How to Use Air Force TA to Pay for College

In 2019, the Air Force Tuition Assistance Program (commonly referred to as “Air Force TA”) still remains funded funded, and continues to be one of the best ways to pay for higher education expenses.

You can think of Air Force TA as essentially the opposite of the Air Force’s Student Loan Forgiveness Program, since TA pays for school-related costs before they become debt.

TA can be used for either professional or personal education expenses, but it isn’t available to everyone, and it is only available for certain types of education costs too.

Air Force TA Rates

TA benefits will cover “up to 100% of tuition and fees for courses”, but that comes with a catch.

TA payments are doled out based on the number of credit hours you’re taking, and there’s a limit to how many credit hours the program will cover each year, along with an annual fiscal year maximum that TA will pay out.

If you qualify for TA funds, the Air Force will cover your tuition and fees up to the following limits:

  • $250 per semester hour
  • $166.67 per quarter hour
  • $4,500 per fiscal year

Additionally, you’ll only be eligible to receive about $4,500 in TA funding for the entire fiscal year, which is the time period between October 1st, and September 30th.

Accordingly, you may need to do some fancy planning to make sure that you don’t spend too much during that period of time.

Keep in mind also that TA funding can only be used for tuition and other up-front expenses required for enrollment in qualifying courses.

And finally, you should know that TA benefits aren’t given to you in cash which you can then use to pay for these things, but distributed directly to your educational institution.

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What Costs Qualify for TA Funds?

The TA program was created to pay for tuition and enrollment fees, but it can also provide funding for other required costs, like materials fees, lab fees, and such.

Here’s a list of expenses that TA will pay for:

  • Tuition
  • Enrollment fees
  • Computer fees
  • Lab fees
  • Other required fees

What If $4,500 Doesn’t Cover All My Costs?

Depending on where you choose to go to school and what type of program you’re enrolling in, there’s a pretty good chance that $4,500 might not be enough to cover all your costs for this fiscal year.

If that’s the case, you should look into other education benefits programs, like the Tuition Assistance Top-Up Program, general Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits, the Yellow Ribbon Program, as well as military grants and scholarships to come up with additional funds.

Honestly, there’s no reason that you should end up spending money out of your own pocket, because there are tons of education-related financial assistance programs for military personnel.

Who is Eligible for Air Force TA?

TA benefits are available to both enlisted personnel, as well as officers, but there are specific rules for qualifying to receive them:

  • Officers must have an active-duty service commitment that runs for at least two years from the completion date of the last course funded by TA benefits
  • Enlisted personnel must have a service commitment that extends beyond the course end date for any courses funded by TA benefits

Qualifying Schools

Not all schools qualify for the  USAF tuition assistance program, but most colleges and universities that have either regional or national accreditation, and many vocational or technical schools will.

The official rule is that the school you want to use TA at must be accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

You can find a list of accreditation agencies here.

You don’t have to check the list though, because you’ll be able to find out if your school qualifies for the program while you’re filling out the official application on the Air Force’s website.

As you go through the application, you’ll be asked to choose your school from a drop-down menu.

If your school isn’t listed there, then applying becomes a bit trickier, and you’ll have to end up doing it in person at your base’s Education Office.

However, if your school isn’t listed there, then it may be a better decision to apply and attend somewhere else, as any online school that hasn’t received official accreditation by now is seriously behind the times.

Qualifying Programs

100% of high school completion programs, GED and equivalency programs qualify for the tuition assistance program, but most airmen are likely to be using their TA benefits for higher education programs.

The good news is that basically all college-level courses, degree programs, certificate or certification programs will qualify for TA benefits, as long as those programs are being offered at a qualifying institution.

Also, it doesn’t matter if the course you’re taking is a traditional in-person classroom course, or offered 100% online, as there are specific provisions making TA available to distance learning students.

How Can I Apply for USAF TA?

The best news about the TA program is that the entire application process can be handled online, through the Air Force’s online portal.

To apply for TA benefits, visit the Air Force Virtual Education Center (AFVEC) via, then follow these steps:

  1. Create your username and password, or login using your existing credentials
  2. Navigate to the Tuition Assistance Program application
  3. List the reasons why you want to use tuition assistance (say something like you want to further your career, be more useful to the military, or pick up new skills and knowledge that will help with your current MOS)
  4. Choose the school you want to use TA benefits at. If your school isn’t listed here, you’ll have to visit the base’s Education Office to get a printed-out TA Application Form, which you’ll then need to manually submit
  5. Provide the beginning date and end date for the course term that you want to use TA to pay for. Don’t enter the start and end date of the course, but the actual term. Note that these may be different.
  6. Provide the course information from the pre-populated course catalog. If it’s not available in there, then enter it manually. You’ll need to include the course number, dates, etc.
  7. Keep adding courses until you’ve got all the courses you plan on taking entered on the form, and if you’re taking courses from multiple schools, then keep in mind that you’ll have to submit a different TA form for each institution.
  8. Choose your registration fees from the drop-down menu.
  9. Verify that all the data you input is accurate, then submit your form. You’ll get an email notification saying that it was received.
  10. If your request is approved, you’ll get a form containing both your digital signature, and the digital signature of whoever approved your request. You’ll need to forward this to your school.
  11. Once everything is set up, make sure to keep in contact with your base Education Center in case anything changes. If the class is cancelled, you decide to drop it, or something else happens, you’ll have to work with them to make sure that all the details are updated accordingly. Failing to take care of things in time can result in you being forced to reimburse the Air Force for funds that they think you wasted.

Reimbursing TA Funds

The Air Force (and more importantly the U.S. Government) doesn’t want these funds being wasted, so if you screw up with the money they give you, you’ll end up having to pay it back.

Here are the specific instances where you’ll end up being forced to reimburse money that you received:

  • Receiving a failing grad (F)
  • Receiving a non-passing grades (N)
  • Receiving an incomplete grade (I) that last longer than 12 months
  • Receiving a voluntary withdrawal grade (W)
  • Receiving a (D) grade in a Graduate-level course
  • Any non-reimbursable fees for any courses that were cancelled, dropped out of, etc.

If you’re not sure that you can complete the class, don’t think you’ll be taking it seriously, or foresee any problems with getting yourself a passing grade, then you shouldn’t apply for TA funding, because you’ll end up paying for it out of pocket later on.

What If I Have Further Questions?

For additional information about AF tuition assistance, contact your base Education Office. They’ll be by far your best bet for getting accurate, current information.

We also suggest reviewing our Military Education Benefits Guide, which will teach you how to leverage your benefits for maximum value.

And for quick questions, feel free to reach out to us in the comments section below. We’ll do our best to answer any questions within 24 hours.

Please Help

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You might be surprised to hear that many Airmen still have no idea that this program exists, but that’s the reality of the situation, and it’s a situation that we need to address.

Please share this page with your friends, family, and especially your fellow service personnel.

The more Airmen who sign up for the program, the harder it’ll be for Congress to de-fund it when the next round of budget cuts come around.

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Disclaimer:Information obtained from Forget Student Loan Debt is for educational purposes only. You should consult a licensed financial professional before making any financial decisions. This site receives some compensation through affiliate relationships. This site is not endorsed or affiliated with the U.S. Department of Education.


Tim's experience struggling with crushing student loan debt led him to create the website Forget Student Loan Debt in 2011, where he offers advice, tips and tricks for paying off student loans as quickly and affordably as possible.