Executive Education

How to Ask Your Employer for Executive MBA Sponsorship

emba sponsorship

Even for a seasoned executive, it’s never easy to ask for help. Be it time, money or flexibility, making a request—particularly one for personal advancement—can be a source of anxiety for most people.

For mid-career leaders looking to grow and evolve by entering an EMBA program, asking your boss for sponsorship is a vital and necessary step in your application process. Most schools, in fact, include employer sponsorship on their lists of required application documents. Even though most employers today do not pay for EMBA programs as they did in greater numbers in the past, business schools want to know that they’re considering participants who have their bosses’ blessings—and that they’ll be afforded the time and flexibility needed to fully participate in all of their program’s activities and, often, travel.

So how do tell your boss that not only are you planning for around two years of reduced time at the office but also that you want him or her to help you get there?

It’s not all about you

For most people, the hardest part of asking for help is coping with the feeling that we’re being selfish. You’re asking your manager to give you time and flexibility to pursue an academic achievement that betters your career outcomes—it’s easy to feel like you’re asking for something that benefits only you, but you are not. At the end of the day, remember that in pursuing your EMBA, you’re also demonstrating a commitment to growth and excellence that will ultimately benefit your employer. In the long run, your organization will have a more accomplished, better-educated and more well-rounded version of the currently high-achieving leader you are—and that’s something that demonstrates your commitment to excellence and your employer in the long term.

Pitch the long game

Over the course of an entire career, a two-year EMBA program completed on nights and weekends will pass in the blink of an eye. While you may have a demanding employer that cannot imagine two years without having you on-call at all times, it’s important to help him or her remember that when you return, you’ll have access to a range of high-ranking executives across multiple industries for networking and growth possibilities. Furthermore, you’ll have a fresh and up-to-date understanding of the latest in business education—a useful tool that perhaps even your manager lacks. When asking for sponsorship, giving specific and focused examples of how you plan to use this EMBA to grow your future contributions to your company will go a long way to helping your manager get you on the right path. Keep in mind and be sure to reiterate that you see your investment in your EMBA as an investment in your company and your future path there.

Keep it positive

Not everyone who pursues an EMBA is doing so from a place of happiness and authority within his or her organization. Many people choose to return to the classroom to advance within an organization where he or she has been routinely overlooked. Others want to switch careers or industries. Some are just frustrated with their career paths and are looking for a way to constructively progress.

When explaining to your employer why his or her sponsorship is key, it’s important to avoid dwelling on any negatives or frustrations you may have that are pushing you to pursue higher education. Remember to frame your reasoning around the future and your hopes that you will eventually be able to offer even better contributions to the company with your new degree.

You’re not going anywhere…yet

Most employers are likely to be supportive of your decision to pursue further career development and education and are going to respect your initiative to seek self-improvement. Some may even offer to help with your tuition as part of their sponsorship, depending on what programs your company has for executive development. With that idea in mind, reassure your manager that you’re not planning to leave the company and that you will still fulfill all of your main duties and obligations. This EMBA is a means of enhancing your contributions to the company and will not diminish your commitment to your work.

In the end…

Keep in mind that your direct manager does not need to be your letter of recommendation for your EMBA application. While it’s in your best interest to keep a positive and strong relationship with your direct manager, understand that your going back to school could result in an additional workload for him or her—and not everyone is going to take that news with a smile and a handshake. As a result, your best recommender who can wax poetic about your achievements might be someone who is less directly impacted by your decision. Going forward, just as your employer’s sponsorship means that they pledge to give you flexibility to pursue your EMBA, be sure to do your best to offer your understanding that reduced hours in the office may lead to some initial tension.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.