Transitioning into a Career in Student Affairs

Andrew Herridge

October 4, 2016

October serving as “Careers in Student Affairs Month,” it is important to take a moment and reflect on how we got to where we are. Taking my first job as a graduate assistant in an office within the Division of Student Affairs in the summer of 2014, I had little idea of exactly what the field of student affairs was. I quickly fell in love with the work I was doing and decided to make the academic switch to student affairs.

Throughout the next two years I learned about the field and met many professionals that were passionate about the work they were doing. One reason I fell in love with the field was the impact, dedicated student affairs professionals could have on students through their interactions and programming. Nearing graduation and the end of my graduate assistantship, I realized it was time to figure out my next step and begin the interview process. Through communication with fellow graduates, a list was developed on what we felt were important factors for taking on the inevitable thought of “How do I even?”.

When starting the search for the perfect job within the field of student affairs, it is important to not limit your search. Try keeping the search broad, rather than small and narrow. Specifically, have a list of your qualifications and give postings a consideration even if they are in a different area than you are used to. For example, I made a list of my previous responsibilities and accomplishments and broke down what the expertise and skills were for each element. I was then able to match preferred qualifications with prior experience. Overtime, by remaining open to working in different functional areas, there is greater opportunity to find the position that is the best fit for you.

During the interview process, there are a few points that individuals should remember. First, do your research. It is important to know the work being done by the institution, department, and employees. You will want to have a series of questions prepared for the search committee. It is important to remember that you should be interviewing the committee just as much as they are interviewing you. Consider questions such as how conflict is handled, what the office environment is like, or what the student population is like. When meeting the search committee and touring the campus, you should also pay attention to the level of diversity. It is beneficial to talk to other students and staff about how they like the institution and what there is to do around town. You will want to make sure that the town has activities and stores available that you may consider a necessity. It is important to get a sense for the social climate of the community as well.

A major aspect of the job search involves ensuring that your professional philosophy aligns with the institution and the department you are applying to. It is important to periodically revise your professional philosophy to make sure it accurately reflects your mission and values. When applying for new positions, one should determine that they are a fit for the position and institution. When determining career fit, individuals should ensure that their values are aligned with those of the institution and department.

As you begin the job search for a new position within the field of student affairs, keep in mind the elements aforementioned. Start early and remain open to the different areas of student affairs. Be prepared to ask questions and learn about the institution you are applying to. Ensure your personal professional philosophy aligns with that of the institution and department in order to allow for a position that fits. Remembering these tips we found helpful during our transition will hopefully allow you to navigate finding the career in student affairs that is the best fit for you.

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Andrew Herridge is a PhD student in Higher Education Research at Texas Tech University. Andrew earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and English at Florida State University and his Master of Education in College Student Affairs Administration from University of West Florida. Andrew can be reached on Twitter at @andrewherridge.

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