I recently found myself thinking about the field of student affairs and had two recurring thoughts. (1) How in the world did I find and decide to pursue this field and (2) This is probably THE coolest and most unique profession out there. I can think of at least 100 ways that this is one of the coolest fields in the world, however I have narrowed it down to about 7 reasons.
1. Being on a college campus. When we think of college, we may refer to it as the best four years of our lives. With the social gatherings, extracurricular activities, peer groups, and of course SA professionals, it is a four year roller coaster. I say that, not only because of the highs and lows we experience during this time, but also the fact that if you blink, you may miss it. Watching these interactions among students and their peers, campus, and mentors is such a rewarding experience that isn’t experienced in many areas. College campuses are full of life and activities with programs, events, speakers, conferences, club fairs, and sports, so it’s nearly impossible to be bored.
2. Variety. This is a unique field with the idea that we get general training to work in a plethora of areas. Students that go into medicine and do their internship/residency/fellowship in one area like pediatrics, cardiology, or surgery. With a Masters degree in Higher Education Administration (or a similar program), we can work in all areas of higher education. The biggest supporter or deterrent for working in certain fields is having an abundance of experience in a different area, but that doesn’t get rid of our chances in a new field. When I’m done with my Master’s degree program, I could work in Academic Advising, Admissions, Student Life, Residence Life, Career Services, or Multicultural Affairs to name a few. How many professionals in other fields, do you know of, that has that flexibility?
3. Diversity. We talk and talk about diversity, but seriously, college campuses tend to be one of the most diverse places to be in! Not only do you have domestic students who vary in identities, but you also have international students that come from a diverse array of places and identities. This makes for a great opportunity to cultivate diversity by surrounding yourselves with individuals with vastly different backgrounds from yourself. This is true for students and professionals. This also allows for us to build our interpersonal communication skills and serves as a great resume builder!
4. Networking & Connections. We often hear “It’s who you know to get there and what you know to stay.” Getting to know people is a valuable part of being in SA. This network of people is so extensive and it’s just one large family looking out for one another. This is especially important for professionals looking to move up in the field. Knowing an employer or knowing someone who knows an employer becomes a valuable asset in the job search process. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate our skills and personality in an interview, so having a connection with someone hiring is essential. College campuses are great arenas for this networking and relationship building.
5. Student experience. Higher education institutions depend on enrollment, which includes retention, so if students aren’t having a pleasant experience at their institution, they may fail out, drop out, or transfer. Additionally, the communities subsidize education through taxes, so we have an obligation to our community to provide them with the best of the best. The student experience is so important and we have the unique position of facilitating that experience. Although this is a lot of pressure to undertake, it’s a fun opportunity to be creative in programming and service offerings.
6. Growth & Development. To add onto the previous reason, student growth and development personally and professionally is important to be successful adults. Students attend college to get the theoretical and practical background of a desire program so that they can get into a career after graduation. An important part in finding a major and pursuing a career is having a good sense of self (values, beliefs, desires, expectations) and knowlegde and skills to be successful as a professional (networking, resume building, articulation in speech, administrative experience, etc.). Not only are we in charge of providing these programs and services to help with their growth & development, but we have to establish rapport to get them there. This is also an important time to teach students how to be adults and to be independent. We’re not there to catch fish and feed them, but rather teach them how to fish. Post-graduate/adulthood life are very difficult to cope with. College was a security blanket that has disappeared, so we need to ensure we help students to be and feel prepared to be adults.
7. Trends. Students have the unique ability to impact political trends, and they also tend to follow similar political trends. What I mean is that student activism has always played a huge role in establishing equity within the American Higher Education system, American politics, and foreign politics. For example, students in the late 1960’s into the 70’s held widespread protests about the lack of regard for students of color in Higher Education after the civil rights movement. This changed the institutional culture at most campuses long term, and we can still enjoy the benefits today. Additionally, we see that students follow political trends depending on who is in office and big issues taking place. The conversations we get to be a part of and the events we get to attend make for following trends with the student enjoyable.
We have to remember that we didn’t get into this field for the money or a consistent 9-5 schedule. But we did pursue this field, because we get to impact the student experience when they enter, go through, and graduate from college. We often become one of the most important people to the success of students, so it is essential that we go above and beyond to support them. I hope that this helps restore any lack of motivation and never forget who you’re doing your job for.
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