When I was a college undergraduate, I landed a summer internship in the art department of an international magazine. I was in a new city with no friends and no family, but I knew it was a great opportunity and I knew my manager was going to be awesome. She really was awesome—she took me to lunch, answered all of my silly first-job questions, and helped me get set up with IT after everyone else had left the office.

Three days into my internship, she quit. She had been accepted to business school (five months earlier) and was now giving the company just two weeks notice before she took the summer to relax before starting school. I was left with no manager, no project, and no idea what to do. That’s when I promised myself that if I ever went to grad school, I would handle it differently.

When I decided to quit my job to pursue an MBA full time, I handled things differently. But, how you approach this conversation about going back to school depends largely on your work dynamic.

Considerations for When to Tell Your Employer

  • Who wrote your application recommendations? If it was a manager, then they have a good idea of when you will make a decision.
  • How long will it take to find and train your replacement? If you’re in a niche field, your manager will likely appreciate more notice.
  • Does your manager have an MBA? If so, he or she will likely support your decision and can probably advise you on how to break the news to the rest of the company.
  • How have your colleagues resigned? Regardless of the reason, what is the precedent at your company?
  • How much time will you take in between your current job and business school? If you’re planning to take months off, what sort of courtesy would your company expect?

Tips for How to Tell Your Employer

  • Start with what you liked about your job: I’ve really enjoyed my leadership role at this company.
  • Then, what you’re hoping to get from an MBA: But I want to develop my quantitative skills so that I can transition into a more strategic function.
  • Follow with the action: I am planning to attend The Fuqua School of Business in the fall, which means I will leaving the company in June.
  • Tell them why you’re telling them now: I have appreciated your mentorship and support, so I wanted to tell you this now and give you plenty of time to fill my position.
  • Offer to help train your replacement: I hope that I will be able to overlap with the new hire so that I can help train him or her and make this a smooth transition for everyone.
  • And please, have this conversation in person if possible.

In my case, my manager (who was also an MBA) wrote my recommendations and knew what I was planning well ahead of time. Because we had that conversation early, it made the transition much smoother. I hired my replacement in January and helped him get settled in for a few months. Then, I worked remotely for the summer, slowly phasing myself out. I know my company appreciated the honesty and open communication and I left with all of those relationships intact.