If you're a current or future college student who is looking for a job, you may want to look into job openings at companies that offer to help cover the cost of your college degree. Or, if you're already employed and thinking of going back to college, it's wise to learn more about the benefits your company may offer to help employees who want to go back to school while working. Many companies offer great incentives to go back to school while working, partially because evidence shows that employees who get help paying for school are more likely to stay in their jobs or move up within a company. When researching companies' tuition reimbursement (TA) policies or educational benefits, remember that not all educational assistance benefits are equal. Before you apply for a job with a company that says it will help pay for college — or use the benefits available to you at your current job — be sure you can answer these nine questions.
9 questions to ask before using a company's tuition reimbursement or education benefits
- How many hours a week do you have to work to be eligible for education benefits? Are part-time employees eligible for the same amount of money as full-time employees?
- How much time do employees have to be employed before being eligible for money for school?
- What is the yearly or lifetime maximum amount that the company will pay for tuition?
- Are the education benefits only offered for certain schools or programs?
- Are books and other education expenses covered, or just tuition?
- Is there a requirement to stay with the company for a certain amount of time during or after your courses to receive money for school?
- Do you have to maintain certain grades to be eligible for tuition reimbursement?
- Are franchise employees eligible for education benefits?
- Do employees pay for tuition themselves and get reimbursed, or will the employer pay the school directly?
How many hours a week do you have to work to be eligible for education benefits?
Some employers have restrictions around which employees are eligible for benefits, and some may require that employees taking advantage of the education benefits work a certain number of hours each week to maintain eligibility. Look for companies that offer benefits for part-time employees. Even if you work full-time now, you may find you need to cut back when school gets busy or if sometime comes up in your personal life, and it's good to know you won't lose your education benefits if you do.
How long do employees have to work before being eligible for tuition assistance?
Some employers want employees to have put in some time at the company before utilizing benefits, and others don't have any stipulations around employee tenure. The amount of time employees need to work before they are eligible for certain benefits can vary from a few weeks to over a year. And for some, like UPS, employees are eligible on the same day they are hired.
What is the yearly or lifetime maximum amount that employees can receive for college tuition?
Many companies, like Starbucks or Chipotle, cover 100 percent of tuition at select in-network schools, and other companies pay for up to a certain amount per year at a wider range of institutions. The total amount an employee is eligible to receive may depend on the type of degree they are pursuing, whether they work full or part time and other factors, so be sure to double-check the maximum you are eligible to receive before counting on tuition reimbursement to balance your college budget. It is common for employers to offer up to $5250 a year for employees to spend on their education, because this is the max amount of tuition assistance that can provide without the employee having to pay taxes on the money received to help pay for college.
Is the tuition benefit only offered to employees that attend certain schools and programs?
Many schools require employees to attend certain schools in order to receive the full education benefit offered. Oftentimes, companies require employees to attend a school that they partner with.Some companies offer different tuition assistance packages for employees depending on if they choose an in-network or out-of-network school. Other companies provide educational benefits at most accredited colleges or universities. If you are looking for a school or a new job that offers tuition benefits, make sure that the school you choose to attend is eligible for the benefits.
Are books and other college-related expenses covered, or just tuition?
Employers usually have a list of expenses that are eligible for tuition reimbursement, and these may or may not include additional expenses related to college, like books or a computer. Check the fine print of the tuition reimbursement policy to see if books or other expenses qualify.
Is there a requirement that employees stay employed by the company for a certain amount of time during or after school to receive the benefit?
Some companies may require employers to stay employed by the company for the duration of the classes that they are receiving funds to pay for. Other companies may ask employees to stay with the company for a set amount of time after receiving education benefits or earning their degree. And some companies do not have rules around how long an employee needs to stay employed with them in order to provide help paying for college. If the company that helps pay your tuition has requirements about how long you stay employed to be eligible for the benefit, make sure you know what would happen to your tuition benefits if you became unemployed either by choice or chance, and how long you would have to repay any money owed.
Do you have to maintain certain grades to be eligible for tuition reimbursement?
Occasionally employers will require that employees taking advantage of educational benefits maintain a certain grade point average, or earn a certain grade in each class, to stay eligible for the benefit. Before using your tuition benefits, verify if there are certain grades you need to maintain, and what happens if your grades fall short.
Are franchise employees eligible for education benefits?
For popular chains that have a lot of locations that operate as individually-owned franchises, like McDonald's or Taco Bell, the benefits available for franchise employees may be different than those available for employees of the parent company. Whether you work for a franchise or the home office, verify that the education benefits advertised are available for you.
Does the student pay for tuition and get reimbursed by their employer, or will the employer pay for school directly?
Tuition reimbursement is usually just that: first, a student pays their tuition out-of-pocket and submits a receipt to their employer, who then pays them the money they used to cover the cost of school. If you don't have the cash or credit to pay out-of-pocket, this system for tuition reimbursement can be challenging. If you're still deciding where to pursue your education, look for employers that have education partnerships with specific schools. Employers are more likely to pay education-related costs directly when they have a pre-existing relationship with a school, and most make their education benefits available at a variety of schools. If you are able to pay upfront and wait to be reimbursed, and you're already enrolled or have your heart set on a certain school, the traditional tuition reimbursement model may work best for you. Just be sure you know how long it will take to receive the money and try to avoid paying costly credit card interest or late fees on it. To be sure the reimbursement is as quick and easy as possible, confirm what you need to do to submit eligible expenses well ahead of time.