I am not talking about a student wage or work study job, I’m talking about a full-time paying gig. In celebration of Careers in Student Affairs Month, I thought I’d share my thoughts and experiences.
Yesterday I participated on a “Careers in Student Affairs” panel geared to students thinking about careers in Student Affairs. While there were a few students attending and a lot of great questions asked, I think students initially don’t consider this career for a couple of reasons.
1. What the heck is Student Affairs? Student Affairs is the functional area of the university that assists student growth and success through programming and services. Some of us also teach and work in the classroom. This area includes departments like Student Activities, Housing, Financial Aid, the Student Recreation Center, Health and Wellness, the Student Union, Women’s and Cultural Centers, Admissions and of course the Career Center. This is not the entire list, but you get the idea. Our goal is to promote student success and development.
2. Didn’t even know this was a career option? (this fit me) I didn’t grow up thinking, “I could be a student affairs professional”. No, I wanted to be an engineer or a billionaire or something. Student affairs was the farthest thing from what I thought I could and should do.
3. I want to get the heck out of here (this also was me). Though I had a great time in college, when I was done, I was done! No more all nighters, no more books, no more papers and especially no more midterms and finals. I wanted to have a “career” job to go to and make MONEY! I wanted to have bills (I know, stupid) and be a grown up. I finally made it from the minor leagues to the big show. I wanted to prove myself and conquer the world.
Listening to the other panelist yesterday, showed how there is not just one path or major to get into this field. One panelist was a hotel/conference manager and business owner; one was considering law school and corporate life; other prior careers included fitness and heath policy. My career started out in the safety field working in a hospital.
When that first August rolled around the after I graduated, I realized how much I missed college. I was working at a university medical center and saw all those students with their backpacks heading to classes and labs. I remember thinking to myself, ”dang, just last year that was me”, not a care in the world, no bills, no rent, no “real” boss, it was going to class, going to the gym, grabbing a bite to eat on campus, in one word - nirvana. Yeah, yeah, I know, I said I wanted those bills and other grown up things, but you know, I really truly love the college environment and that time in life.
After a couple of years of this I decided to go back to school. I applied to graduate school, was accepted and obtained a graduate assistantship as a hall director on campus. I loved my job as a hall director and making a connection with students. My supervisor at the time asked me to consider “student affairs” as a career. The university I was at had a program geared toward counseling and college students, so I applied, was accepted and let’s just say the rest is history.
I’ve worked in housing, a cultural center, and career services/centers. I even did a stint at a large high tech company in their training and education area. All my experiences have lead to other and greater opportunities. In fact, I am only limited by where and what I want to do.
I’ve learned how to manage budgets, direct and implement projects and programs, develop websites and marketing campaigns, coordinate and put on events. Most importantly, I have been able to work with a lot of great students who have become employees, employers, colleagues, mentees and of course friends. I also hope, I’ve made an impact in their lives, because they have in mine. I’ve said this before and I will say it again, I absolutely love my job!
So, if you are thinking of this as a possible career field, here are some things to think about:
1. You won’t get rich doing this. It’s true, but you know what, we are all driven by different things and money is not my driver, making a difference is.
2. Do you like working with people? Do you like helping students succeed? Are you someone who people feel is easy to talk to and develop trust? If you are, this might not be a bad fit.
3. Do you like variety in your work life? Our days our never the same. Is every day sun shiny and great…no, but at the end of the day, week or month, do I think…wow, I get paid to do this. My day is filled with counseling appointments, brainstorming sessions, classroom presentations, employer visits and networking events. Have I said it before, “I love my job."
4. Are you someone who works well in a team? Not only do we collaborate within our own teams, but with other units throughout campus. We also assist and work with student teams.
5. Find a mentor. Is there someone who works in one of these areas that you look up to? How did they get there? What do they like about what they are doing? Will they be willing to get you involved in activities to test drive this career?
6. Get involved and engage on campus. My interest in this career started way before I became a hall director. I was a campus ambassador, giving tours, speaking at high schools, etc. I was also a resident assistant and a residence hall officer. It began when I was still a student and I didn’t even know it. All my experiences have lead in some way to the next stop on my journey.
7. Visit the Career Center. If you are not sure what career path you should follow, let us help you. Remember, this is what we do and we love helping you succeed.