

What Does the Yellow Ribbon Program Cover?

It’s important to understand exactly what is and isn’t covered by Yellow Ribbon Program benefits. For starters, look at your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, which cover different aspects of your college experience: tuition and fees, books and supplies, housing, and relocation expenses. Any or all of these expenses may differ between a public university in your state and a participating Yellow Ribbon school. Because the Yellow Ribbon Program only assists with tuition and fee payments, nothing else, you may be looking at out-of-pocket expenses for books, housing, and other costs of attendance.

For many colleges with Yellow Ribbon Program coverage, their contribution plus the VA match will take care of tuition charges that exceed the base GI Bill rate. But that’s not a requirement. Some schools put a lid on their annual maximum contributions. So, it’s still possible that you will end up owing some money for tuition even after taking advantage of Yellow Ribbon payments. But the good news is most schools pay the entire difference between full tuition and your Veteran benefits.

Keep in mind your Yellow Ribbon funding is adjusted to account for other scholarships and financial aid you receive. Participating colleges and universities may also set different levels of funding depending on your degree level. Doctoral studies candidates, for instance, might receive a higher rate than those studying for a bachelor’s degree.

And different schools within the college might receive different funding. For example, the medical school may pull in more funding than the business school. Although it’s not common, some colleges may restrict the program to only one school or degree path. It’s more common to find universities that only offer Yellow Ribbon benefits to either graduate or undergraduate studies.

Kristian E.

Eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program

Now comes the important question: Are you eligible for Yellow Ribbon Program benefits? You may be eligible for this program if you meet the following requirements.

You must qualify for the Post-9/11 GI Bill at the 100% benefit level, and at least one of these must be true:

  • You served at least 36 months on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service) and were honorably discharged, or
  • You received a Purple Heart on or after September 11, 2001, and were honorably discharged after any amount of service, or
  • You served at least 30 continuous days (all at once, without a break) on or after September 11, 2001, and were discharged or released from active duty for a service-connected disability, or
  • You’re an active-duty servicemember who has served at least 36 months on active duty (either all at once or with breaks in service), or
  • You’re a spouse using the transferred benefits of an active-duty servicemember who has served at least 36 months on active duty, or
  • You’re a dependent child using benefits transferred by a Veteran, or
  • You’re a Fry Scholar
A Positive Service Record

To access any VA benefits, you must have an honorable discharge demonstrating your positive service record. However, the VA recognizes that unique circumstances, such as mental health issues, may have contributed to your dismissal from the Armed Forces. If you believe you should qualify for VA benefits, consider applying for a discharge upgrade to restore your eligibility for educational funding.

Yellow Ribbon School Participation

Yellow Ribbon Program eligibility also depends on where you plan to complete your education. The VA provides an updated list of Yellow Ribbon schools each academic year.

The VA has agreements with participating schools that may limit the grant amount or how many students can receive supplemental funding each year. So, make sure you discuss your educational needs with a financial aid counselor.

How to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program

Follow these steps to learn how you can apply for this benefit.

Secure your Certificate of Eligibility (COE)

Your first step is always to apply for your Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits. Once you’re approved, you can obtain a certificate of eligibility (COE) that provides a statement of your available education benefits, as well as the portion you’ve already used, by submitting a benefits claim or requesting a new copy. You can do this by visiting your VA account online or contacting the Education Call Center at 888-442-4551. This is a process that can take a month or more.

Provide your school’s financial aid office your COE

Many colleges will require you to submit a COE as proof of eligibility for the Yellow Ribbon Program to help determine how much additional funding is necessary to cover your qualifying expenses. Make sure you file your COE with your school’s financial aid office to establish your eligibility for any military-specific programs.

Inform your intent to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program

Inform your financial aid counselor that you intend to apply for the Yellow Ribbon Program. If your school limits funding or enrollment capacity, it’s crucial to get your application in early to avoid missing the cutoff. You also need your institution to certify your enrollment with the VA. Getting this done sooner rather than later ensures you’ll be able to secure all the necessary funding and start classes within your desired timeframe.

The school will inform you if you’re accepted for the Yellow Ribbon Program

The school will inform you if you are accepted for Yellow Ribbon, and then tell you what the decision is on your benefit level. You can decide at that point if you plan to proceed or not. Like the Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, Yellow Ribbon Program payments are made directly to the school. So, once you are accepted, you don’t have to do anything else. As long as you remain enrolled at the school and are making progress in your program, and as long as you continue to meet eligibility requirements for the Post-9/11 GI Bill, you’ll automatically continue in Yellow Ribbon.

Crystal G.

NU is a proud participant of the Yellow Ribbon Program

National University is a proud participant of the Yellow Ribbon Program that aids eligible military Veterans, active service members, and their families in pursuit of higher education to better their lives.

National University is committed to Veterans and active servicemembers who want to further their education and has aid options that can help you make the transition from a military to civilian career that much easier. The Post-9/11 GI Bill has significantly improved education benefits for Veterans who want to enter and succeed in the civilian workforce. With the addition of the Yellow Ribbon Program, you can further reduce or even eliminate the financial burden of higher education.


To apply, first ensure you’re eligible for Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits. Then, research participating institutions and programs, and submit your application to the chosen school.

No, not all schools participate. Schools voluntarily enter into an agreement with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer the program.

The VA and participating institutions share the cost of tuition and fees not covered by the Post-9/11 GI Bill®. The institution contributes a specific amount, and the VA matches it.

Yes, you can use the Yellow Ribbon Program benefits in conjunction with other financial aid, such as scholarships, grants, or loans, as long as it doesn’t exceed the total cost of tuition and fees.

Yes, if you’re eligible to transfer your Post-9/11 GI Bill® benefits to a dependent, the Yellow Ribbon Program benefits can also be transferred.

If you change schools or degree programs, you’ll need to reapply for the Yellow Ribbon Program at the new institution, provided they participate in the program.