Student Affairs

Myths and Realities of Life Work Balance in Student Affairs.. Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs A 2020 blog series Guest Post by Conor McLaughlin #RGS4SAM

Myths & Realities of Life Work Balance in Student Affairs [guest post]

This is part of the blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here

In this guest post, Conor McLaughlin, shares their thoughts as a current faculty member on what prospective students should know. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.


From 2012 to 2017 I produced and hosted a podcast called Life Work Balances. Each week for three years, and once a month after that, I published a conversation that I had with a person who works in higher education in which we discussed how they had come to understand life work balance. In total I published close to 200 hours of content, all of which is still available for free through Apple Podcasts and at

I learned a lot from my experiences hosting and producing this podcast. I certainly learned a lot about technology, since I had to teach myself how to record, edit, mix, and publish a podcast at a time when that information was a lot less available. I also took a lot away from the conversations I had with a variety of people in this field, a great deal of which challenged and evolved my thinking about what balance is and can be. The experience helped me to better understand several of the predominant myths that exist in student affairs about what balance is, as well as the truth about balance that is often masked by these myths.

Myth 1: “Doing what you love means you never feel drained by your work”

A lot of people that I talked to got into the field of student affairs because it was something they did as an undergraduate student and found the experience to be exciting and energizing, sometimes more so that the careers more directly associated with their academic major. While some people certainly continue to find the field energizing and invigorating in this way, many if not more do not. One of the most important reasons for this is because student affairs work was once the thing people did to relieve or escape stress and now it is the thing causing said stress. Add to this the trends toward doing more with less and the constant demand for immediate results and responses, balance can seem ever less attainable. You can love students, love learning, and love the values of this field and still find it exhausting. This myth gets perpetuated, often, in order to make people who experience this exhaustion feel like the problem or are somehow damaged. This myth works very hard to stay in place.

Myth 2: “When you leave the office for the day you are done with work”

Some people are able to not check email after 5pm, leave work at work, and easily schedule time for vacation, the gym, and quiet time, but these things are not so easy or even possible for everyone in the field. To this end, balance requires some serious self-reflection to determine what you need before you can chart a course to getting there. So rather than tell you to “leave work at work” and so many other clichés, I would say “take some time to ask yourself what reenergizes you, and look at where there can be space for that in your day/week/schedule”. If you don’t yet know, perhaps making time to try things is a place at which you could begin. Getting to know yourself and what you need to stay afloat, much less in balance, may bring into focus what place this work has in helping or hurting that process.

Myth 3: “Other duties as assigned means you have to say yes to every ask”

Another key take-away from my experiences was the realization of the importance of learning how to say no. It is important to very literally learn how to say no, because as I previously mentioned there will always be more asks and always more requests for your time. It is also important to learn how to negotiate, to say “not right now”, because these asks will not always be optional, and there is no magical way to add more hours to your day, nor can you physically be on campus and at a conference in a different state at the same time. Developing this capacity requires some of the getting to know yourself I mentioned earlier, as well as some honest questions and conversations with members of your department and especially your supervisor. Getting to know what are the non-negotiable commitments, what things you have the opportunity to say no to, and what, if any, consultation you need to do when making this decisions will be important. Everyone will want their request to be your top priority, and being sure of what needs to inform your delegation, triage, and prioritization will make a big difference in how much of that expectation you actually have to carry around with you. Asking these sorts of questions early (in a job and even in your career) may give you some very important insights into whether balance is a part of how decisions get made and whether this environment can support balance.

Whether you are considering getting in to the field, contemplating whether or not to stay in the field, or solidifying your commitment for the rest of your career, spend some time thinking about these things. They are not necessarily things every supervisor or colleague will prompt you on, and they do not always show up as session topics at professional conferences. This is also not a perfect road map with an X at the end marking a perfectly achieved balance. They are at best signposts or broad directions, and often they simply point away rather than toward. Still, we have to start somewhere, and exploring new terrain away from these myths which seem to do more harm than good may help emerge something better.

* * *


Conor McLaughlin is a Teaching Professor at Bowling Green State University I’m the Department of Higher Education and Student Affairs. He teaches undergraduate classes on leadership, and graduate courses on the functions and foundations of higher education and postsecondary students in the United States. Conor previously hosted a podcast on Life Work Balance from 2012-2017 while experiencing unemployment and then pursuing their doctorate.

The Dark Side of Working in Student Affairs. Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs A 2020 blog series Guest Post by Dr. Scott M. Helfrich #RGS4SAM

The Dark Side of Working in Student Affairs [guest post]

This is part of the blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program and alternatives to #SAgrad programs to pursue related interests in different careers.

In this guest post, Dr. Scott M. Helfrich shares his thoughts on The Dark Side of Working in Student Affairs. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.


Working in college and university Student Affairs can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Most of us have chosen to work in this field because of the wonderful out-of-class experiences that we ourselves had in college. This includes the nurturing relationships that we had with our own Student Affairs mentors. As a result, we set our sights on having the impact on others that they had on us, and,

therefore, chose to become a Student Affairs professional. Unfortunately, working in Student Affairs is a completely different experience than what we experienced as an undergraduate student and as a graduate student.

The intent behind this post is not to discourage or frighten those aspiring to be a Student Affairs professional, but to provide insight on the realities of working on a college or university campus. Conversely, I hope to inspire new and veteran student affairs staffers to create a better university environment and experience for both employees and students. There are various aspects of the Student Affairs world that undergraduate students should understand prior to looking to start a Student Affairs-related graduate degree.

Burnout is Real and Pervasive

The world has changed significantly over the past 20 years, and the work of Student Affairs professionals has not been immune to the abundant and significant challenges that have arisen as a result. The advent of the smart phone and its effects on personal interactions, changing Title IX legislation, the skyrocketing costs of higher education, hunger and homelessness, safety concerns, racial and social justice efforts, and increasing mental health issues are only a few of the multitude of complex challenges that Student Affairs professionals face on a daily basis.

