How to Maximize Your GI Bill Housing Allowance

Our hack shows good schools and where to live with the most money left over

By Brandon Ballenger

This map shows what we believe is the best bang for vets’ buck in every state — taking into consideration the quality of the school, the housing allowance provided from the Post 9/11 GI Bill, plus the cost of living and safety of nearby neighborhoods.

“The GI Bill is one way the U.S. government makes sure the men and women who risk their lives for our country get what they deserve,” says chairman Howard Dvorkin. “It covers the costs of a quality education and a reasonable allowance for housing, but doesn’t tell you where the most cost-efficient place is to live — a major factor in any budget.”

“We wanted to figure out how to maximize this important military benefit for veterans across the country so we made this map to help them plan for the next important step of their lives,” Dvorkin says.

Hover your cursor over a state to see the most cost efficient recommendation, and click it for more details about the school. Check it out, then see our methodology below.

Rank School Potential leftover housing allowance Rank School Potential leftover housing allowance Rank School Potential leftover housing allowance
1 Columbia University $1,994 18 University of Missouri Kansas City $438 35 University of Louisville $252
2 University of Vermont $1,079 19 Indiana University Southeast $397 36 Portland State University $241
3 Harvard University $979 20 Miami University $390 37 Jackson State University $229
4 Yale University $979 21 Centenary College of Louisiana $367 38 University of Kansas $198
5 Southern Methodist University $924 22 College of Charleston $356 39 University of Nebraska at Omaha $195
6 University of Delaware $771 23 University of New Hampshire at Manchester $351 40 University of New England $185
7 University of Chicago $745 24 University of Minnesota Twin Cities $343 41 Monmouth University $179
8 University of Michigan $715 25 University of Washington $331 42 Northern Arizona University $170
9 University of Alaska Southeast $715 26 Montana State University $325 43 University of Denver $165
10 Vanderbilt University $652 27 University of San Francisco $308 44 Brigham Young University $154
11 University of Hawaii at Manoa $618 28 Bacone College $304 45 University of Arkansas Little Rock $152
12 Immaculata University $578 29 Shepherd University $298 46 University of Idaho $144
13 Marquette University $575 30 Savannah College of Art and Design $286 47 University of Nevada Las Vegas $119
14 University of Maryland $552 31 University of Alabama at Birmingham $284 48 St John’s College $32
15 Minot State University $506 32 Drake University $284 49 University of South Dakota $24
16 Elizabeth City State University $502 33 Brown University $278 50 University of Wyoming $21
17 University of Miami $499 34 George Mason University $255


What makes this map work is the fact GI Bill housing allowances are based on rent estimates for the zip code of the school you attend, not of where you decide to live — that’s a decision the military leaves squarely up to veterans.

We used the latest data behind the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ own GI Bill Comparison Tool along with rent estimates from Zillow and crime data from Every school featured ranks on at least a regional list of U.S. News and World Report’s best colleges, and most rank high on the national list.

We focused mainly on maximizing the value of GI Bill benefits — not the nicest places to live. We made sure the towns mentioned have crime rates no higher than the national average, and that they’re within reasonable distance of the school — almost all are less than a 40-minute drive, and most are much less. But the idea is to show the most extreme examples to highlight the flexibility of housing allowances, recognizing that some of the leftover money can be traded back for a “neighborhood upgrade.” Urban areas tend to have a wider range of prices available.

There are a few important caveats to how the Post-9/11 GI Bill works. Our map assumes vets receive the maximum benefit payable, which generally requires 36 months of active-duty service, full-time enrollment, and in-state tuition rates. Benefits are available at a reduced rate for part-time and distance learning students.

The GI Bill may also not fully cover private schools or out-of-state tuition. However, something called the Yellow Ribbon program can help cover those extra costs, and many of the schools on our map participate. To check, click a state and look for the yellow ribbon in the upper right of the box that pops up. Only two of the private schools on the list are not currently Yellow Ribbon schools: Bacone College in Oklahoma and Brigham Young University in Utah.

One other thing to keep in mind — the housing allowance is also intended to help with utility costs. We couldn’t find a good source of data for average utility bills, so that money needs to be factored out of the amount left over we calculated.