What Is Tuition Reimbursement?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Tuition reimbursement can be an attractive option when it come to financing your education.

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Figuring out how to pay for a bachelor’s or master’s degree when you’re interested in advancing your education can be a significant question to navigate. Alongside common methods like financial aid, scholarships, grants, and student loans, there’s tuition reimbursement

This perk is usually part of a company’s benefits package, and either partially or fully covers the costs and fees associated with tuition. It’s a benefit growing in popularity, according to the Society for Human Resource Management [1]. In recent years, major companies such as Amazon and Disney have announced tuition reimbursement programs because education benefits businesses as well, helping address skill gaps, further knowledge in key areas, and reduce turnover.  

In this article, we’ll discuss how tuition reimbursement works, factors you’ll need to consider, and how to apply. 

Tuition reimbursement and how it works

Tuition reimbursement is a benefit certain companies offer employees who want to further their education and tends to cover programs like undergraduate and graduate degrees, technical certificates, ESL proficiency certifications, high school GEDs, and trade programs. 

Each company has different stipulations when it comes to tuition reimbursement programs. Let’s review three of the biggest ones: 

  • Reimbursement vs. assistance: A company that offers tuition reimbursement will pay you back once you’ve initially covered the cost of your education. A company that offers tuition assistance will pay upfront for the cost of your education, so you don’t have to pay out of pocket. 

  • Tuition vs. additional coverage: Some companies only cover the cost of tuition, while others will broaden coverage to include tuition, fees, and books. 

  • Program eligibility: While some companies will cover a wide array of programs, others may only cover certain ones—for example, an undergraduate degree, not a graduate degree. Even then, they may stipulate certain subjects, areas, or majors. 

Additional requirements for tuition reimbursement

You may find that some programs also stipulate additional requirements, including:  

  • Employment status: To qualify, you may need to hold a certain employment status, such as being a full-time employee. And you may need to work at your company for a certain amount of time, usually six months or a year, before you’re eligible. 

  • Grades: Your employer may require that you pass your courses in order to qualify for tuition reimbursement. You won’t be expected to maintain a perfect 4.0 GPA, but you will need to successfully complete your education. 

  • Pricing limits: Companies may set maximums around how much they are willing to pay per program type, so if a technical certificate costs several thousand dollars, for example, that may exceed the limits of tuition reimbursement.

  • Timeframe: You may need to stay at the company for a certain period of time after you're reimbursed for the program or course. Managers usually want to see the skills you've learned apply to your current role, as opposed to using them for a competitor. 

Since programs can vary by company, it’s important to check with your HR team to understand if your company offers tuition reimbursement and how their program works. 

If your employer doesn’t offer tuition reimbursement, you can still ask them to consider it, but you’ll need to prepare a few materials and points first. Learn more about asking your employer to pay for your degree.


Benefits of tuition reimbursement

There are many benefits you may experience when you choose to further your education through tuition reimbursement. 

1. Finance your degree 

If you’re unsure about how you will pay for your degree and don’t want to turn to student loans, then tuition reimbursement is a great way to finance your education without accumulating debt. 

2. Professional development

Education is an opportunity to deepen your knowledge while building new skills and strengthening existing ones. Whether you choose to hone your technical prowess through a certificate program or go back to school and advance your education with a master’s degree, you can grow personally and professionally through education. 

3. Growth in the company

Many companies won’t offer tuition reimbursement for education that doesn’t relate to your role or the type of work they do. If you complete education that furthers your abilities, then you may be able to pursue advanced roles at the company, grow in your career, and increase your earnings potential. 

Read more: Should You Go Back to School? 7 Things to Consider

Additional considerations of tuition reimbursement

While having your employer pay for your education can be a great financial benefit, there are additional considerations to weigh. 

1. Out-of-pocket expenses

Many companies will only pay for a course once it's completed, which means you’ll have to pay for the course initially and then receive payment once you finish it. If a course or program runs several months, make sure you have a plan to cover the cost of your tuition before getting that money back.  

