Continuing your education can help you grow your career or transition to a new field. A huge factor in deciding whether to enroll in a course or degree program could be how you’re going to pay for it.

Many organizations offer tuition reimbursement as part of their benefits package, yet only five percent of employees typically take advantage of it. Some might fear education won’t fit into their schedule, while others are nervous to ask their boss or are simply unaware of the perk.

The truth is, gaining new skills or strengthening existing qualities can be a fast track to career advancement. According to a survey by City Square Associates for Harvard Business School Online, even a single online course can lead to a promotion and improve your confidence at work. For employers, tuition reimbursement can also be an extraordinary retention tool.

If you’re considering taking an online course or pursuing an advanced degree, here’s how to ask your employer to fund your education.

How to Convince Your Employer to Pay for Your Education

1. Make Career Development a Stated Priority

Most managers want to know what motivates employees. For some, the biggest motivator is money. For others, it’s stock options or simply positive feedback for a job well done. But some employees are motivated most by the opportunity to grow their career.

Be sure your manager knows that career growth is important to you. It’s reasonable to ask your boss what it will take to get promoted. Once you know the skills and experience you need, you can look for training opportunities or educational programs to help you get there.

2. Do Your Homework

Does your employer offer tuition assistance or reimbursement? If there isn’t a publicized program, don’t lose hope. Many companies allocate a certain amount of money toward professional development. Managers may earmark that budget for industry conferences and might not have considered applying it toward continuing education.

Check with your HR department about educational assistance and ask around to find out if others have taken a course and gotten reimbursed. Once you know if there’s a precedent, you’ll be better equipped to approach your boss.

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3. Create a Pitch

Approach asking for tuition assistance like you would a formal negotiation. Go into the discussion with clearly outlined and rehearsed messages about what you hope to gain and how it will benefit your boss and organization. 

Anticipate objections and be prepared to address them. Some managers may be concerned that a course or program will take your time and attention away from work. Point out that most online programs are flexible and can be done on your schedule.

4. Calculate the ROI

An important argument for why your organization should invest in your education is what they will get out of it. Outline how the class would help you be more effective in your role. If you can determine an estimated dollar return, even better, but simply stating the new or enhanced skills you’re likely to gain and how they can be applied to your work should suffice.

5. Timing Is Everything

Consider the best time of the week, day, or even year to ask for tuition assistance. Annual performance reviews present a natural opportunity to discuss your career goals with your manager and are often the perfect time to ask for financial support to help continue your education.

If your employer approves the request, make sure you understand the rules. Will you be required to stay at your company for a defined period after completing the program? Will you need to pay upfront and get compensated later? Do you need to earn a certain minimum grade point average to be reimbursed?

Investing in yourself and your career can pay dividends for you and your employer. Like most things, approaching it with a plan will more likely bring you that positive outcome.

If you're interested in furthering your education, explore our online business courses in negotiation, management, leadership, and more.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.