A report from the Society for Human Resource Management claims that 54 percent of employers offer tuition assistance. If you are one of the lucky employees whose company offers a tuition assistance plan, simply talk to your manager or human resources department to set up a plan for your graduate studies. If your company doesn’t currently have a tuition assistance program, the process of receiving aid for graduate school may take a bit more planning.

Below is a roadmap to help you create an action plan for getting your employer to reimburse you for your graduate degree.

Asking makes the difference. Also, sell it. What do you want to learn? Why? How will it benefit your employer? I think an employee that shows that kind of initiative and drive is always a good thing.

Jesse Mecham, You Need A Budget Founder

PREPARE YOUR GRADUATE STUDIES PLAN

Finding and applying for a graduate degree can take time. With so many choices available, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed.

  • Begin your journey to a graduate degree by researching programs and schools that you are interested in. Research salary and job outcomes for different programs. Create a “short-list” of schools and programs. As you research, think about the future. Will you work full-time while completing your degree? If so, you may want to seek out flexible programs designed for working professionals or online programs.
  • Choose a graduate program. Have a plan before approaching your employer. Make a list of courses offered in the graduate program relevant to your job.
  • The next step is to research what benefits your employer currently offers for tuition reimbursement. Many employers have programs in place. Before approaching your employer about reimbursement make sure you understand the benefits available. Speaking with a human resources specialist is a good place to start.

MEETING AGENDA: THE “ASK”

When you’ve finished your research and made a decision on an advanced degree program, it’s time to talk to your employer.

Communicate in writing

Before the meeting send an email or letter outlining what you’d like to discuss and initial questions or concerns about tuition assistance.

Set up a meeting

It’s a good idea to keep the lines of communication open with your manager and employer about your plans for graduate school. Set up a meeting to speak with your manager about your plans and ask about help paying for your master’s degree.

You may want to ask:
  • Am I required to stay with the company for a certain length of time after I complete my degree?
  • How long do I have to work at this company in order to receive tuition assistance benefits?
  • How will I be reimbursed for classes?
  • Will I have to reimburse the company for tuition spent if I leave the company before my degree is completed?
  • Has your employer partnered with any colleges to provide free or discounted courses?

DETAIL THE BENEFITS

An advanced degree is an accomplishment and a wonderful personal achievement. It also makes you a more marketable, knowledgeable employee.

But what about your employer?

Tax Benefit
  • Employers can deduct up to $5,250 annual maximum for tuition reimbursement programs. The company reaps the benefit of a smarter workforce with a relatively small investment. It’s a win-win.
  • Research if your state offers tax breaks for employers who offer to pay for graduate studies. This will be especially helpful with an employer who might be on the fence due to financial commitment.
  • If your state does not offer tax breaks, your employer still might be able to write off part of your tuition as a training expense.
The Value of a Graduate Degree
  • Completing a graduate degree helps you bring a new perspective, broader understanding and new decision making skills to your position. It also extends your network and establishes new resources in professors and classmates. These are benefits that help you and your employer.
Consider a Commitment to the Company
  • Some companies may require a two- to five-year commitment as part of their tuition reimbursement program. If your company doesn’t have a program and is hesitant to help fund your graduate degree, you could commit to the company for several years. Consider creating a formal contract that outlines your commitment.
  • Think of other ways to negotiate with your company. If they are unable to help pay for your degree consider asking for time off or comp time for class, study or travel time. You could also ask for help in covering fees and textbook costs.
Be a Team Player
  • Your graduate degree won’t benefit just you. You will gain skills and knowledge that can benefit your entire team. Think of ways you can share what you learn and propose a formal plan for sharing your new-found knowledge. Lunch and Learns, mentoring junior team members, sharing class presentations or resources, or involving other employees in thesis or project work may be part of your plan.
  • Think about ways your new degree may help improve process or project planning with your team.

ADDRESS CONCERNS

Be ready if your employer expresses concern about your desire to complete a graduate degree while working.