2. Balancing your work and academic responsibilities 

Going to school while you work will be challenging and require dedication and organization to balance your competing responsibilities. Make sure you are committed to both goals—your career and your education—before agreeing to undertake a program and having your employer pay for it. 

3. Committing to the company for a set period of time

It’s a standard clause in most tuition reimbursement agreements that you will stay at the company for a set period of time—usually one or two years—after finishing your education. Make sure you are comfortable with that contract. If you decide to leave early, you may have to pay back all or some of the tuition the company covered. 

4. Tax-free tuition limits

Companies can provide up to $5,250 tax-free every year, according to the IRS [2]. Your employer should exclude up to that amount from your W-2. However, any amount over that may be considered as income and added to your annual earnings.  

5. Financial aid

When you live in the US, it’s always a good idea to apply for federal student aid through the FAFSA and learn whether you qualify for loan-free options like grants and scholarships. However, if you approach your employer first about covering your tuition, you may end up qualifying for less aid because you will need to declare the reimbursement amount you’ll be receiving. 

In that case, it could be worth applying for FAFSA first to see if your school will cover any portion of your education, and then applying for tuition reimbursement to cover the remaining amount. 

Tuition reimbursement checklist

If you’re interested in using tuition reimbursement to pay for your education, start by checking your company’s benefits policy. You can usually find that information on a benefits page, through a benefits portal, or by reaching out to HR. 

If tuition reimbursement is part of your overall benefits package, here’s a handy checklist to follow to make sure you’re comfortable with the benefits terms:  

1. Review the tuition reimbursement terms.

Read over your company’s policy and check for the following pieces of information: 

  • Employee eligibility: How long do you have to work at the company before you’re eligible? And what kind of employee status does it cover: full-time, part-time, or both? 

  • Program eligibility: What types of programs does the policy cover? Make sure to check both program type (degree, certificate) and subject area to see if there are any restrictions. 

  • Payments: Review whether you can expect payment in advance—if your company will pay your school directly, that is—or if you will be reimbursed for the education you complete but first pay for you on your own. 


  • Paperwork and timeline: What kind of paperwork do they require about the program you’d like to enroll in? And when do they expect you to submit it: before you start, after you finish, or both times? 

  • Length of employment: See if the company expects you to stay and work for a set period of time once you complete your education.  

If you cannot find the information above laid out as part of your company’s policy, then it’s a good idea to approach HR and get more information. You need to be clear about what’s expected of you before moving forward. 

2. Set up a meeting with HR or your manager.

Your company may outline the process they expect you to follow if you’re interested in taking advantage of the benefit. If not, reach out to an HR rep to get more details. 

You may also want to set up a meeting with your manager to discuss your educational goals, and even present them with a plan so they know how you’ll balance your workload while working on your degree or certificate. They may also be able to assist with any HR needs, such as approvals. 

3. Pull together any necessary materials.

Depending on the specifics of your company, you may need to pull together materials, such as proof that you’ve enrolled and a cost breakdown. If your employer offers reimbursement, you will likely need to wait until you complete your course or semester to submit that paperwork for payment. 

Earn your degree online through Coursera

Whether you’re looking to finish a degree or earn an advanced one, there are a range of flexible degree options on Coursera, including the University of North Texas’ Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences, the University of London’s Bachelor of Science in Marketing, the University of Colorado Boulder’s Master of Data Science, or Illinois Tech’s M.B.A

Some degree programs may offer credit for prior learning—so certain Professional Certificates you complete on Coursera can be applied for degree credit—or performance-based admission, which entails taking and passing three pathway courses to gain full admission. 

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Article sources

1. Society for Human Resource Managers. “Why More Employers are Leveraging Tuition Assistance to Attract and Retain Employees, https://www.shrm.org/topics-tools/news/benefits-compensation/employers-leveraging-tuition-assistance-to-attract-retain-employees.” Accessed May 10, 2024. 

2. Internal Revenue Service. "Tax Benefits for Education, https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p970.pdf." Accessed May 10, 2024.

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