By far, the best option is to get someone else to pay for your education. Tuition assistance (or tuition reimbursement) programs vary widely. Generally, the larger the company, the better the plan. General Electric, Hewlett Packard, Dell, Citigroup, and Motorola are examples of large companies with very generous tuition assistance plans.
Ideally, tuition assistance would:
- Provide assistance for undergraduate level work, graduate level work, or continuing education
- Arrange for 100% payment up-front for each course
- Cover related expenses like textbooks and materials
- Be relevant to your current or future line of work
Tuition assistance programs are based upon an employer's objectives for recruiting, retention, and productivity. The benefits can vary from company to company, and even within various divisions of the same company.
How to Apply for Employer Tuition Reimbursement
Make an appointment to speak with the human resources specialist about your employer's caveats, rules and restrictions. For some reason, the benefits are often not widely, or enthusiastically, promoted. Unless you have a very proactive supervisor who truly takes an interest in your professional development, you may not be encouraged to take advantage of this benefit. Indeed, many employees toil away in call centers, branch offices, or sales offices for years without even knowing that a tuition assistance policy exists.
Unless you have a very proactive supervisor who truly takes an interest in your professional development, you may not be encouraged to take advantage of this benefit. Indeed, many employees toil away in call centers, branch offices, or sales offices for years without even knowing that a tuition assistance policy exists.
Tuition assistance may have been covered briefly in the employee handbook you were given your first week on the job. Whether you read it then, or filed it away in your drawer, it is worth taking the time to review it before your meeting with HR. Still, policies and benefits may have changed. To make the best decisions about your education, you need up-to-date information.
Your employer may require you to:
- Enroll in a course of study that is job-related
- Pay the tuition yourself and await reimbursement after the successful completion of the course*
- Pay any tuition that exceeds an annual cap of $5,250 or less
- Earn a C average or better
- Pay back the tuition if you leave the company at-will within a certain time frame (such as two years)
* Some employers do not reimburse 100% of the tuition. Usually, they do reimburse at least up to 80%.
If you are fortunate enough to work for a Fortune 500 company with its own online course offerings, fitness center, and onsite daycare, there is a plan in place already, and all you have to do is follow it. If your company is so small it doesn't even have an HR department, it's a good bet there is no tuition assistance plan either.
Getting Someone Else to Pay
It is always easier to ask for something — more pay, more vacation, more resources — before you accept a job. You have the leverage to make requests, especially if you are entertaining other job offers, because the employer knows he or she is competing with other companies. It costs to recruit an employee; money spent on advertising is just one part of the equation. Interviewing, training and loss of productivity while the new employee learns the job are other factors. It is in the employer's interest to get the first-choice candidate in quickly and get back to business. If you are a job seeker, ask for tuition assistance to be included in your offer letter. This will save you a hassle later.
If you are already employed, but there is no tuition assistance policy in place, it could be because the subject simply has not come up. Be the first to ask. Once it has been broached, a meaningful dialogue can take place. Even if no substantive policy results, your trailblazing efforts will earn the respect of your current and future co-workers. Like maternity leave and personal leave, education benefits may be handled on a case-by-case basis at smaller companies.
No need to offer up a sob story. Leave your divorce, your kids, your mounting consumer debt, and your health concerns out of the equation. Present your case in a professional manner. Contain the matter to your worth as an employee and the merits of an education.