Have you ever asked your boss for a raise? It’s not a conversation most of us look forward to, so all too often we put it off, hoping our bosses will just notice all the amazing things we do and eagerly reward us when we obliquely bring up the uncomfortable topic of earning more money.
Asking your employer to provide MBA tuition reimbursement is not unlike asking for a raise, and you have similarly low chances of success if you apply the evasive strategy above.
Getting your employer to pay for you to attend business school requires that you make a compelling case to convince him or her of your value to the company and the value of that future degree in your hands.
So, how can you make the case to your boss for funding your MBA?
The process starts with doing your homework. Read your employee handbook or talk to human resources to find out if your company has a standard tuition assistance or sponsorship program in place.
Consider the company’s current economic situation to time your request for the best chances of success. Just as you probably wouldn’t ask for a raise when your company is cutting expenses or laying people off, you shouldn’t request money for business school if your company is struggling.
If your company doesn’t have a formal procedure for assistance, start networking! Talk to colleagues who’ve earned their MBAs while working to ascertain whether there is a precedent for your company funding employees’ higher education.
It is also important to establish relationships and gather allies to help make your case for MBA tuition reimbursement. This could even be your direct supervisor or a close mentor. Start the conversation early to get the support and advice from others that will ultimately strengthen your case.
Remember, this isn’t about why business school is great for you. We frequently hear about the personal value of an MBA, and how the degree translates to a higher salary, but do you think that is going to convince your employer? No way.
You have to make your employer see the specific benefit to the company of you receiving an MBA—how this will help you help the company’s bottom line or resolve some of its most challenging issues. Highlight the measurable value your company can expect from you obtaining your MBA.
Although, as previously mentioned, you can and should start the conversation about your desire to earn your MBA early on with key allies at your company, you shouldn’t make your case for getting financial aid from your employer until you can speak knowledgeably about a specific program. Pointing out the key features of a particular business school will help make your case for employer support more convincing.
Keep in mind that you can use your future business school as a resource—they are often very helpful in this regard. For example, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business provides sample sponsorship requests to aid applicants in their formal proposals for financial support and includes key benefits of Wharton’s Executive MBA Program.
In preparing your proposal for financial support, focus on the concrete, positive ways you’ve impacted your company. Remember, you’re approaching this conversation as though you were asking for a raise. It is very difficult to convince your employer to sponsor your MBA if you haven’t demonstrated your value as an employee.
Note the measurable results you’ve delivered on projects you’ve been in charge of. If you can quantify your impact on the company in terms of actual sales or saving the company money, that will make the most effective case for your value to the company, and will increase the likelihood that your superiors will want to invest in increasing that value.
When you ask for a raise, a vague request for “more” likely won’t yield the desired result. Similarly, asking your employer to “get MBA tuition reimbursement,” without specifically outlining the amount you’re requesting won’t be successful. Your proposal should be specific and professional.
You need to understand the tuition and other costs associated with your chosen MBA program and know specifically how much of those costs you are asking your employer to pay.
Business school isn’t cheap, with the average debt of graduates from at least seven top business schools in 2016 was more than $100,000. You will likely need to obtain loans, scholarships (possibly with the help of a great GMAT score), or government assistance, in addition to employer support.
If you do secure MBA tuition reimbursement from your employer, congratulations! Just make sure that you clearly understand the terms of the agreement. One of employers’ biggest fears is losing you after you get your MBA; they want to invest in future leaders who will drive company performance.
To protect their interests, your employer may add stipulations, requiring you to achieve a certain GPA, maintain your current level of job performance, or sign an employment contract guaranteeing you’ll stay with the company for a certain number of years. Before you agree to anything, consider your career goals carefully to ensure they align with your company, and clearly outline your post-MBA expectations (raise, promotion, etc).
Also, don’t forget about taxes! That’s right, you may need to pay income tax on employer-provided educational assistance. Make sure you understand the IRS’ rules in this regard, double-check your W-2’s, and talk to your HR department for more details.