It went from feeling like benign small talk to a dreadful interrogation: “What are you planning to do with your MBA?” I always tried to answer as best I could, but I never felt confident in the answer I gave. I did not embark on an MBA with a specific end goal in mind, as I work in an industry and for a firm that does not have a linear promotion track correlated with an MBA, like investment banking. I knew that I wanted to get an MBA for many different personal and professional reasons, and this wasn’t something I could put into a succinct answer for the curious inquirer.

I thought about this question more, and then it hit me: I am getting an MBA to give myself more flexibility in the roles I pursue and the industries in which I pursue them. Put even more simply, an MBA will allow me to choose to work on cooler projects with cooler people. While giving my new answer, I would visualize one of those old library ladders. My MBA will not only allow me to go up vertically within organizations, but perhaps more importantly, move laterally across functions and industries. I am even exploring roles within non-profits that I would have never explored before.

The most frequent follow-up question to the “what will you do…” question is whether my company sponsored me in the program. Let’s get into some of the economics of the MBA and how company sponsorship may play a role in funding your degree in different ways than you imagined.

Thoughts On Company Sponsorship

My employer is allowing me the time and space to leave work for ten days at a time to travel to four different continents with my Fuqua classmates and professors. Most people want to know whether my company gave me financial sponsorship to help reduce the out-of-pocket cost of the Global Executive MBA program. Here are some thoughts and pieces of advice on that:

  • Manage your expectations of what your company will contribute towards your degree. Almost all financial commitments come with a time commitment contract that you’ll have to sign. Moreover, make sure you quantify any time off or support they are willing to give you. My company allows me to take each residency off completely without taking unpaid leave.
  • Approach your company as early as possible about the financial demands of the program. First, work with your manager and HR business partner to clarify any education assistance programs offered by your firm. Second, apply for an exception if you believe you have the justification to do so. I asked for more than the assistance program provided, and while I was given less than I asked for, I was given 2x more than the program rules stipulate. The exception I was granted had to be approved by our Chief HR Officer, and I work for a 50,000-person Fortune 250 company. So, know that any letter or appeal you write may be seen by some high-ranking eyeballs!
  • Approach your company as early as possible about the scheduling demands of the program. I was nervous to explain the residency schedule to my boss.  I showed my manager the residency calendar and created a plan for dividing up my workload, and that instilled confidence.
  • Decide whether you would pay for this program out of pocket if you received no sponsorship. If your company does not have an assistance program or says no to your exception request, would you pay for Fuqua out of pocket? I looked at the potential return on investment I could achieve with an MBA from a top-ranked program, and the math was simple. Yes, I would gladly pay for this out of pocket if I needed to because it has that much value to me. If that is a no for you, then you may need to reconsider the program.

Finally, and most importantly, I will share the key points from a conversation I had with our amazing professor, Noah Eisenkraft, during our first term residency in Durham. I told Noah that I was hurt by my company’s rejection of my full sponsorship request. Noah is a negotiation expert, and he told me that it was too late to go back and ask for more. That door was closed. He then asked if I would rather the company pay an extra $30-$40,000 per year for two years, or make an extra $50-60,000 per year for the next 10 years. Noah instructed me to prepare a negotiation with my employer that outlined how I will add long-term value to the organization, the quantified goals and results that will be achieved, and finally, how the company will reward me if these results are achieved.

Remember the library ladder I mentioned earlier? It is professors like Noah, and the classmates you will meet throughout the program, that help you build it.