I didn’t have a student affairs mentor in undergrad, someone who took me under their wing, exposed me to student affairs theory, encouraged me to attend conferences, or helped edit my grad school essays. Until April of my final year, I didn’t realize student affairs was a “thing”–all the student affairs professionals I came into contact with were just people doing various jobs on campus–I had no idea many, if not most of them, had actually earned a DEGREE in higher education services! That following September, my undergrad institution was starting the first cohort of their higher education in student affairs M.Ed. program. I was asked to apply, but I didn’t know if I really wanted to pursue student affairs or psychology. Plus, I needed some time OUT of school; I had just completed five years and needed a break.
It took less than a year to know that I wanted to continue into higher education, but I still wasn’t ready to start grad school–life was in the way. I made a first step, though, and took a job in human resources at a university; anything to be out of corporate america and back on a college campus. This job became my first career. I spent five years doing benefits in human resources, and I know that I was technically on the path to moving up; there just wasn’t anywhere to go within my relatively small office. I’d likely still be there if not for the insistence of my partner in 2009 to “put up or shut up” about grad school. She had just finished a master’s degree and reminded me there was no such thing as a “good time” to head back. And so, that September, four months before I turned 30, I became a full-time student again.
I have never had a live-on position (I wasn’t even an RA in college–my student affairs exposure was student groups, orientation and RHA). I spent my first year of grad school without an assistantship because they were all gone by the time I applied and was accepted. I still haven’t had a genuine mentor (I consider my #SAGrow mentorship something a little different). I’m a new professional but have several years of non-student affairs professional experience under my belt that puts me in a different mindset than many of my professional peers. On top of all of that, I don’t even work in student affairs; registrar is, best case scenario, under the enrollment management umbrella–tell me how many enrollment management professionals you have in YOUR network–or simply lumped in with “administration” in the worst-case scenario.
Don’t get me wrong, I really love registration and all that comes with it–retention, policy, academic progress, etc. I do feel that this functional area has led me further off the student affairs path, however. My last job search was fairly lateral: now I only cover graduation, but it’s a MUCH bigger student population and I supervise a team instead of flying solo covering all areas within registration. A future move is likely to be just as lateral. I don’t have any interest in becoming the registrar for a school; even the title of assistant/associate registrar would significantly depend on the school and position description. Some people are meant to be queen, some are meant to be duchess. Neither one is very good without the other, and knowing where your strength is matters more than your title or paycheck. I truly believe that. My former supervisor in HR was offered the VP role about a year after I started. The university president was so adamant about her promotion he threatened to not post the job at all. My supervisor wanted no part of being VP–all she wanted was to continue interacting with staff, faculty, and vendors to ensure the needs of everyone were being met. The several months she was acting VP were miserable. Finally, she offered to turn in her resignation to work for a vendor who approached her with job offers every year. Student affairs professionals always talk about passion. This supervisor was my exemplar of what passion for a job should look like: she did what she was GOOD at; what she LIKED.
It’s not about the diplomas on your wall, or the title you have because your title may mean something completely different at another institution, and you may not always have walls to hang those diplomas on. My student affairs path has been non-traditional, but so are most of the students we work with today.