Sell Yourself
  • Share your accomplishments and the success you have contributed to at the company.
  • Speak about the courses you will take and how they will directly impact your performance and team.
  • If there are concerns about the time commitment, create a plan for how you will balance school and work.
  • Stress how your graduate studies are personally important to you and will help you remain an engaged employee.
Balancing Work and School
  • Work Smarter. If you’re required to complete a research project or thesis, try to work it into something you are already working on at your job. You may even find that your boss gets excited about this! After all, you’ll be showing an immediate return on the investment your company has made.
  • Plan Ahead. Consider planning to take an extra day or two off to focus on school before a big test of project is due. This will help you remove stress and by planning ahead you won’t be letting anyone at work down.
  • Make health a priority. With the stress of working full-time and studying, it’s not uncommon for grad students to fight weight gain and common colds. Eat healthy, get enough sleep and make exercise a priority. Consider taking a lighter class load to ensure that you can give your best at school and work.
  • Communicate and commit. Keep your end of the bargain. Don’t let classes interfere with work, earn high grades, and give your manager notice before each semester begins, rather than relying on them to remember. Keeping the lines of communication open while you finish your graduate degree will ensure your employer is satisfied with their investment.

I think so many students today assume student debt is a foregone conclusion, and that changes their approach, their decisions. I think it is absolutely possible to graduate debt-free or very close.

Jesse Mecham, You Need a Budget Founder

Thousands of young people in the U.S. face massive student loan debt – an average of about $30,000 per student. The prospect of attending graduate school with previous student loan debt can be disheartening, especially with an average annual tuition of $30,000 for public colleges and universities, and nearly $40,000 for private schools.

While finishing a graduate degree without any debt can be hard, it’s not impossible.

$29,400

Average student loan debt for 2012 graduates

15 OUTSTANDING COMPANIES THAT PAY FOR SCHOOL

Joining a company that offers tuition reimbursement is a good strategy to completing a graduate program debt-free. While company’s education benefits can vary greatly, there are some standout companies across the U.S. that provide exceptional tuition reimbursement programs.

Here are 15 outstanding companies that offer tuition reimbursement as part of their benefits packages:

Google

The benefits at Google are legendary: free massages, paid paternity and maternity leave, yoga, and free sushi to name a few. Google makes it clear that they value their employees and many of the perks are unheard of. They make no exception when it comes to education.

Google employees receive reimbursement for classes or degree programs that help employees do their job. You must be a full-time employee and pass all of your classes with A’s or B’s. Do that and $12,000 per year is yours for the taking.

Chevron

Career and development training is taken seriously at Chevron. Employees are offered an extensive curriculum of company-sponsored safety training, technical, business, and leadership courses.

For higher education, tuition reimbursement of up to 75 percent for approved external training and educational pursuits is available to employees. You can expect to build a strong network at Chevron and gain access to mentoring programs as well.

Boeing

Since 1989 Boeing has provided employees a pathway to improving their education and job skills. Boeing estimates they have invested more than $1 billion in employees’ college tuition, books and fees.

Employees who have been at the company for one year, whether they are full or part-time, receive $3,000 per year in tuition reimbursement. Employees are free to pursue strategic fields of study at more than 270 qualified colleges and universities. You are not limited in what you choose to study – Boeing encourages their employees to explore new roles throughout the company and course work does not have to be related to your current job.

Proctor and Gamble (P&G)

The major home appliance and brand company, P&G, offers a very generous Tuition Reimbursement Plan that allows employees to seek continuing education courses or programs that are related to their current or potential next assignment within the company.

They reimburse 80 percent of tuition and qualifying fees with a lifetime cap of $40,000 of company-reimbursed expenses. Employees must have their coursework approved before receiving reimbursement.

Best Buy

Employees at Best Buy are eligible for tuition reimbursement after six months of continuous employment, who work a minimum of 32 hours per week, and are listed as a full-time employee in the company’s HR system.

Undergraduate students will receive a maximum of $3,500 per calendar year and graduate students will receive $5,250. Costs covered include tuition, textbooks and fees ($325 undergraduate; $525 graduate). Employees must have approval from their manager prior to beginning classes and pass undergraduate classes with a C- or better, and a B- or better in graduate classes. In addition to the tuition reimbursement, Best Buy offers plenty of benefits and great discounts in stores.

