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From the way that the tax form is structured, it appears that I can withdrawl the amount from my IRA early in the year even if I don't actually pay the tuition until later in the year and still qualify for the exception.

You are correct, but I'm not sure how you're getting that from the structure of the form. If you look at the penalty exceptions in Pub 590 you'll see that, unlike the exception for home purchase, there are no time limits other than the year as a whole.

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