Pursuing a college degree while working a full- or part-time job is more common than you think. Nearly 30 percent of undergraduate students in the U.S. are over the age of 25 and finishing a degree after entering the workforce. Balancing your career with college coursework introduces a range of complexities, both personal and financial; however, working, adult-aged student have an important advantage. Your employee benefits package may help cover your tuition.
Tuition assistance, or tuition reimbursement, is a company-offered benefit that gives you the opportunity to have your college courses paid by your employer. Tuition assistance programs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: some companies offer reimbursement for a certain amount of courses each year, while others set a cap on the dollar amount that’s eligible for reimbursement. Interested in accessing tuition assistance at your place of work? Let’s explore how these programs operate so you can start taking advantage of this valuable benefit.
5 Things to Know About Tuition Reimbursement
1. Review the Company Policy
Kick off this process by reaching out to your employer’s Human Resources (HR) team to see what’s available. From there, review the policy and be prepared to ask questions. Here are a handful of examples that may be helpful:
- Can I pursue any degree or does it have to be related to my current job?
- Do I need to get approval from my supervisor?
- How long do I need to work at the company before I’m eligible for tuition assistance?
- What level of education is covered?
- What is the reimbursement amount per year?
- Does the benefit cover fees or just tuition?
- Do I need to get passing grades in order to get reimbursement. If so, what’s the
2. Make a Payment Game Plan
Even with tuition assistance, it’s highly likely that you’ll need to make an upfront tuition payment and get reimbursed afterwards. If you don’t have the funds readily available to cover the upfront tuition costs, there are two primary options you can pursue: payment plans and financial aid.
A typical payment plan will break up the tuition costs into three or four payments. This will spread your out-of-pocket payments over the duration of the term.
Complete a FAFSA and see if you’re eligible for federal student loans. Be sure to make payments as soon as you’re reimbursed so you can maximize your benefit, and minimize student loan debt. It’s important to remember that you must be enrolled in a degree program to use financial aid: if you’re just taking a course or two for professional development or trying out a class before you officially apply, financial aid won’t be an option.
3. Plan Carefully
When you have tuition assistance from your employer, it’s easy to become motivated and take an ambitious course load. However, you’ll want to be mindful of how quickly you progress and how many tuition dollars you use. If you only get a certain amount of tuition assistance each year, you may want to spread out your courses so your funds don’t dry up. You’ll also want to ask your academic advisor to weigh in on your plans: if a certain required course is only offered during the spring semester, you’ll want to make sure you have tuition assistance funds available.
There are also tax implications. IRS guidelines may require you to pay tax on any amount of educational assistance that tops $5,250. Note: most companies are aware of this stipulation and limit the tuition benefit to this amount or less so you don’t need to worry.
4. Find Your Add/Drop Dates
Consult the academic calendar and be aware of “add/drop” dates, which is the period of time you can safely add or withdraw from courses without financial penalty. This means that if you get busy at home or work and can’t commit to your course, as long as you drop the course by the appropriate date, you won’t have to worry about compromising your tuition benefit.
5. You Can Save THOUSANDS of Dollars
If your employer offers this benefit, take advantage! The cost of a bachelor’s degree can range from $38k to over $130k. Meanwhile, a tuition assistance program can save you up to $20,000. Even the most affordable colleges are an investment and if you have an employer who can relieve some of the financial pressure, you’ll be more likely to finish your degree.
Check out the professional development offerings through Granite State College. They offer workshops as one-day and three-day sessions, as well as next-level training for deeper skills practice.
About the Author
Jacqui Lantagne is the Associate Director of Marketing at Granite State College where she focuses on helping nontraditional students finish their degree. As part of the University System of New Hampshire, Granite State College is the leading public provider of online degrees, offering associate, bachelors and master’s programs, teacher certification options, credit for prior learning, transfer opportunities, and collaborative employer partnerships.