UPS

According to the UPS website, they have invested $187 million in tuition assistance for approximately 113,000 college students since 1999. Full-time non-union, part-time management, and part-time non-union employees are eligible for the program.

UPS offers flexible schedules for students and $5,250 per calendar year with a lifetime maximum of $25,000. Eligibility begins the day you’re hired and benefits are prorated accordingly in case you’re hired mid–semester. UPS is committed to promoting from within and boasts that today’s part-time employees could be tomorrow’s executives.

Home Depot

The Home Depot’s Tuition Reimbursement Program encourages and supports salaried and full-time hourly associates who enroll in college, university and technical school courses in order to obtain an associates, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, or technical degree.

Home Depot has partnered with Bellevue University, Capella University, Kaplan University, Strayer University, and the University of Phoenix to allow employees to obtain a degree at a discounted rate. Tuition reimbursement may also be applied to the college, university or technical school of your choice as long as your course selection meets the eligibility requirements. It’s reported that Home Depot will pay half of tuition costs up to $2,500 per year.

Salesforce

Named one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 best companies to work for, Salesforce is generous with their education assistance. They will reimburse 100 percent of the costs of fees, tuition, and books for pre-approved, job-related courses taken at an accredited institution – up to $5,250 per calendar year.

Salesforce has seen astronomical growth – they reported 26 percent revenue growth in the fourth quarter of 2014, and their benefits are keeping pace. Salesforce offers discounts on fitness, travel, spa days, commuter benefits, refinancing of student debt, in addition to regular benefits like time off, healthcare and extensive paid parental leave.

Genentech

If free haircuts, weekly car washes, concierge and travel arrangements, on-site childcare and a long list of other employee benefits surprise you, then you may be shocked to know that Genentech offers employees $10,000 per year to attend school. The biotechnology company is often at the top of Forbes “100 Best Companies to Work For,” and has made extraordinary benefits part of their company culture.

The Boston Consulting Group

One of the largest management-consulting firms in the world, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) offers full tuition reimbursement. What does that mean for you? Essentially a free Master in Business Administration (MBA) or other graduate degree.

Not only does the group cover tuition, they will also pay for all Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) classes. In addition, if you get into a graduate program and you’re in good standing in your current positon at BCG, they will provide you with a two-year living stipend while you’re in school.

USAA

The financial services company (most notably known for their insurance products) offers tuition assistance to employees seeking certificates, bachelors or master’s degree. USAA values education — it offers intensive training and professional development programs as well.

Employees are eligible for the benefit after being employed for 90 days. It’s reported that the tuition reimbursement is up to $10,000 per year. In the past, USAA employees have received generous bonus packages in addition to the many other benefits.

Aflac

Employees at Aflac receive a $3,690 college tuition reimbursement per year. The company has over 5,000 employees in the U.S. and 83 office sites. They’ve been named one of Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” 16 years in a row. As part of the Aflac team you’ll find yourself in a supportive work environment with an organizational culture that champions an open-door management philosophy, competitive salaries, and excellent benefits.

L.L. Bean

Adventure and outdoor loving, full-time employees at L.L. Bean receive $5,250 in tuition and eligible expenses reimbursement per year. Approved college courses and certificate programs also qualify for financial assistance.

Bank of America

Eligible employees at Bank of America receive up to $5,250 for job-related courses or to fulfill a job-related degree program. As a global company, Bank of America offers plenty of opportunity for career growth and development.

CarMax

Employees at CarMax are free to explore degrees and classes even if they’re not job-related. Courses must be credited and CarMax reimburses eligible tuition expenses up to $800 per approved course, with a maximum of $2,500 per year for full-time Associates and $1,500 for part-time Associates.

At You Need A Budget (YNAB), we place a lot of emphasis on pursuing excellence of craft. And if you hire great people, they want to be always growing, improving, and learning. To keep these great people happy — and at the top of their game — you invest in continuing education. The tech world moves quickly and it is always changing, growth is dependent on always learning. This is a no-brainer for me.

Jesse Mecham, You Need a Budget Founder

Q&A WITH JESSE MECHAM, YOU NEED A BUDGET FOUNDER

How did you finance your graduate degree?

