How to Convince Your Boss to Pay for Your MBA

Dec 15, 2014 -
So, you’re ready to get your MBA. You’ve done your research, you’ve found a great program and you’re prepared to commit. Now, the hard part: paying for it. It’s no secret that the cost of an MBA can run upwards of $100,000, so getting some outside financial help can be both smart and mandatory. One place to look is your current employer. Many fortune 500 companies -- along with a few smaller organizations -- have tuition reimbursement programs, fellowships, or other programs to help finance your education (here’s a list of 33 examples). But you can’t just walk in and demand the cash. You’ve got to have a strategic plan. When you make your case, it all comes down to answering one big question: How will your shiny new MBA boost your company’s bottom line? So put your employer’s needs at the root of every argument. This is one of those times that it’s really not about you -- it’s about them. Using this employer-focused mindset as your basic framework, here are eight more tactics to get your employer to fund your MBA aspirations: (Click here to tweet this list.)

1. Take the Company Temperature

First, find out if your company will even consider paying for your education. Was this ever brought up during hiring? Is this benefit listed in your employee handbook? Do you know of other colleagues who have taken advantage of a program? Second, figure out if your company can actually afford to fund your MBA. What’s the company climate like right now? Are departments hacking back costs or passing out bonuses? You don’t want to be tone deaf to company situation if the finances are tight.

2. Figure Out You’re Asking For

Once you’ve decided to ask your employer for funds, it’s time to get more specific. Do you want your employer to pay for your entire tuition or just some of it? What about non-tuition fees, like textbooks or technology? Do you want to take time off to go to school full-time or continue working part-time? What specific program are you looking at? Put together a full outline of the specific request you want to make.

3. Take a Big Picture View

Take a step back… do you really need an MBA? As Ask A Manager’s Allison Green writes: “Grad school generally will not make you more marketable unless you're going into a field that specifically requires a graduate degree. In fact, it can make you less competitive, by keeping you from getting work experience for that much longer and requiring you to find a higher-paying job than you might otherwise need because you need to pay back school loans—and even worse, if you apply for jobs that have nothing to do with your graduate degree, many employers will think you don't really want the job you're applying for, since it's not in ‘your field.’” If your heart is still set on an MBA after reading that, great! You just need to be able to clearly articulate why you’re committed to the decision to your employer. Confidently assert your goals -- nobody’s going to pay for someone who vaguely wants to go to grad school.

4. Research Tax Breaks

The IRS allows employers to deduct tuition reimbursement for up to $5,250 a year for each employee. You can check out the IRS page on Employer-Provided Educational Expenses to find out more.

5. Articulate Your Value

As part of your pitch, you need to make the case that you bring value to the company. Roderick Lewis, author of The Corporate Recruitment Game, suggests focusing on analytics. Evaluate projects you’ve completed and show -- using hard data -- how your work positively impacted the company, whether by generating revenue or cutting costs. "Basically, if you can't prove that you have sales, you can prove that you saved the company money by reducing marketing expenses," Lewis says. "You need to keep working your argument back to your numbers to get the result you want." Next, connect the dots between how getting your MBA will make your impact even bigger. Will you learn skills that you can apply at your job, so work won’t have to be fielded out to an external consultant? Will you be able to better access clients because of the connections you’ll gain? Be as specific as possible.

6. Come up with a (Realistic) Schedule

If you’re hoping to work and pursue an MBA at the same time, a major concern for your employer will be how on earth you’re going to juggle it all. “You’re probably better about managing your time now than you were the first time you were in school, but recognize that transitions are often stressful,” says Laura Vanderkam, author of What the Most Successful People Do at Work. She suggests creating a time budget to concretely show how you plan to achieve a balance between work and school. Another choice piece of advice? “Plan on not sleeping in for a while.”

7. Show Your Loyalty

Many companies that pay for MBAs require employees to sign loyalty contracts. For example, you might be asked to commit to staying with the company for five years after you complete your degree. This makes sense -- your boss doesn’t want to invest in you, if you’re going to immediately join a competitor’s firm. But this type of deal can land you in hot water if you’re not careful. “Because sponsorship often comes with an obligation to return to the company after you complete your MBA, take a step back and assess whether you’re absolutely confident you want to return,” suggests Stacy Blackman, an MBA admissions consultant. “Breaking such an agreement after your earn the degree can lead to not only strained relationships with former colleagues, but also a mountain of unforeseen debt.”

8. Have a Plan B

If it doesn’t look like your appeal is hitting home -- or if your company simply can’t contribute cash toward your education -- you can always angel for an alternative. Try to negotiate non-cash benefits like time off, compensation for hours spent in class, or a more flexible schedule. Annie Rose Favreau is a Seattle-based digital marketer and startup problem solver. You can find her Twittering away at @A_Favreau.