Continuing education for dependents: Why not start now?

Mark Carter, 509th Force Support Squadron education specialist, stands in front of his office July 30, 2015, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. Carter not only provides valuable counsel to Airmen, but also to spouses interested in beginning the process of applying to college. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith/Released)

Mark Carter, 509th Force Support Squadron education specialist, stands in front of his office July 30, 2015, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. Carter not only provides valuable counsel to Airmen, but also to spouses interested in beginning the process of applying to college. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith/Released)

An array of resources with information on scholarships and other educational information are available to service members and their families at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. With hundreds of scholarships and grants available, dependents can speak to counselors at the Airman and Family Readiness Center or the Professional Development Center on how to go to school at little to no cost to themselves. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith/Released)

An array of resources with information on scholarships and other educational information are available to service members and their families at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. With hundreds of scholarships and grants available, dependents can speak to counselors at the Airman and Family Readiness Center or the Professional Development Center on how to go to school at little to no cost to themselves. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith/Released)

Jeannie Harrington, State Fair Community College administrative assistant, counsels Airman 1st Class Heather De Leon Ventura, 509th Maintenance Group administrator, July 30, 2015, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. After speaking with an education specialist, a service member or dependent can check out the schools available at the Professional Development Center for information on the admission process or counseling on classes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith/Released)

Jeannie Harrington, State Fair Community College administrative assistant, counsels Airman 1st Class Heather De Leon Ventura, 509th Maintenance Group administrator, July 30, 2015, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. After speaking with an education specialist, a service member or dependent can check out the schools available at the Professional Development Center for information on the admission process or counseling on classes. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jazmin Smith/Released)

WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Tuition Assistance, the Montgomery GI Bill for Active Duty and Veterans, Post-9/11 GI Bill and the Community College of the Air Force: Dependents of service members have all become familiar with these terms.

When joining the Air Force, recruiters preach the educational benefits to the incoming recruits, but what about the educational aid available to their spouses?

Multiple resources, counselors and programs designed to help spouses seeking more information on educational benefits are offered at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri.

Whiteman's Airman and Family Readiness Center (AFRC) and the Professional Development Center (PDC) are excellent places to find counselors and education specialists willing to point dependents in the right direction.

"We have many resources available that we direct members and their families towards," said Mark Carter, 509th Force Support Squadron education specialist. "We will also give them one-on-one advisement of available free funds from various donors."

There is an incredible amount of funding for school out there waiting to be claimed. Some may be obtained by simply writing a story or filling out an application whereas other means may be more challenging.

The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts, General Henry H. Arnold Education Grant Program and hundreds of other private scholarships and grants: These are the benefits many spouses overlook when it comes time to continue their education.

"There are millions of dollars of scholarship money available," said Carter. "Scholarships are the easiest forms of financial aid to obtain. Literally, 'your efforts will put money in your pockets'.

"It is best to fill out as many scholarship applications as possible; all one needs to do is write an essay that reflects the 'unique you'," added Carter. "The essay should consist of 250 to 500 words, then fill out the application accordingly and mail it back to the donor. We also suggest consulting with the school to fill out institutional and programmatic scholarships, as well as searching the internet for need-based and merit-based external scholarships."

Not all forms of funding for education are based on merit, though. There are also the unusual scholarships, tasking participants with something quirky, or the scholarships catering to certain aspects of people's life, whether it is their financial situation, interests, gender, race and so on. With this in mind, there is something out there for everyone that doesn't have to necessarily be found through the military.

Education specialists provide advice on applications, information on eligibility for the numerous resources offering free money, as well as things to be wary of such as websites that charge for using their site as an aid to fill out the FAFSA application online.

When speaking with a specialist, they can find out from a counseling session many applications for which to apply based on eligibility. From there, they can continue to advise the student on how to be proactive about their education, get the most out of their benefits and help them avoid certain loans as much as possible. For example, many dependents qualify for the Pell Grant after filling out the FAFSA, as they are in a single-income home or have children. 

"FAFSA is a free application that helps to determine your eligibility for federal aid," said Carter. "That aid can be in the form of loans, grants and work study programs."

Oftentimes, when trying to sort out the finances of education, people resort to loans. Although sometimes a necessary evil, it doesn't always have to be. With some research and perhaps speaking with an advisor, dependents can get on track to going to school without the financial burden.

For more information, contact the PDC at 660-687-5750 or visit the AFRC.