“Hey, boss! Whaddya say I take a year off work, go back to college, and have the company pony up the cash to pay for it?” No, this is not the script you’ll want to follow when requesting time off to do an MBA—especially not when your approach could determine whether you’ve got a job waiting for you when you get back. Alan Kearns, the founder of national career coaching firm CareerJoy, offers five steps to getting the go-ahead. —Craig Silverman

1. Know Why You’re Going
Kearns says you need to know the answer to the most basic question: Why do you want an MBA? “It’s really important to get it clear in your mind, and I don’t mean generically clear,” he says. Saying that it’ll be good for your career isn’t enough. Make a list of reasons.

2. Float the Idea
Make like a politician and throw up a trial balloon. “Put the idea of your leaving out there to see how people respond,” Kearns says. Bring it up in a noncommittal way and listen carefully to their reactions, both positive and negative. Do they have an agenda of their own? This is important intelligence to collect. Also, check with human resources to see if the company has an application process in place and if it offers financial assistance.

3. Make a Business Case
“They are running a business, not a help centre,” Kearns says. Tell them what’s in it for the company, your department and your colleagues. You’ve got to pitch this like a business proposal. “It’s okay to say what’s in it for you,” he says, but tell them how it’s going to benefit the company first.

4. Pick Your Target
“Identify the right person to present your case to, because it may or may not be your boss,” says Kearns. The ultimate decision may belong to your boss’s boss. Present your case in person, rather than letting someone else do it for you. The most convincing person to deliver your proposal is you.

5. Have a Plan B, and C
Have backup plans if the company says no. You might ask for reduced hours in order to attend school part-time or offer to defer leaving for a year. If they close the door on every option, it might even be worth considering a more permanent absence from your employer.