Add on: How I “Paid” for a Second Degree

As a continuation of my last post, How I “Paid” for a Second Degree, I just wanted to provide a small list of companies that offer some type of assistance. You can go to each one’s website and look for employee benefits to get the details.

Thanks to the folks at USA Today, they compiled the following list in no particular order:

  • AT&T
  • Bank of America
  • Baxter
  • Best Buy
  • BP
  • Comcast
  • Disney
  • Jet Blue
  • Publix
  • Smuckers
  • UPS
  • Verizon
  • Wal-Mart
  • Wells Fargo

Of this list, Smucker’s program was the sweetest, offering up to 100% of tuition costs for college courses approved by management. They are definitely spreading the wealth. They can get you out of a financial jam. Ok, I’m done with the jelly references. There are plenty of companies that offer this amazing benefit and all you have to do is ask and meet certain criteria.

In the next posts we’ll discuss other methods of paying for a secondary education including: student loans, grants, scholarships, and more. If you’re currently with an employer that offers this assistance; however, this route is your best bet. As a famous band once wrote, “You’ve got to bet on yourself now Star…Cause that’s your best bet.” Now go close on some free tuition.

-ABC

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.

-ABC

Education

You ever hear the expression “it’s not what you know it’s who you know?” I will give some merit to that but you can know the president, not know your stuff, and still get the boot. That’s because “who you know” can transfer jobs, retire, get fired, not like you anymore…then what? Education my friends. Education is the first step to making it work in this life. The difference between median salaries for college grads versus non-college grads is enough to make your head spin. But it’s not all about the money. One of the most important things I learned in college was resourcefulness. It was learning how to solve problems when you had no clue. How to research. How to think critically. How to work in teams to get stuff done. These are skills which employers value and which gives the competitive advantage to those who have a college degrees or some type of formal education. I’m not saying you can’t learn those things without college, but I am saying you may not get the complete scope to put yourself on the same level.

But college is expensive ABC…I can’t afford it!

Yes, I realize college is expensive but if you think about the salaries you WON’T earn over your lifetime, it doesn’t seem like much of an investment. An INVESTMENT. Think about it as an investment. It’s not for anyone else but yourself. So when you think you can’t, or you’re too old, or it’s too expensive..dig in. Say to yourself, if I stick it out, save up some money, and earn this degree…you’ll be closing on a new life with new possibilities. You’ll realize that the problems of this world can be solved with your education. You’ll realize that you can solve most problems yourself so long as you apply yourself and your new found knowledge.

What about trade skills or apprenticeships?

Nothing against that…it’s an education…if you’re passionate about it then go for it. The important thing is to get your primary education (high school degree) and then some type of secondary education/training.

Bottom line is this, don’t sell yourself short by not getting more education. You should never stop learning throughout your life. Stay curious, stay focused on what needs to be done. Unfortunately most companies won’t even consider you if you don’t have some type of secondary education. Not for the jobs that pay great wages anyway. So are you going to let that stop you from achieving your dreams? You’re not going to school to learn rocket science (although if that’s what you want that’s awesome). There is nothing you can’t learn or achieve…all you need is dedication, time, and hard work. If I have to tutor you myself, or point you in the right direction, I will. But remember this…”Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world” – said a very educated Nelson Mandela. Now go close on some books will ya?

-ABC