A corporate sponsorship for your EMBA studies can include financial support, employer endorsement, and adjusting your business targets for the duration of the programme. Seeking assistance from your employer will take effort and preparation.

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Executive MBA programmes are generally part-time, conducted in a modular format spanning 16 to 24 months. As most EMBA class members don’t give up their jobs while studying, business schools need to be sure that professional duties won’t hinder personal contributions to the class. That’s why EMBA students are required to have their employers’ support for their regular absences from work. Because of this, business schools have included employer endorsement as part of the admission process. In this way, schools ensure that EMBA students are able to commit the time, attention and energy needed to be successful in their studies. On the other hand, employer endorsements ensure that EMBA students are capable of contributing to the classroom learning environment and actively participating.

Begin with a simple letter

Employer endorsements can be anything from a formal letter written by the student’s supervisor and bearing the logo of the company to a signed-and-stamped document indicating agreement between the employer and the employee. It can also simply be the employer’s consent for the student to attend the programme, and can include details of a financial commitment by the employer.

For example, at Wharton, all EMBA applicants employed by an organisation must have a formal letter of endorsement from their employer, signed by a supervisor and bearing the company’s logo. The letter should acknowledge that the company is aware of the employee’s interest in applying for the programme; provide assurance that he or she will be able to take the time away from work to attend classes and handle approximately 20-25 hours of study during the week; and indicate the level of financial support the organisation intends to provide. The letter of endorsement is separate from the two professional recommendations required as part of the application. However, it can further support the applicant’s candidacy by providing an endorsement of the employee’s qualifications and leadership potential.

Read: The Executive MBA ROI and Benefits Portfolio

Answer the question

Getting support from your employer, especially when seeking sponsorship, might not be that easy. It definitely should be considered a serious step in the application process. INSEAD advises its Executive MBA aspirants to consider efforts to seek their employers’ support as a business proposal. They should be ready to answer a lot of questions when seeking this kind of assistance. Would-be participants in the programme definitely need to know three things well enough to answer any question that may arise during the conversation with their employer: themselves, i.e. their motivation in applying for the programme; their organisations and corporate policies with regard to supporting employees in their postgraduate studies; and the Executive MBA programme.

Answering the main question: “What kind of support do you need?” is of crucial importance. “Offer your employer a full and realistic picture of the time investment” says INSEAD in its guide to seeking an employer’s support for Executive MBAs. When talking to an employer, be ready to negotiate a variety of types of leave: unpaid leave; additional paid leave; advance holiday leave; a sabbatical year; parental leave; or combining study with business trips.

Negotiate the terms

The main question that employers ask when negotiating EMBA endorsements is “What will I get in return?” Employers see giving their endorsement as an investment and as such they need to know how it will pay off, how you getting an EMBA will contribute to the development of the organisation.

Through your EMBA, you may obtain new managerial skills and improve your performance, or you may learn the skills to develop new projects. You may also find new networking opportunities or get a fresh perspective on global issues. But how will this be reflected in the work you do directly for your organisation and, in general, how will you and your EMBA add value to the business in the long run?

Employers need to be persuaded that this investment in you will turn into a real business investment with real benefits. That’s why you should be very precise and talk clearly about how the organisation’s investment in your degree will be beneficial to its overall performance.

Try to get financial support

Apart from time commitment, support from the employer may also come in the form of financial aid. While employer endorsements are required for admission, the financial sponsorship is at the discretion of the student’s organisation. It can range from covering tuition costs to providing full financial support for the programme and travel expenses, or simply paying for some of the extra costs that attending the course entails.

In recent years, financial support for Executive MBA programmes has varied considerably from company to company and even within a company. Not so long ago, nearly all Executive MBA students were fully sponsored financially, but that is becoming rarer. Now, most students pay for their studies themselves. A survey by Poets and Quants showed that 41% of Executive MBA students were fully self-funded in 2013, up from 34% in 2009. Only 24% of MBA students received full financial backing. For example, at INSEAD, around 27% of the school’s Executive MBA participants receive some kind of financial support, but typically only about 19% of the class members are fully sponsored. At the University of Cambridge Judge Business School, 46% of all Executive MBA students have some level of financial support from their employer.

Read: Employer MBA Sponsorship

Know your options

When asking for financial support you should be realistic about the amount you ask for […]. The level of financial sponsorship you are offered may be in direct correlation to the return on investment that your employer feels they will receive from you attending the programme, or it may be attached to a retention clause stipulating that you must stay with the organisation for a set number of years post qualification. You may wish to explore the possibility of being retrospectively sponsored, with a percentage of the fees being offered as the company sees the additional benefits you are able to bring to the organisation,” Cambridge advises.

Another option to explore is a form of “retrospective” sponsorship, whereby the company pays a percentage of the total fees when the employee meets certain pre-arranged conditions. For example, if workloads and deadlines are not compromised after attending the first couple of programme modules, the employer reimburses a pre-agreed amount to its employee.

With “retrospective” sponsorship, an employer takes into consideration the real benefits you are likely to bring to your organisation through your EMBA. It might be the development of future corporate projects that you will be able to manage thanks to the degree, and so the arrangements need to be very clearly communicated between you and your employer.

Some students take a wait-and-see approach. They are motivated to pursue an MBA and self-fund their education; and then, once they can demonstrate their value to their organisations, they seek reimbursement or compensation from their employer.

Being flexible when negotiating your employer’s support is highly recommended. Viewing it as a business proposal, particularly when it comes with financial support, is a good start.

This article is original content produced by Advent Group and included in the 2016-2017 annual Access MBA, EMBA and Masters Guide under the title “A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed”. An online version of the Guide is available here.