Financial Aid

Getting Your Company to Fund Your Education

If you are already employed but hoping to return to school, make sure to look into whether your company can help pay for school. The federal government offers companies a tax break of $5,250 per employee per year for tuition reimbursement, so many employers may be happy to help.

58% of companies offered their employees some kind of financial support for graduate school studies.

Society for Human Resource Management

While it is more common in some industries than others — public school teachers, for instance, often benefit from tuition reimbursement options — a 2012 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 58% of companies offered their employees some kind of financial support for graduate school studies.

Some larger employers will offer some form of tuition reimbursement plan that allows employees to apply for aid. However, working at a smaller company does not exclude you from graduate school aid; it simply means you should to talk to your manager about the possibility of an individualized plan.

Rule of thumb: If you’re thinking of attending grad school, always ask your employer if they offer tuition assistance or advanced salary options.

How to Approach Your Employer

Though there are obvious differences between programs offered by different employers, the following outline may help you get your employer to fund your graduate education:

  1. Check with human resources. Do they have a pre-established tuition reimbursement program? If so, obtain the eligibility requirements and paperwork needed to apply.
  2. If there is no tuition reimbursement program, arrange a meeting with your manager. Prior to that meeting, prepare:
    1. A work-related justification for your course of study, including examples of how you would personally employ your education in the workplace to the benefit of the company
    2. Evidence of prior academic success
    3. Evidence of your loyalty to the company; no employer wants to fund an employee’s education only to have that person jump ship
    4. An estimate of the amount of financial support and any schedule accommodations you’ll require
  3. When asking for support, frame your request the right way. Focus on the tangible ways in which you will be more valuable to the company. Do not demand money or make threats about leaving your job.

Student Employee Rights and Responsibilities

Before you decide to participate in an employer’s tuition assistance plan, it is important to understand your responsibilities. As a part of funding your education, your employer will often insist that you sign a contract beforehand. Here are some stipulations that may be attached to your funding:

  • Attend an employer-approved program (confirm accredited online schools qualify before enrolling)
  • Maintain a certain GPA and full or part-time status throughout your enrollment
    Complete certain courses (your employer may require coursework in addition to that required by your program)
  • Finish the degree in an agreed upon amount of time
  • Sign an agreement stating that school will not interfere with a defined list of work duties

Rule of Thumb: Always get everything in writing and have a copy for yourself.

If you have signed a contract with a company and have agreed to stipulations for attending grad school while working, your job is protected as long as you meet said stipulations. If your work suffers or you fail to meet the agreed upon conditions of your contract, you may lose your tuition assistance or even your job.

Maintaining Your Employer Funded Education

Employers often choose one of three arrangements to pay for grad school: direct payments to the school, waiving the cost and reimbursing the school at the end of the course, or making you pay the school and then reimbursing you once the degree is earned. Depending on the method your employer chooses, you’ll need to supply a certain amount of documentation:

  • Final grades for each completed course and all past undergraduate transcripts
  • The itemized tuition bill for your upcoming term
  • Receipt of your personal payment (if your school reimburses you retroactively)
  • A resubmitted copy of your employer’s financial agreement

To maintain your funding as you progress through school, you may need to submit your grades at the end of each individual course to your employer; an especially important step if tuition reimbursement is dependent on your performance in the program. If your employer does not have a formal and regular review process, be sure to ask your manager or HR department about how and when you should follow up to confirm that you are holding up your end of the contract.