Another thought on Grad School Funding: Ask Your Boss!

This past week, I spent at #AWP15, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs’ annual convention. There, I got lots of valuable information and had a great time running into writers I know from the Welty Symposium or from AWPs past. More on that in a later post, I hope! What I wanted to mention before I get to any of the fun stuff, was a bit of advice I gleaned about paying for grad school.

This came from a panel on Low-Residency MFA programs like our new one, where the directors were lamenting the fact that most low-res programs can’t offer the levels of financial aid that full residency programs offer. They don’t have as many scholarships, as a general rule, and the practicalities of having distance-learning students work as teaching assistants makes this less common (though we’re hoping to do this with at least one or two people next year).

One advantage that Low-Residency students have, though, is that they usually are employed! This means they can pay more towards their education right away, and it means that they have a resource most typical students don’t have: an employer!

Several low-residency directors noted that their students receive financial aid from their employers, and that these employers are not always in writing-related fields. One director told of a young woman who worked in a warehouse (if I remember correctly), and who got a scholarship simply because the company wanted to promote education. It’s one fringe benefit that many companies have, either out of altruism or because the company wants to keep employees who are driven to improve themselves, regardless of whether the skills have an immediate application to their current jobs.

As an aside, I had an interesting, somewhat related conversation with one of our alums yesterday. She gave up a career in teaching English (after deciding teaching 8th graders wasn’t her calling!) and went into business. Her skills as an English major were invaluable to her throughout a distinguished career in marketing and management. I’m reminded of this because a company might be able to use your skills developed in grad work in English, writing, or another field, in ways that aren’t immediately apparent. More bosses understand this than you might imagine (and some may have been in your shoes at one point in their lives).

So, when looking for financial aid, if you are employed and especially if you can stay with the company while you’re in school, don’t overlook the closest source of funding you may have: your boss! Ask politely whether there is a policy about continuing education for employees. The company may not fund your full degree (though it might), but it could make it a little easier for you with a partial scholarship. Be open with your employer about your plans and your needs in a low-residency program (or in a nearby full residency program, if that is your plan). At the very least, your boss may be able to work with you with flex-time or other options that can make it more manageable to juggle graduate school and a job.

And don’t think your employer has to be in a related field or that your job in the company has to be a high-end position in order for you to be eligible. It doesn’t hurt to ask! I would suggest having a plan to combine work and study, so that if there is any resistance to the idea, you can show how your educational goals will not get in the way of you doing your job. Most employers will be supportive, and some, maybe more than you think, will actively support your goals with some funding.

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