Which is Better, Going to School While On Active Duty or After I Get Out?

Q: Thank you for your military service as well as the great website. Please clarify something for me - it seems like I am better off going to school while on active duty as opposed to leaving.... my understanding is that tuition is 'unlimited' for active duty. Is this correct? Whereas the soldier who separates has a cap/limit to their tuition paid? I already have my statement of eligibility from the VA (100%) and am looking at either separating from the Army to attend Nurse Practitioner school or doing it at night while on active duty. I have done a lot of research on the Bill and have been confused between the rates of soldiers once they leave and those still on active duty. Please clarify.

A: You are far better off going to school while on active duty because you can use Tuition Assistance (TA), which doesn't cost you anything, but it is not unlimited as you understand. It has a $250 per credit hour cap with a $4,500 annual cap. Anything over that either you have to pay yourself or you can use Tuition Top-Up. How Top-Up works is whatever amount your tuition exceeds what TA pays, the VA will reimburse the Army for that amount.  In turn, the VA converts that amount to entitlement and takes that number of months and days out of your GI Bill benefits. It is a great way to maximize your GI Bill benefits.

Once you separate, and go to school under the Post 9/11 GI Bill, the VA will pay your tuition and eligible fees, up to the maximum amount established for the most expensive public school undergraduate program in that state. Anything over that amount you have to pay, unless your school is a Yellow Ribbon school.  In that case, your school can pay up to half of the difference and the VA will match with an equal amount.  In most cases, this leaves very little left for the student to pay.

In addition, you get a monthly housing allowance based on the pay of an E-5 with dependents for the zip code of your school, plus paid up to $1,000 per year in a book stipend. So it is not a bad deal.  

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