How I “Paid” for a Second Degree

I went to college for Business Administration with a focus in Management and realized that with what I wanted to do in my career, this degree was not particularly useful. Last year I decided that I wanted to go back to school to earn my degree in Finance, but I was really worried about the costs. With my schedule, and geographic distance from top schools, I decided that an online degree was the best way to go. So I researched a lot of different schools and narrowed it down to my top five. I applied to all of them and got in to my top three schools. I chose the one I thought would be best suited for my career path and figured out how much it was going to cost me.

Now granted, I thought to myself <it wasn’t going to be much…no dorm, no campus fees, meal plans, lab fees, athletic fees, can’t be that much right?> I’m not going to lie, tuition is expensive no matter how you slice it. I was making good money at my current job and I could pay for it, but I didn’t want that eating away my retirement or limiting my ability to do certain things (travel, go out and enjoy a nice meal with Mrs. ABC). So I spoke to my HR and asked them if they had this magical thing called Tuition Reimbursement. Now before I continue let me just say this…I was extremely lucky that A. my employer offered this assistance and B. that my manager approved it because it was deemed to benefit the company.

So my particular employer offered 100% tuition reimbursement for undergraduate studies at a certified institute of higher education. CA-CHING! Not only tuition but they also covered technology fees and books, up to a certain amount. Now, not all tuition reimbursement programs are created equal. Some won’t cover 100%, some won’t cover books, some may require you to sign an agreement to stay on with the company and if you leave you have to return the money. So it’s important that you read all the fine print before taking advantage. But I will say, IF your employer offers this and you don’t take advantage…YOU ARE LEAVING MONEY ON THE TABLE. Some employers even offer tuition reimbursement for an MBA, which could easily cost $40,000 a year. Most MBA programs through an employer will require a two-year commitment, but hey…an MBA will dramatically increase your earning potential and you can think of the two year commitment as a guarantee that the company is invested in your future growth with them.

So back to my case…my employer offered 100% tuition reimbursement and were really good about paying it in a timely manner. But here’s another trick I found…my school offers a Tuition Deferment option which basically gives you 90 days from the time you FINISH the semester to pay your bill. How awesome is that? Your company pays the tab, and your school gives you a quasi “credit line,” interest free, to pay off the balance with the money your employer is going to give you to pay it.

This is where you need to do a little research and not be scared of any stumbling blocks along the way. Ask your HR department if they have tuition reimbursement, and if they do, get all the details about it upfront before you apply. Have a discussion with your boss…convey the fact that education is a top priority for you, and that you would really appreciate their investment in your growth as a valued member of their organization (you may have to negotiate this point with your manager). Don’t barge in and say hey, <insert company name here> offers tuition reimbursement, sign me up. Go in with a plan…try to tailor the degree you’re studying for around the needs of your company and/or job description. If you work for a bank, it’s going to be hard to convince your manager to pay for a marine biology degree right? It’s not a perfect system. But if you can convince your manager that the degree you are going for has some business case to make you a better employee, and thus make a better company, then you have a really good shot.

Don’t get disillusioned if your company doesn’t offer any kind of assistance, there are other ways to pay for your education. But, if it’s really important to you, then find a way to work into your compensation package. If you’re applying for a new job, ask HR if they have tuition reimbursement or ask the hiring manager and let them know this is a top concern for you. If you’re already on the job, have a conversation with your manager about going back to school and getting some assistance. Maybe instead of a bonus or salary increase, they can pay for your school. Trust me, graduating with higher education training will pay for itself in the long run if this seems like a crazy idea. The point is, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and you’ll never know if you don’t ask. You need to make it known that your professional growth now hinges on getting/finishing your education.

Employer provided tuition reimbursement is my favorite way I’ve found for professionals who want to finish their degree or start on the way to one, to pay for it. It shows that the company values you and they have confidence in your ability to learn and bring something new to the workplace. It also shows the company that you take your professional growth seriously and you have an open mind, dedication, and discipline to take that on. The best part is, depending on how you time it, you may not have to pay a dime out of pocket to take advantage. Think about that…time it right, and you won’t have to pay a dime out of pocket. This is an easy one ladies and gentlemen, now go close on some tuition reimbursement.