The Top-Up Tuition Assistance Program

Written by: Craig Richardson

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Worried that the education funds you get from the Department of Defense (DoD) might not cover the full cost of college tuition? The Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program might help you sleep better at night as you prepare for that next big midterm exam.

As the name implies, Tuition Top-Up is a way to make up the difference between the full cost of a college course and the amount covered under active-duty Tuition Assistance (TA), for up to 36 months.

The Top-Up program works by using your GI Bill benefits to fill the gap in tuition costs left by Tuition Assistance.

Who Is Eligible for the Top-Up Tuition Assistance Program?

To be eligible for TA Top-Up, active-duty military members must be approved for federal Tuition Assistance by their command; qualify for GI Bill coverage through either Montgomery GI Bill Active Duty (MGIB-AD) or Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits, and have tuition and/or course fee costs that are more than those that TA will cover.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is available to those who have been on active duty for 90 or more days after Sept. 10, 2001. It provides education benefits at a payment rate that is based on how much active-duty time a servicemember has logged. Covered benefits include full tuition, school fees, housing, books and supplies. And the benefits can be transferred to family members.

Among the costs the Post-9/11 GI Bill can cover are:

The Montgomery GI Bill (MGIB) is available to both active-duty service members and veterans, as well as military reserve and National Guard service members. It provides monthly benefit payments to help servicemembers and veterans pay for education and training costs. The maximum value of the MGIB is currently $79,560 ($2,210 per month up to a maximum of 36 academic months, or eight semesters).

Top-Up Tuition Assistance Benefits

Military members using the Montgomery GI Bill benefit will receive the difference between the full cost of a college course and the amount covered under standard tuition assistance for up to 36 academic months. The GI Bill benefit will be reduced by one month of entitlement for each payment that is equal to the full-time monthly GI Bill rate.

For those using the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Top-Up program will pay their school the difference between the DoD payment and the authorized maximum tuition and fees.

While the MGIB entitlement is charged based on the dollar amount of benefits paid by the VA to the military member, the Post-9/11 GI Bill entitlement is charged based on the training time a servicemember is enrolled in. For example, recipients going to classes at the half-time time training level will be charged a half month of Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits for each month they are enrolled and receiving GI Bill benefits.

How to Get Top-Up Tuition Assistance Benefits

To access education assistance benefits, the first step is to go to the VA.GOV website. To apply for VA Top-Up Tuition Assistance, eligible service personnel must provide a copy of the Tuition Assistance Authorization form for the course that has been signed by an authorized military official. They then can apply for benefits directly on the VA website, by mail, in person at a VA regional office or with the help of an accredited representative.

Does the Top-Up Program Affect GI Bill Benefits?

Yes. Military personnel who plan to take more courses after leaving the military are encouraged to figure out whether they will have the remaining GI Bill benefits they need before they access them through the Top-Up program. They can receive guidance from their education officer and use the online GI Bill Comparison Tool to help determine whether the Top-Up program is right for them.

It’s also worth keeping in mind is that the Post-9/11 GI Bill often will cover the full cost of tuition and fees, with the same amount of entitlement charged no matter how much is covered by TA. It therefore might be to a military member’s advantage to use the two programs separately to maximize educational assistance benefits.

Stay Up to Date with the Top-Up Fact Sheet

Need more information on how the Top-Up program works? Check out the VA’s Top-Up Fact Sheet, which explains the various benefit programs available and provides links to a number of tools and resources. Military members can also contact the Education Call Center at 1-888-442-4551, or 001-918-781-5678 if calling from overseas, Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. (CST), with any questions about GI Bill benefits.

About The Author

Craig Richardson

Craig Richardson is a military veteran who started his journalism career while serving in the Navy. Following overseas deployments to the Med and Middle East, including service in Operation Desert Storm, he left for the private sector but continued with journalism. He has worked for several publishers and news organizations over nearly 30 years and continued to cover stories with ties to veterans and military affairs throughout his career.


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