To clarify, the post 9/11 GI bill is NOT 3 years, it is 36 months of school, and there is a difference. Excluding summer school the normal school years is 9 months, so the GI bill is actually meant to pay for full 4 years of college at any public university in the country. For private schools, they will pay up to a certain amount, some private schools participate in a yellow ribbon program where they will cover an additional amount of tuition on top of what the GI bill will pay.
IMO the biggest monetary benefit is actually the housing allowance, you can go to http://www.defensetravel.dod.mil/site/bahCalc.cfm
to check current 2012 rates, enter E-5 and the zip code of the school. If you're going to a school in a big city, the BAH may actually end up being more than the 17,500 max for tuition. (Using 90007 for my alma mater USC, located in downtown LA, you will get $2001 per month. So 18k for housing per school year, non-taxable.
The G.I. bill is also now transferable to dependents (kids/spouse) if you serve for 10+ years. I took this route and one of my kids can now thank uncle sam for their college education. More people should probably look at this option because the military pays for college while you’re serving. If you’re enlisted and not working on college and taking advantage of free classes then you’re wrong. Why waste that GI bill if you can get it for free?
Unlike the old version, the 9/11 bill isn’t a set amount of cash; it is based on the school you go to. It pains me to see kids wasting it on a community college or online classes. It will pay for a proper university education, take advantage of it!