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Should I Use My Montgomery GI Bill or Post 9/11 GI Bill for My Master’s Degree?

Author Ron Kness is no longer in the service.

Q: I am still active duty (since 2000), and will begin my master’s degree program at Villanova, a private school, in August. I have never used my MGIB, nor did I pay for the Top-Up. Should I pay the $600 Top-up and use the CH 30 benefits, or should I just use the CH 33 benefits? Am I still eligible to receive housing allowance (CH 33) if I’m still active duty? If I use CH 30, how many months will I have benefits for? And then can I switch to CH 33? Can I use either CH 30 or 33 along with tuition assistance? Is that even advised? Thanks!

A: First, you don’t pay for Tuition Top-Up; the $600 program you are referring to is called the Buy-Up program and is completely different than Top-Up. What the Buy-Up program does should you decide to buy into it is give you up to an additional $5,400 worth of education benefits spread over a 36-month period. Do the math and you find it comes out to $150 per month.

Couple that with your Chapter 30 benefits of $1,648 per months and it totals out to $1,798. Out of this amount you have to pay your own tuition, fees, books, etc. Villanova is not a cheap school to attend. As a full-time student, you are looking at tuition of about $46,000 per year.

Now let’s move onto the Chapter 33. Under this GI Bill, the VA would pay up to $20,235.02 per year towards your tuition being Villanova is a private school.

It would pay up to 100% of the resident tuition if you attended a public school. While Villanova is a Yellow Ribbon school, they only accept 14 students per year into their YRP and have a max amount per student of $4,100. Even if you got their YRP funding, that still leaves $21,000 per year in tuition that would come out of your pocket. And because you are still on active duty, you would not be eligible for the housing allowance. Oh … and the Buy-Up program can’t be used with Chapter 33.

As far as entitlement, you would have 36 months under Chapter 30 and once those are used up, you could switch to Chapter 33 and get an additional 12 months.

If you went the Tuition Assistance (TA) and Top-Up route, TA would pay your whole tuition and anything over the $250 per credit amount (up to $4,500 per year). Would be billed to the VA. Under Chapter 30, they would convert this amount into months of entitlement and deduct that number of months from your remaining entitlement. Under Chapter 33, they would deduct a semester’s worth of entitlement at a time regardless of how much or little they had to pay, but remember the cap for private schools is $20,235.02 under Chapter 33, so they would not pay more than that amount.

In your case, TA and Top-Up is probably the best choice, but do you really need to go to this expensive of a school. You could get a worthwhile master’s degree from a good school that would cost you less out-of-pocket. Just my thought.

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