Because business schools prefer candidates who have been working full-time for several years, many MBA hopefuls feel pressured to leave their jobs behind in order to pursue their degrees. Having to forgo their salaries can can be a financial deal-breaker. The proposition can feel risky.

Departing a full-time job for the unknowns of a post-MBA career is a big decision. And it can be an expensive decision, too.

One excellent way to mitigate your risk — or at least have some money left in your pocket at the end of your program — is to take advantage of your company’s education benefits. Your employer may offer to pay for your MBA in its entirety, make a partial contribution, or provide some reimbursement. If they pay your full tuition, it will be the equivalent of receiving a full ride towards your MBA. But there will likely be conditions under which you can pursue this windfall.

Tuition reimbursement is slightly different from your employer footing the full MBA bill. The specifics of this benefit will vary by company, but generally speaking reimbursement means that you will pay for your courses yourself and receive some money from your employer on the back end — meaning that your upfront expenses will still be high. Again, these types of programs will vary by employer, and their conditions will vary as well.

Yet another option to avoid MBA debt is to pursue a part-time MBA while fully employed. Such programs fall under the heading FEMBA: fully employed Master’s of Business Administration. FEMBAS generally offer a lighter course load and leverage the real-world work experience of professionals-turned-students.

The Fine Print

There are plenty of reasons that a company might wish to pay for an MBA. Investing in talent and employees is good business. Investing in employees who continue to grow and bring the most-up-to- date practices and classroom learning to their jobs is just plain smart.

But getting those employer contributions for your MBA probably means you will have to agree to certain conditions. Nothing in life is free. It’s important you learn what your employer will expect from you in return for their funds.

At the very least, your company will likely require that any MBA program you pursue be AACSB accredited. This accreditation means that the MBA program meets and adheres to high educational standards. Both employers and employees should care about this accreditation, because it guarantees that the time and money spent on the MBA won’t be in vain.

Depending on your employer, you may also be asked to commit to staying at your company for a set amount of time — often based on how many semesters an employer pays for or reimburses, or the number of course credits you will be taking. You might be asked to sign a contract stating that you will stay with them for a period of time after you have earned your MBA. This can range from two to five years. If you leave before that time period, there will be a penalty and you might be asked to repay your tuition out-of-pocket.

Other stipulations could include that you must earn a minimum grade point average. Some employers even incentivise MBA students by offering cash bonuses based on grades — a certain dollar amount for every "A," for example.

The amount that companies will contribute towards their employees’ MBAs also varies quite a bit. Some companies contribute 50% of employees’ tuition, others 90%, and some even 100%. The time frame within which you can utilize these benefits may also carry conditions.

Finally, there may be a maximum dollar amount that you can draw upon for each calendar year.

There’s a lot to know, and it can impact how you approach getting your MBA. Reading the fine print is important.

Which Major Companies Will Pay for Your MBA?

A sizeable number of employers support continuing education for their employees. Some companies are particularly interested in paying for their employees to earn an MBA.

Since every workplace will vary, you should research what benefits your own company currently provides. No benefits? You can still make a case that your employer fund your MBA — it never hurts to ask.

If you’d feel better with a sure thing, browse this partial list of well-known employers that fund MBAs for qualified employees:

  • Apple
  • Baird
  • Bank of America
  • Chevron
  • Credit Suisse
  • Disney
  • Intel
  • Goldman Sachs
  • Google
  • Starbucks
  • Wells Fargo

The Employer Sponsorship and Reimbursement Takeaway:

Deciding if an MBA is right for you will require you to weigh numerous factors, including the time and money involved. Consider your aptitude for performing in this kind of program, your ability to handle the workload (especially as a part-timer who is still working a full-time job), and the ways in which your particular career might get a boost from this degree. Sure, tuition assistance may make it easier to afford an MBA. But you will still need to decide if the degree is worth your time and energy. No matter how your studies are funded, your success still depends on you.

Nedda
Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.