If you are working full time and want to go back to school for a management degree, your primary concern is most likely related to paying for your degree — or more specifically, how to get your employer to foot some, or the entire bill, for your studies. Even if your company offers tuition reimbursement or assistance as a benefit, though, you might have an even bigger hurdle to overcome: Convincing your boss to support your educational efforts.
You might be thinking, “Why wouldn’t my boss want me to go back to school? Isn’t it in his best interests if I improve my managerial skills?” On paper, there are only upsides to employees furthering their educations, since there’s a mounting pile of evidence showing that the better educated a company’s employees, the better that company performs. Still, supervisors and managers aren’t always enthusiastic about their workers going back to school. Some have reservations about an employee’s time management skills and fear that work quality will suffer. Some question the relevance of the degree to the employee’s current position. Sometimes, the manager fears that an employer with more credentials could push them out of a job.
Regardless of the reasons that your boss isn’t initially supportive of your graduate-school ambitions, you can usually change his or her mind with a strategic, well-presented argument.
If you have worked for someone for any length of time, you should know what his or her priorities are, and what problems need solving within your organization. By positioning your desire to go back to school as a means of addressing those issues, your boss is more likely to respond favorably. In other words, instead of focusing on how earning an advanced degree will benefit you and your management career, address how your boss will benefit.
Some of the specific skills that you can highlight might include:
- Improved leadership skills. Most programs include at least one course specifically dedicated to leadership, but even if you aren’t required to, graduate school provides plenty of other opportunities to develop these skills via group work and self-directed study.
- Improved teamwork. Again, graduate education relies heavily on collaborative learning. The team skills you develop in the classroom will be immediately applicable to work in the office.
- An overall expansion of skills and knowledge. It’s very likely that your coursework will require you to apply the principles you are learning to a specific organization or to analyze a real business using your newly gain knowledge. This could prove beneficial to your employer, as you develop new ideas and strategies that could be immediately actionable to solve problems or gain competitive advantage.
If your boss’ hesitation stems not from questions about the value of a management degree, but from a more practical standpoint, be prepared to address those concerns with detailed explanations. For example, many managers are concerned that an employee’s educational pursuits could affect his or her performance on the job. Be prepared to share your plans for allocating your time, and providing reassurance that you will arrive on time and complete your work with the same swiftness and care that you always have.
Online courses help make time management easier, but if you will be taking in-person courses that require you to leave the office early on certain days, be upfront about it and have a plan for making up that time; for example “I’ll need to leave at 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays for my leadership class, but I’ll come in a half hour early that day to make up the time.” Demonstrating that you are committed to fulfilling all of your obligations will help get your boss in your corner.
Your boss might also have concerns that you will leave the company as soon as you finish your degree. Since it’s likely that it will take 18 months to two years to finish your program, reiterate to your boss that you plan to stay on staff for at least the duration of your program. In some cases, you make be asked to commit to staying on board for a certain period after you earn your degree, especially if your employer is paying the bill. Only you can decide if the terms are reasonable, and whether you can accommodate the request. If it feels unreasonable (such as a five-year commitment) you might negotiate a shorter contract, or opt to cover your degree yourself or via financial aid.
Of course, the most important part of gaining — and keeping — your boss’ support is following through on your promises. If you manage all of your work and keep improving, don’t be surprised if your boss is the first to congratulate you when you graduate.