If you’ve decided to earn a master’s degree, your next decision may be whether to tell your supervisor. Many of today’s graduate programs, like the ones at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, are designed for adults who work full time, raising the question: Why would I tell my supervisor I’m going back to school? Here are some things to think about when deciding whether or not to disclose your plans to your boss:
Why you might be tempted not to tell your supervisor
If your graduate program doesn’t affect your regular schedule, and you’re doing school work on your own time, you certainly don’t have a technical obligation to share that with an employer. The reason people might want to hide efforts to continue their education is that they’re seeking a degree, training and certification that’s not required for their current job, or that’s in an entirely different field. They worry that their employer will assume they’re preparing to leave and then retaliate somehow — pass them up for promotions, not give them the best assignments, even put them first in line if layoffs should occur.
Consider your work environment
The size and character of your office will probably shape your decision. If you contract for a large company and your supervisor is in a different state, it may be easy to keep your plans to yourself. On the other hand, if you work in a small, close-knit office that’s effectively your “daytime family,” it might be a lot more difficult. If you and your coworkers are close enough to chat about weekend plans, it would probably seem strange and even raise suspicions to withhold information about a program that’s consuming much of your free time.
You might not tell, but your supervisor could still find out
It’s generally better for you to tell your supervisor you’re going back to school because you don’t want him or her to find out through someone else. Something as small as an update to your LinkedIn profile could tip people off to your plans. If it appears that you’re intentionally hiding the fact that you are in school, your employer is going to assume that your actions are secretive for a reason. Your supervisor may never even bring it up with you but simply assume you’re planning to leave.
When the message comes from you, you can control it
You can explain to your supervisor why you’re going back to school and what you hope to accomplish — and then you can turn him or her into one of your advisors. I recommend meeting with your supervisor well before you start the program and asking for advice: “I’m considering going back to school, so what kind of degree might be most beneficial for me to pursue in my career?” If the degree you’re thinking of getting is relevant to your current career trajectory, it will be even easier for you to make the case that your education could benefit your workplace.
Consider the practical reasons
There are also some practical reasons for sharing your plans with your employer. Your graduate school application might require letters of reference, and if you’ve been out of college for a while, you’ll probably want to ask your current supervisor rather than a professor from your undergraduate years. Plus, you might need to ask for flexibility in your work schedule at some point, to accommodate group meetings or preparation for finals. Your boss is more likely to say yes if he or she already knows about your program, rather than if you make up excuses.
Being open gives you the opportunity to market yourself
If you are looking for a promotion at your current workplace, what better way to position yourself than to let everyone know about the degree you’re working on? You also might be able to apply concepts from your program to projects at work, improving your office’s performance. Telling your employer early, and enlisting your supervisor and colleagues’ support, will free you of having to keep a secret and give you a strategic advantage once you’ve finished your degree.
Designed for working adults who need to balance school and life, graduate programs at St. Edward’s University offer flexible class schedules, small class sizes and real-world curriculum taught by experienced professionals.
Ray Rogers is the director of Career and Professional Development at St. Edward’s University.