Using Your Education Benefits Wisely

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Selecting The Right Benefit at the Right Time

If you are on active duty, you have several options for how to pay for college. Making the right choice is critical for two reasons:

  • You want to avoid out of pocket expense and excessive student debt. 
  • You want to have the greatest amount of benefits when you leave the service.

This article gives you an easy to follow decision flowchart, explains common academic terms and offers a direct comparison of your Active Duty benefit options, all designed to help you make the right choice for your given situation and educational goals.

Your benefit options may include: Military Tuition Assistance, GI Bill Top-Up, GI Bill, Federal Financial Aid, and Scholarships and Grants.

Note: Be sure to speak to your Education Service Officer or Navy College representative before using your GI Bill benefits.

Use the following flowchart to assist in deciding which benefit option will best suit your current and long term goals:

Academic Terminology Explained

  • Credit Hours - This is how the school grants credit for course completion. A normal course is usually worth 3 semester credit hours. Credit Hours are broken down either into Semester Hours (SH) or Quarter Hours (QH) Note: To figure your credits if you plan to transfer from a Quarter system to a Semester system school, you generally divide your Quarter credits by 1.5.
  • Federal Student Aid - FSA or Financial Aid is any form of grant or loan that is paid directly to the college. This includes Stafford Loans, Perkins Loans, and Pell Grants.
  • Tuition - The cost associated directly with the course being taken normally charged by the Credit Hour.
  • Fees - The additional education costs such as Administrative Fees, Lab Fees, Online Fees, etc... Note: In some cases these fees are not covered by TA.
  • Fiscal Year - A federal fiscal year (FY) runs from the 1st of October to the 30th of September each year.

The following Table shows some general comparisons between each of your benefit options:

Education Benefit


Things to Consider

Military Tuition Assistance 

  • No cost
  • Worth up to $4,500 a year.
  • Simple process
  • Covers up to 100% tuition and some fees
  • Noncompetitive

Limited to:

  • $250 @ Credit Hour
  • 4,500 Annually (FY)
  • 16 SH (U.S. Navy only)
  • Subject to Command and Service Approval

GI Bill "Top-Up"

  • Pays the remaining balance remaining after TA
  • Relatively simple process
  • Noncompetitive
  • Lump sum Paid to School
  • Charged against your 36 Months of GI Bill benefits
  • Must be GI Bill eligible
  • Must be used with TA

Post-9/11 GI Bill

Note: You should always consult your ESO or Navy College representative before using your GI Bill while on active duty.

  • Paid Tuition and Fees, Living (Housing) Stipend and Book Stipend.
  • Benefits are tiered based on number of days on active duty.
  • Some limitations apply to those currently on active duty.
  • Benefits can be transferred to Spouse or Family member.
  • Complex process
  • Must be GI Bill eligible.
  • Costs are taken from your 36 months of benefits.
  • You are responsible to pay the school.

** Federal Student Aid (FSA)

  • Offers low-interest loans.
  • Offers grants
  • One application process all FSA.
  • Can be used to pay for books and fees in conjunction with TA
  • Needs based
  • Noncompetitive
  • FSA loans must be repaid.
  • Money goes to your school for dispersal.
  • Can be a more complex process.

Scholarships & Grants

  • Usually no-cost
  • Process varies
  • Can be worth thousands
  • Many go un-claimed.
  • Thousands are designed for Military and dependents.
  • Scholarship finder
  • Many Service Aid Organizations offer non-competitive grants for education and books.
  • Process can be time consuming
  • Based on competition and/or student needs
  • Wide range in value
  • May require submitting an essay.
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