This isn’t an entirely interesting answer but I worked hard — before, during and after. I didn’t consider loans or debt an option. If you take that approach, you get creative because you have to.

Did you work while in graduate school? Any tips on balancing school and work?

I did. I would just say stay laser-focused on your goals. The nice thing about school is that it is a finite amount of time. You can maintain a crazy amount of focus/discipline/schedule, if you know it is for the greater good, and that it won’t be forever.

Do you think graduating debt-free from graduate school is realistic?

This is a tough one. I do not think it is easy. And in every situation, no, it probably isn’t possible. But I would love to see more students try. I think so many students today assume student debt is a foregone conclusion, and that changes their approach, their decisions. I think it is absolutely possible to graduate debt-free or very close to it.

How can budgeting help a prospective student prepare for graduate school?

I hear a lot of bogus reasons why people can’t budget. One of my favorite is, “I don’t have enough money to budget.” Of course, this is entirely untrue. The less money you have, the more important and valuable the budget becomes. We teach that the first, and arguably most important thing you can do, is give every dollar a job. This forces you to really prioritize and focus all of your money — every last dollar — on the things that are most important to you. Budgeting also forces you to think ahead and plan and prepare. If you aren’t caught off guard, you aren’t put in a situation where you have to rely on credit and begin digging what often becomes a very large hole.

Can you provide some tips on how prospective students can afford graduate school?

There are only so many variables at your disposal. Two of the biggest options are how much you make and how much you spend. So, live like you are a poor, struggling student—because that’s what you are. Also, look for opportunities to make extra money. You are going to have to work very hard. You will be tired. Super tired. But you are setting up your future self in a big way and you will never regret it.

Why do you think it’s important that companies encourage their employees to further their education?

At YNAB, we place a lot of emphasis on pursuing excellence of craft. And if you hire great people, they want to be always growing, improving, and learning. To keep these great people happy — and at the top of their game — you invest in continuing education. The tech world moves quickly and it is always changing, growth is dependent on always learning. This is a no-brainer for me

What tips or insights could you offer a prospective student when it comes to funding their degree through their employer?

Asking makes the difference. Also, sell it: what do you want to learn and why? How will it benefit your employer? I think an employee that shows that kind of initiative and drive—that is always a good thing.

NAVIGATING EMPLOYEE REIMBURSEMENT PROGRAMS

It’s important to understand your employer’s education assistance benefits before you begin a graduate program.

Tuition reimbursement or assistance is an employer provided benefit is a contractual agreement between employer and employee that outlines specific terms under which the employer may pay for the employee’s continuing education.

Programs vary greatly so it’s important to understand the nuances of each program.

THINGS TO CONSIDER
  • 1

    Does your degree program align with the scope of business you are currently in?

  • 2

    Do you need to attain a certain grade or GPA to receive reimbursement?

  • 3

    Will you need to stay with the company for a number of years after graduating?

  • 4

    Will you be required to sign a contract?

  • 5

    How will you receive your reimbursement?

  • 6

    What happens if you fail a class or drop out?

Some companies may allow employees to pursue any degree they are interested in, while others have strict guidelines and limit reimbursement to classes or degrees that will help the employee, and thus the company, in their current role.

EXAMPLE: Bank of America offers employees $5,250 per calendar year for job-related educational pursuits.

The amount that a company will cover varies greatly.

Fifty-four percent of companies offer some sort of tuition assistance and among that group a small number of businesses will provide unlimited funding, some even offer a living stipend so students can focus on school full-time. Other companies have strict policies that outline how much they’ll pay and how they’ll pay it. Amounts may vary depending on the level of education an employee is pursuing.

EXAMPLE: Best Buy will reimburse undergraduate students a maximum of $3,500 per calendar year and graduate students will receive $5,250.

With the cost of graduate school averaging between $30,000 and $40,000, it’s important to investigate if a company limits tuition assistance with a lifetime maximum.

EXAMPLE: UPS allows employees $25,000; P&G caps the benefit at $40,000.

You may be required to pay up-front for your graduate degree, then submit a reimbursement form to your employer.

