What Happens If You Drop A Class Using The GI Bill

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You're going to college, studying hard and enjoying the benefit of your GI Bill money, then a problem arises -- you have to drop a class. What happens: will you lose all your GI Bill money, will nothing happen?

To understand what happens if you drop a class look at it this way: Uncle Sam is paying you money to go to school and take classes, if you don't show up for classes he's going to come to you looking for that money. If you remember anything from your military service, you remember that the government will get any money owed to them, and they will get it pretty fast.

So, with this in mind how can you drop that class you are failing and not end up owing money to the VA?

The VA understands that sometimes you may have to drop a class. In fact, they even forgive your first withdrawal.

Whatever the case, if you do drop a class you should notify your school's Veterans Certifying Official as soon as possible for help. But let's explain the basics.

Training Time Is Important

Your GI Bill payments and Monthly Housing Allowance (MHA) are based on your training time. 

This is how the VA determines training time at a traditional college (operated on a semester or quarter basis):

Number of Credit Hours VA Training Time
12 or more Full Time
9 - 11 3/4 Time
6 - 8 1/2 Time
5 or less Less Than 1/2 Time

If your withdrawal moves you from one group to another you may have an overpayment with the VA that you must repay. If your withdrawal results in no training time change you can stop reading here, no problems.

Withdrawal During The School's Drop/Add Period

If you withdraw during the school's drop/add period (generally the first 30 days of a term), and dropping a class changes your training time, the VA will reduce your training time and any make the pay adjustment effective on the date of your withdrawal. This may or may not result in an overpayment.

Withdrawal After The School's Drop/Add Period

If you withdraw after the school's drop/add period the VA will reduce your training time on the beginning date of the term. This will usually result in an overpayment which can be quite large.

For example: You are using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, get $1,500 a month housing allowance as a full-time student, and your classes cost $300 per credit hour.

Three months into the term you drop 2 classes. This will change your training time from full-time to 1/2 time.

Under the Post-9/11 GI Bill you aren't entitled to the housing allowance as a 1/2 time student so you will owe the VA three months worth of housing allowance @ $1,500/month = $4,500

You will also owe the school six credit hours of tuition @ $300/credit hour = $1,800

Your total bill will be $6,300. Not cheap!

A Special Deal From the VA -- The Six Credit Hour Exclusion

The VA realizes that sometimes you need to drop a class and for this reason they have something called "the six credit hour exclusion". Basically, your first withdrawal (up to six credit hours) is excused. The VA will adjust your training time on the date of withdrawal, not all the way back to the start of the term. This can only be used once, and you can't combine two 3 hour withdrawals to game the system. If you drop 3 hours and get the exclusion it is gone forever.

Mitigating Circumstances

Big word there - "mitigating" - what does it mean? Well you could just google it like you do most of your homework, but we will explain it here for you. The VA realizes that sometimes stuff happens that is beyond your control and causes you to miss classes or drop them totally. The VA calls these things "mitigating circumstances", in fact they list several on their website:

  • An illness or injury afflicting the student during the enrollment period.
  • An illness or death in the student’s immediate family.
  • An unavoidable change in the student’s conditions of employment.
  • An unavoidable geographical transfer resulting from the student’s employment.
  • Immediate family or financial obligations beyond the control of the claimant that require him or her to suspend pursuit of the program of education to obtain employment.
  • Discontinuance of the course by the school.
  • Unanticipated active military service, including active duty for training.
  • Unanticipated difficulties with childcare arrangements the student has made for the period during which he or she is attending classes.

When the VA is told of your withdrawal they will ask you if you have mitigating circumstances for your drop. Depending on your school's policy you can either notify your Veteran Certifying Official, who will notify the VA, or you can send a letter to the VA explaining things. Just remember, you will usually need proof of some kind to back up your story. So, if you have to drop a class because of a valid reason, the VA will possibly pay you through your drop date.

Remember, the VA keeps all your information on file and they are stewards of public funds. If you try to make a false claim it could come back and bite you.

How To Avoid Being Overpaid - When Failing A Class Is A Good Thing

You can avoid being overpaid by going to all your classes and get straight A's, but if this isn't going to happen there is one trick to remember.

If you are failing a class miserably, just keep taking it and finish it with a failing grade. The VA will pay you to take that class again, if it is needed for graduation. Sure, it will lower your GPA, but you might learn something that will help you get a better grade when you retake it.

The easy way to remember it is: if the class counts towards your GPA (no matter how bad the grade is) the VA will pay for it. You can take the class as many times as necessary and get paid each time. However, if you drop or withdraw from a class, the grade will not count towards your degree and in the eyes of the VA you aren't due any money for it.

Keep Up With Your Education Benefits 

Whether you need a guide on how to use your GI Bill, want to take advantage of tuition assistance and scholarships, or get the lowdown on education benefits available for your family, Military.com can help. Subscribe to Military.com to have education tips and benefits updates delivered directly to your inbox.

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