Preparing for a Career in Student Affairs

In a recent article in the Eighth Vector, Sara Doyle, Kristen Renn and Eric Jessup-Anger discussed one of the most important issues for graduate students and new professionals in the field of higher education…preparation for Student Affairs. It is not recent news that Student Affairs as a field has struggled to maintain high persistence of its staff. Many young men and women enter into Student Affairs position without considering what the opportunity could be long-term. Some have high hopes but fail to plan effectively. Renn and Jessup-Anger studied graduate students and young professionals to try to understand where the pitfalls are that deter people from staying in the field.

  1. Broader Scope of Learning: The transition from graduate school to the professional world means that learning is not a 1-way street like it may have been. It is important that you are working with you students on collaborative learning and considering ways to give back to the field.
  2. Maintaining a Focus on Learning: The process of learning happens both inside and outside of a classroom. For those who are more traditional, there are ways to engage in classroom learning from a professional level, but there are more ways to maintain that value through non-classroom methods. Asking questions and engaging in the work context of your theories are just two ways to refocus your work into continued development.
  3. Engage in the Environment: Culture is a big part of the working world and each university has a different one (or at least different variables). Missing the mark on communication methods and how staff relate to each other could be detrimental to one’s personal/professional success.
  4. Take Ownership of Your Development: While a supervisor can guide and help search of opportunities, only you know where you path leads. You have to identify the experiences you want to have and topics with whic you want to engage. You need to define your plan, while your colleagues and supervisor can help to define the specific opportunities to steer you toward.
  5. Supervisor = Mentor?: While this is a possible relationship, you may connect better with other colleagues at your institution or at other institutions (through conference or other professional development experiences). No every supervisor has the ability to be all things to all supervisees.
  6. Define Your Mentor Lineup: Recognizing what your professional development plan may look like should be accompanied with who can help you navigate that path an support you through the process. Some individuals may be comfortable with one main mentor but identifying multiple people could be very beneficial.
  7. Balance New and Existing Support Networks: There are going to be some support networks that are very beneficial for your development and motivation (i.e. graduate school cohort or other new professionals). Each support network you have may only be able to support you in certain areas or up to a point, but they still remain valuable to your balance. Examine how different people support the maintenance and continued development of your career.
  8. Work Does NOT Equal Life: It is easy to put in the extra hours in Student Affairs, especially if you live on-campus in Housing and/or are single. You may love your job, but burnout is a major issue in the field and a balance must be met. There is more to life than working with students and everyone needs to find their personal passion areas and find the time to focus on them.
  9. Give Yourself Reflection: If you feel that you are in a great place, then do not change anything for the time being. If you are feeling challenged by your position or the balance in your life, do not make any rash decisions. It takes a full year to transition into a new place or a new position. Use your resources to process your experiences and make informed decisions to either continue to learn for the experience or make any necessary changes.
  10. Balance Confidence and Restraint: It is okay to be confident but humbleness is a virtue as well. It can be frustrating to be bursting with ideas and want to go headstrong into changes or to show off your knowledge fresh from graduate school, but both of those interactions are quick ways to create rifts in your professional relationships.

These are all fairly important tips to remember, particularly in the process of transition to the professional environment. In summary…learning is lifelong….balance is key…build meaningful, lasting relationships…reflect.