EXAMPLE: Boeing require employees to fill out an internal application that is submitted to their Education Assistance program. Students are required to submit a new application each term or semester. When an employee’s application is approved, the employee will receive a voucher that is given to the school in lieu of payment. The school then bills the company and is paid for the employee’s classes. All enrollment fees are paid directly to the provider by the company.

Boeing also reimburses employees for books, fees, required software and even parking. The process for this differs than tuition. At the end of each enrollment period, the employee must complete the reimbursement form, which is provided with the tuition voucher.

After researching and signing up for your employer’s tuition assistance, it’s time to maximize the benefit. Research course costs, map out your graduate program and measure your progress as you advance through your program. Keep the dialogue with your employer open.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES TO HELP FUND GRAD SCHOOL

Funding grad school isn’t limited to getting your employer to pay for it. Scholarships, grants, fellowships and research assistantships are also available, as well as self-funding your graduate degree without acquiring more debt. Below is a list of resources you may find handy as you plan your graduate school journey.

Scholarship and Grant Resources

Scholarships.com

Find examples of scholarships and financial aid opportunities for graduate students.

Fastweb!

Fastweb! provides access to grad school scholarships based on your major, work experience and activities. There are roughly 1.5 million scholarships worth more than $3.4 billion with scholarships for every student’s educational goals, activities, and interests.

Budgeting and Debt Management Resources

YouNeedABudget

YNAB, as it’s known by its fans and users, is a budgeting system and software that teaches users how to budget, get out of debt, save for a rainy day and live on less than they earn.

DaveRamsey.com

Financial expert, Dave Ramsey, offers a seven-step process for getting out of debt and saving.

Fellowship and Research Assistantship Resources

Higher Ed Jobs

Online search engine for careers in higher education. The site currently boasts over 36,000 jobs at 2,333 institutions.

Chronicle of Higher Education

Vitae, a service of the Chronicle of Higher Education, connects career-minded faculty and administrators with jobs in higher education. The site currently lists over 6,500 faculty and research positions.

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The Junior Fellows Program at the Carnegie Endowment is designed to provide work experience for students who are interested in the area of international affairs. Approximately 10-12 students are hired each year to work as employees at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington, DC on a full-time basis.

Berkeley Career Center

UC Berkeley offers a list of fellowship programs that have been reviewed by their career center. The list offers fellowships within California and throughout the United States.

Center for California Studies

These programs, known collectively as the Capital Fellows Programs, are nationally recognized. The 18 Assembly Fellows, 18 Senate Fellows, 18 Executive Fellows and 10 Judicial Administration Fellows engage in public service and prepare for future careers, while actively contributing to the development and implementation of public policy in California.

El Polmar Foundation

El Pomar’s Fellowship program focuses on cultivating the next generation of leaders in Colorado. Fellows are supplied with on-the-job and leadership training.

Environmental Protection Agency

The EPA supplies research grant funding in the following areas: air, climate change, ecosystems, health, safer chemicals, sustainability, water, homeland security, human health risk, and land and waste management.

Villers Fellowship for Healthcare Justice

The Villers Fellowship for Health Care Justice focuses on health care justice leaders.

Wellstone Fellowship for Social Justice

Wellstone Fellow’s gain experience in drafting talking points, blogs, fact sheets, and other publications. They also develop content for the Families USA website and email lists that promote health equity and the reduction and elimination of disparities in health and health care.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum

A nine- to 12-month in-residence fellowship, the Verville Fellowship is intended for students interested in the analysis of major trends, developments, and accomplishments in the history of aviation or space studies.

UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy

The UCPPIA accepts ten summer students interested in pursuing joint degrees in public policy and law.

UC Berkeley Human Rights Center

Students wishing to contribute to human rights organizations may find fellowship opportunities through The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley.

Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation

The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation identifies and develops leaders and institutions to meet the nation’s critical challenges. The foundation has awarded fellowships to more than 22,000 scholars, who now include 14 Nobel Laureates, 37 MacArthur “Genius Grant” Fellows, 18 Pulitzer Prize winners, 27 recipients of Presidential and national medals.