This post is featured on behalf of Nicole Jarvis.

Sixty-one percent of employers now offer tuition reimbursement as an employee benefit and for good reason. Not only does tuition reimbursement net the company a more qualified workforce, it also reduces turnover and cuts costs. One study found that health insurance company Cigna got back a dollar and saved $1.29 for every dollar it spent on tuition reimbursement, thanks to lowered recruiting costs and less turnover.

The increasing popularity of tuition reimbursement is good news for employees, too. Taking advantage of an employer’s tuition reimbursement program is an excellent way for a twenty-something to earn an advanced degree, without taking on more student debt. To make the most of this employee benefit, make sure you talk to your supervisor about the requirements and plan your educational pursuits accordingly.

Find Out the Particulars

Before you enroll in classes, find out the specifics of your employer’s tuition reimbursement program. Even if your employer didn’t have a tuition reimbursement program in the past, it’s worth asking again – the policy may have changed, as these programs are becoming more popular.

You may need to convince your employer that the degree you want will make you a more valuable employee and help you advance in your current career path. For example, if you’re already working in data science, earning an advanced business analytics degree can only help you and your company. But if you’re an engineer, your company may not want to pay for you to study studio art – unless, of course, you can convince them that doing so will make you a better engineer.

You may have to take classes at a specific university in order to get money back. However, some employers do allow employees to choose any program they want and even any university they want – although you might get a better deal if you attend a partner university or enroll in a specific program. Your employer may make reimbursement conditional on your academic performance, requiring a certain GPA – usually a passing grade of C is enough, but your employer may make full reimbursement contingent on an A grade.

It’s also possible that you’ll only be able to receive so much money per year or term – at Cigna, employees can receive $5,250 per year for undergraduate programs and $8,000 per year for graduate programs. Any additional reimbursement is taxed by the IRS as income. Finally, you may be required to stay with your employer for a certain amount of time – usually two to five years – after graduation, so that they can see some return on their investment.

Enroll in Courses

If all that sounds good to you, it’s time to sign up for some courses! You’ve already discovered what courses you can take and what university you can enroll in. You may need to get the okay from your supervisor in order to be eligible for reimbursement; he or she will decide whether the courses you want to enroll in are eligible for reimbursement. You’ll probably need to sign up for your employer’s tuition reimbursement program before you enroll in any classes.

Strategize Payment

Wait a minute – isn’t your employer supposed to be paying for these courses? Sure, but not all programs pay tuition up front, especially if there’s a GPA requirement. That means you may need to file a FAFSA and take out student loans in order to pay tuition upfront. If you qualify for subsidized federal student loans, saving the reimbursement money to pay back your loans after graduation may be your best option. Otherwise, you can pay back each loan at the end of the semester when you get your employer’s tuition money.

Grow Your Skills and Advance Your Career

You don’t need to wait until you finish your degree to start applying your new skills at work. As you learn new things, don’t hesitate to take on new projects and new responsibilities. You may find that you’re eligible for a promotion as soon as you finish your degree.

If your employer offers tuition reimbursement, you should take advantage. It’s a great way to pay for an advanced degree, without increasing the burden of your student debt. Your company will get a smarter, more qualified employee – and you’ll get enhanced prospects that will stay with you throughout your entire career.

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