Tuition reimbursement is an excellent benefit that many employers offer ambitious employees at various stages in their careers. More than half of employers now offer tuition assistance benefits, according to the Benefits USA 2012/2013 study by Compdata Surveys. As online degree programs become more popular, you may wonder if you can use tuition assistance to earn a degree online.

The Advantages of Online Degrees

Many employers that offer tuition assistance consider an online degree program to be an ideal choice. Many online classes allow students to complete coursework on their own time. Busy students have the convenience of fitting coursework into their personal schedules, and employers appreciate that their employees are not missing extra time at work. Pursuing an education through an employer’s tuition assistance program may require an additional step, such as filling out simple paperwork with the student’s employer.

Requirements for Tuition Reimbursement

Do not assume that your opportunities are completely unlimited if your employer is paying for your education. Not every employer has a tuition reimbursement plan in place, particularly in the case of small businesses and startup companies. Some industries may be more likely than others to award tuition reimbursement benefits. For example, the National Center for Education Statistics reports that employees in the field of business can often obtain tuition assistance to pursue a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) degree.

Often, you will have to be a full-time employee at your company for a minimum amount of time, such as a year, before you can begin to take advantage of a tuition reimbursement program. You may even have to continue working for your current company for an agreed-upon amount of time after earning your degree, or risk being forced to pay your employer back for the expense.

Some employers require you to pay for your education and then reimburse you, while others are willing to pay upfront. Still other employers will only pay for programs completed at certain schools with which they are already affiliated. Your employer may specify which degrees they are willing to contribute to, such as only undergraduate-level or graduate-level. Employers may restrict your subject of study to a relevant field or limit the amount of money they are willing to spend in a given amount of time. Some employers are willing to pay for your courses as long as you earn a “C,” or passing grade, while others require you to maintain a higher GPA, according to Forbes. You should discuss all questions about tuition assistance with your company’s human resources personnel.

While the ultimate decision depends on your specific employer, you may be able to use tuition assistance benefits to earn an online college degree. If you have considered going back to school but hesitated because of the cost or the prospect of missing time at work, pursuing an online degree through an employer’s tuition assistance program could be your best option for advancing your career.