[ Skip Main Nav ]

Phoenix Forward

Going back to school? 5 tips for telling the boss

Going back to school takes planning

Pursuing an education while working full time requires focus, discipline and planning, but most of all, making sure your boss is onboard.

“I have been approached by employees planning to return to school, and those who were successful were those who considered business needs [first],” says Akilah Bradford, a human resources manager and instructor in the University of Phoenix MBA program. “Simply advising your superiors of your plan is not enough.”

Here are five ways to cover all the angles:

Tell the truth.

Juggling work and school is all about communication, according to Tony Di Gaetano, a human resources consultant and instructor in the MBA program. “You should have open and honest communications with your boss at all times,” he says. “Most employers are supportive of additional education because it makes their employees more valuable. But be upfront about it.”

Di Gaetano recommends telling your boss how you think school will affect your focus, availability and ability to complete assigned tasks. “If possible, get everything in writing to avoid any confusion later on,” he says.

Show how your needs mesh with your employer’s.

If additional education can make you a more valuable employee, highlight that to your boss, Bradford advises, using herself as an example. “When I wanted to pursue my MBA [while working], I showed my superiors how obtaining an advanced degree would help to advance my career within the organization,” she says.

Think strategically.

Before approaching your boss, devise a detailed plan of how you’ll prioritize your work and school responsibilities, and be prepared to follow through.

“Put your CEO hat on,” Bradford recommends. “If you were the CEO and your employees approached you with a request for time off or a flexible schedule, what would you want to know?” She suggests brainstorming various scenarios of how the employees’ requests will affect the business, and using those ideas to prepare answers to supervisors’ questions.

Find out about company tuition-assistance plans.

If your company offers these benefits, make sure your boss knows you understand how they work before you pursue your education, Di Gaetano cautions, because there can be restrictions on how employees may use them.

“Most employers require that any education they pay for directly applies to your current job or the company’s overall mission,” he says. Other requirements may include achieving certain grades or remaining employed with the company for a set period after finishing school.


Determine your ultimate goals.

Choosing what education to pursue, and when, can depend on your overall career goals as well as your employer’s needs, Di Gaetano notes.

“Additional education doesn’t always mean a degree; it could be a certificate program, or even just a few computer classes,” he says. He recommends talking to your boss about the possibilities first. “Education can open up opportunities for you at your employer [that] you might not have thought of before.”