As we end of the Career in Student Affairs Month, I find it important that we reflect on how socioeconomic status and class can play a role in entering a career in our field. “Go to graduate school” is often one of the many routes presented to individuals wanting to enter the field. When I was finishing up my undergraduate work, I saw student affairs as a potential career option so I began to get involved more with NASPA, more particularly the NUFP program. Once within this program, I was able to connect with other undergraduate students interested in a career in student affairs. One of the topics of conversation my peers and I embarked upon was taking a gap year between undergraduate and graduate studies. As a first-generation, low-income student, I did not see a gap year between my studies as an option. I struggled to figure out what I would do in this time of taking a gap year knowing that I would have to fully provide for myself financially. I ultimately ended up going directly into a graduate program following my graduate studies, whereas some of my peers took time away before beginning a graduate program and had amazing experiences of their own. I ultimately do not regret my decision, but I know that there’s exceptional experiences available that will give you broader professional experiences while also providing financial resources as well.
Service programs: There are many different service organizations that provide opportunities to get involved with service focused on education. AmeriCorps provide many service opportunities within a higher education context, including affiliated programs like College Forward. Outside of the higher education realm, programs like Teach for America and City Year give a more K-12 focused service, but highlight the inequities in our educational system that affect students entering higher education. The AmeriCorps VISTA program provides members to organizations devoted to ending poverty, some of these being colleges/universities where you can work full-time and gain direct experience working in a higher education setting. Many of these opportunities include a set time commitment (1-2 years), which could provide valuable experiences before beginning a graduate program.
Full-time positions: There are institutions who hire full-time student affairs professionals who do not possess a graduate degree. These positions can span across all functional areas and are typically entry level positions. These positions may exists at colleges/universities that are in your local area or you can branch out and do a national search.
Take a break: Feel free to take an opportunity to relax and recharge for the year before beginning graduate school. A job in any field can give you valuable experiences. I would also encourage you to intern or volunteer at a local college/university to continue to gain experience in higher education and also as a networking opportunity as well.
Ultimately, there is no correct path into the field of student affairs. Our backgrounds, identities, and personal dispositions and desires will play a role in how we decide to make the transition from aspiring to professional life within student affairs. This list is not exhaustive, so feel free to create your own path into the field of student affairs. So go forth, be brave, and forge you own path into your future.
Mitchell Holston serves as the Coordinator for Student Engagement and Leadership within University Housing at Colorado State University. He graduated with his B.S.B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in Marketing from Auburn University and a M.A.Ed. in Higher Education from Virginia Tech. Mitchell's time in this field has led him to develop his own personal philosophy, which is that student affairs professionals should prepare students to make the world a better place by serving and leading through their unique talents. He enacts this philosophy through his interests in higher education, which include student development, student leadership, assessment, and social justice.