Take Advantage of Education Assistance Before Entering the Civilian Workforce
Making the leap from active duty to civilian life is one of the most abrupt and difficult changes military personnel face. It’s never too early to prepare for your next career by taking advantage of education assistance while still on active duty.
Military Tuition Assistance (TA) is a benefit paid to eligible members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard. Congress has given each service the ability to pay up to 100% for the tuition expenses of its members. Each service has its own criteria for eligibility, obligated service, application process’ and restrictions. This money is usually paid directly to the institution by the individual services. While the decision to pursue a degree may be a difficult, TA can lessen your financial concerns considerably, since it pays up to 100 percent of tuition expenses for semester hours costing $250 or less. TA is not a loan! It should be viewed as money you have earned just like your base pay.
TA only covers accredited institutions recognized by the Department of Education. Service members need to first check with an education counselor for the specifics involving TA by visiting their local installation education office or by going online to a virtual education center. Tuition assistance may be used for the following programs:
- Vocational/technical programs
- Undergraduate programs
- Graduate programs
- Independent study
- Distance-learning programs
TA is open to officers, warrant officers and enlisted active duty service personnel. In addition, members of the National Guard and Reserve Components may be eligible for TA based on their service eligibility. To be eligible for TA, an enlisted service member must have enough time remaining in service to complete the course for which he or she has applied. After the completion of a course, an officer using TA must fulfill a service obligation that runs parallel with – not in addition to – any existing service obligation.
TA will fund up to 100 percent of your college tuition and certain fees with the following limits:
- Not to exceed $250 per semester credit hour or $166 per quarter credit hour
- Not to exceed $4,500 per fiscal year, October 1 through September 30
TA will not cover the following expenses:
- Books and course materials
- Flight training fees
- Taking the same course twice
- Continuing education units, or CEUs
Additionally, active duty members may elect to use the Tuition Assistance Top Up benefit in addition to your TA to cover high tuition costs or fees not covered by TA. This benefit program may be an option if you plan to use TA to complete a degree program while on active duty, and do not plan to continue your education after service. Top-up can also be helpful for just taking a few courses with TA while on active duty; then you can save most of your GI Bill benefits for after service to complete your education program.
To be eligible for the Top-Up benefit, you must be:
- Approved for TA by your military branch
- Be eligible for GI Bill benefits.
- Must be a GI Bill participant
- Still on active duty
- Must have served at least two full years of active duty
The amount of the benefit is limited to the amount that the person would receive for the same course if regular GI Bill benefits were being paid. In no case can the amount paid by the military combined with the amount paid by VA be more than the total cost of the course. Most importantly, If you receive the Top-Up benefit, your regular GI Bill benefits will be reduced. You must apply for GI Bill using the VA’s VETS.GOV website before using the Top-up benefit.