In August of 2016, I had started a in-person graduate program that I felt had everything I needed to have a great experience—required assistantship, practicum, all the things that I felt I needed to have to be sucessful. I was planning on taking advantage of every opportunity that I could and I figured that my resume by the end would be great. I had my entire 2 years of the program mapped out. But then life happened and I had to leave my program after the first year.
After a couple of years of applying to different programs and realizing they were not the right fit, I am finally back in school. I made the decision to attend a program that is completely online. I knew this program was the right fit for me for many reasons - it was at my undergraduate alma mater, I would have0 the flexibility of doing things on my own time, not having scheduled classes so I can work full-time, and the push of class participation. However, I was worried about what being in an online program would mean for me. What about the overall student experience?
One way that my program has addressed some of this was having a built-in internship opportunity. This opportunity requires students in the program to seek out an internship after completing a certain amount of credits to compliment their learning experience in the program. The purpose of this internship is to learn how to address a challenge at the internship site, gain hands-on skills, and further develop the competencies of our field. While this internship requirement was helpful, what about the other experiences? With my previous graduate program, I had the opportunity to teach a semester-long course, create initiatives that I could watch grow, do independent research advised by faculty, and so much more. It felt easier then because these were opportunities presented to me. Being part of a 100% online program did not allow for some of these in-person, on-campus interactions.
Online programs are just as rewarding as in-person graduate programs and have their own set of advantages depending on the student. Some students may feel that an online program is necessary or the only type of program that works with their lives and needs outside of the classroom. I have thought about other ways students in online Student Affairs-related graduate programs can get the experience needed to be successful and gain knowledge. I have come up with these tips to show students already in or thinking about online programs that their experience do not have to be different than those attending an in-person program. The same opportunities are available to both parties.
Go to a college or organization near you in a functional area you want to learn about and ask if they can use additional help. There is a high chance they will be able to use the help. I am currently interning with the Metropolitan College of New York’s Career Development office. Career Services is the functional area I want to learn more about. I researched schools near me and their career development offices. I reached out to a few and my current supervisor is the one who emailed me back. I sat down for an interview and she was impressed with me reaching out on my own. I got the internship and now I am gaining skills and learning more about my functional area. This is also a great thing to do because opportunities are not always listed to the public. By “cold-calling,” I found a great opportunity that I would not have by just looking into open opportunities.
Join a professional organization and actually engage!
As someone who has been a member of professional organizations since undergrad, I know how easy it is to just pay the fee and forget all about it. But I did not want to do that this time around. I am currently involved in two professional organizations and actually engaging. At NASPA, I serve as a Graduate Associate. In the other organization - National Career Development Association (NCDA) - I have written an article that was published and I am working on a second one. Professional organizations always have opportunities for their members to engage and be involved whether that be publications, committees, or volunteering at events. Find something you are interested in doing and get that experience!
If you are working at another job, try to get creative! Look for ways that you can gain transferable skills related to Higher Education and Student Affairs. In my current job, I work on managing volunteers. I networked with other offices so that I can also work with the admissions department to recruit and interview students. I also joined a committee because we all know that networking and teamwork is important in Higher Education. Find ways that you can gain skills in your job even if your job is not related to Student Affairs.
This is very important! Having a mentor can help with everything above. They are someone you can speak with about opportunities, get advice, and more. I have recently asked a previous professor of mine to serve as my mentor and even though we're miles apart, it has been a great help. Find someone you know or want to know and ask them to be your mentor. And there is no real that says you can only have one.
It requires some putting yourself out there, but do not miss out on a chance to gain experience. Pick something that was mentioned above or find your own opportunity! There are so many you can do such as publishing an article or presenting at a conference. It is so important to gain practical skills alongside learning in the classroom. When in doubt, reach out!
Even though I was initially skeptical about attending an fully-online program, there actually has not been as much of a difference as I thought it would be regarding gaining the experience that I need. If anything, it has pushed me to go out and get the experience for myself rather than having all of the opportunities already available to me. Though I do not have everything mapped out like I did in my first program, I know that I do not have to be limited in anyway. I can gain the exact amount of experience as long as I am willing to go out and get it.
Delasia Rice is a graduate of the College at Brockport with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology. She is a member of NASPA and a part of their Graduate Associate program. She is also a member of the National Career Development Association. Delasia is currently in the College at Brockport's Higher Education Administration online masters program where she is hoping to work in Career Services. She is hoping to use her degree and multitude of experience to eventually get her doctorate degree and focus on building connection between K-12 and Higher Education as well as working with college students with kids. Delasia is the mother of 2 boys and enjoys all things Harry Potter, Disney and Marvel.