When You’re the First to Ask: Fellows Student Kristin Burke’s Approach to Sponsorship

Being the first in your company to pursue an executive MBA and request full sponsorship may be daunting, but it’s important to be confident. “You wouldn’t be a viable candidate at Wharton if you didn’t have some real skills and benefits to offer,” says EMBA student and Fellow Kristin Burke, who, in her mid-twenties, chartered a path for
sponsorship at her company.

Burke worked for Harding Loevner, a midsize international asset management company, for about three years after college before she decided to apply for Wharton’s EMBA program. Being less seasoned and having less than eight years of experience, she needed to apply as a Fellows Candidate, which requires full sponsorship from your employer. Since no one had ever pursued an EMBA degree at her firm before, there was no procedure to follow to ask for sponsorship of this magnitude.

Fortunately for Burke, she isn’t a shy person. So her first step was to have informal conversations with the two people who would need to approve the sponsorship: her supervisor and the CEO. After floating the idea, they both were open to a more formal presentation about the program and the financial commitment required.

Her second step was to write a cover letter explaining why she wanted to go to Wharton as well as a proposal outlining the cost, what it would involve in terms of time and flexibility, and how she would improve in her role at the company. She explained how Wharton’s career resources would not be available to her as a Fellows student, and her firm proposed treating the sponsorship as a loan that would be forgiven over time. If she were to leave her firm before that period was over, she would owe the company for the tuition that they had paid.

“A lot of bosses might fear that you will go to the program and then use the Wharton network to change careers. I didn’t want them to think this was an avenue for me to look for a different job, and putting those types of terms in a contract can be a way to address that,” says Burke.

She also highlighted how her firm would benefit from the program. In her proposal, she explained how she would ensure that her course selection and independent work would be relevant for her position and would benefit the firm. At the time, her firm was in the process of developing a sales team so she talked about how her education could impact that project.

After submitting the proposal, her supervisor and CEO were very upbeat. “They said, ‘This program looks great, we have never heard of it before,’ and asked, ‘Do you think you can get in?’ I was scared I would get their expectations up and then not get admitted,” says Burke, who applied and was advised by Wharton to wait a year to gain more experience before re-applying.

When she was admitted the following year, Burke negotiated a contract with her firm outlining the terms. “Every person will have to come up with a different structure at their firm, but be open to modifying your compensation and vacation to work something out and recognize that you might not be a candidate for a big raise while you’re in the program because they are paying your tuition,” says Burke.

See sample sponsorship proposals for Traditional and Fellows Candidates.