The work of Student Affairs professionals is very engrossing, and, at times, can be unrelenting. Seeing that campus life is 24/7/365, rarely can staffers “turn off.” Between long hours involved with program development and implementation (most times in the evening), emergency response, compassion fatigue in managing emotionally charged incidents, and the heightening accountability on the Student Affairs field, staff burnout is a growing epidemic. To compound this issue, Student Affairs is a human services field, primarily within non-profit institutions, and consequently, the salaries of entry-level and mid-level employees do not compare with that of corporate entities, which easily creates additional stressors when employees are trying to survive financially.

Additionally, there is a significant amount of conversation about “self-care” and personal wellness in our industry. However, it should be the responsibility of the workplace to create an environment in which employees are respected and provided a healthy working environment. Two excellent related articles on this topic that I recommend are:

  1. Burnout is About Your Workplace, Not Your People by Jennifer Moss
  2. Overcoming Burnout and Compassion Fatigue in Higher Education by Justin Zackal

Student Affairs Is Always “Last Chair”

The work that we do is very important as we connect students to their peers through co-curricular and extracurricular programs, provide crucial campuses resources, and support them through their college experience. However, Student Affairs is generally seen as the “last chair” in the academy. The work of Student Affairs is not the “core technology” of the institution, which some staffers can struggle to reconcile with throughout their career as we are generally not lauded in the same manner as the faculty. In particularly difficult times with a fragile enrollment environment and increasing costs associated with a college education, student affairs can be viewed as a luxury and therefore expendable. When it’s time for budget cuts, many Student Affairs services are an easy target. There has also been a growing trend in which Student Affairs functions has been subsumed under enrollment management or even under the provost’s division thereby eliminating the senior student affairs officer (SSAO) altogether. This has been disconcerting for many of us aspiring for those roles.

Just like employees in any other industry besides higher education, everyone has different goals and motivations for doing what they do. The same is true for employees in higher education. While it may seem bizarre to a Student Affairs professional that a college professional would not be interested in student development, some see the study and practice of student development as frivolous and not worthy of attention or resources.

Campus Politics Are a Nasty Business

In the 20 years I have been a Student Affairs professional, I have seen university politics that have been antithetical to the spirit of student development or learning (or simple ethics to be honest). While politics has its place in colleges and universities, they can also be extremely disconcerting for new and eager student affairs professionals. I have seen everything from political infighting and bullying to mobbing and underhandedly using students as confederates to move a personal agenda. This can become a fever pitch particularly when budget cuts loom and various departments and employees feel threatened. When livelihoods are on the line, morale bottoms out and the worst of people emerge. Student Affairs staffers, particularly younger staff, can find themselves in a toxic environment only to leave and find themselves in a similar or worse situation. The grass is never greener at another institution, and you’ll never find the “romance” that you experienced at your undergraduate institution. Being a student and being a Student Affairs professional are two starkly different experiences.

Thoughts for Reconsidering Student Affairs

  • Did you come to the realization of Student Affairs as a profession yourself, or did someone else suggest it to you? Just because a mentor and / or friend makes a friendly recommendation does not necessarily mean it is the correct choice for you. It should be more than clear to you that this work is your passion and you have well thought out goals. Be weary of those who may seem to be pushing you into a career path that you are not certain of.
  • Do you feel this career is your only option because of struggles with your current major or inability or challenges to get into graduate school for another field? If that is the case, given some more thought to your plans and reconsider why you are thinking Student Affairs. I have seen colleagues who have been in this situation only to have troubles shortly after because their heart was not in the right place.
  • Have some honest conversations with mentors and other professionals at your school as to the benefits and challenges they see working in Student Affairs. Get their perspective on the benefits and risks of making this career choice and discuss some alternative options in the case you want to change your mind.

* * *


Scott M. Helfrich, D.Ed. has been a housing and residence life professional for 20 years and the is owner of Helfrich Advisory Services, LLC. Dr. Helfrich is a nationally recognized thought leader on the management of student housing public-private partnerships.

Reviewing the Major Issues of Higher Education .. Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs A 2020 blog series Guest Post by Anonymous #RGS4SAM

Reviewing the Major Issues of Higher Education [guest post]

This is part of the blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program and alternatives to #SAgrad programs to pursue related interests in different careers.

In this guest post, an Anonymous Higher Education professional shares their thoughts on what the big picture problems of higher education and student affairs. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.


Like most people reading this, I had a college experience that affected me profoundly. Though my family was of decidedly modest means, tuition in the mid-90s was reasonable and financial aid bridged the gap much better than it does today – so I was able to have a residential experience on a small liberal arts campus. It was immersive and transformative and I am thankful for the faculty, staff, and fellow students who invested so much in me to make that such a meaningful time. This experience moved me to pursue a career trying to reproduce that experience for others by way of Student Affairs.

Bilbo Baggins is running through the Shire shouting "I;m going on an adventure!"

Now: No college experience worth its salt should turn out people who can’t adapt. As I ventured into new institutions and new roles, I saw some students having experiences similar to mine, finding the right resources and niches. And then, as I began to shed my confirmation bias, I increasingly saw students left behind by static student affairs engagement models that don’t meet the needs of a changing population of learners.

I have watched:

  • Social fraternities cling to their influence and demand disproportionate resources of their host institutions while much more inclusive programming models struggle to survive.
  • Urban institutions sink tons of cash into developing a new residential and programming structure while criminally underserving the vast majority of students who commute, work, support families, and struggle to balance it all.
  • Small colleges doubling down on irrelevant curricula, resulting in depressed enrollments, all the while continuing to teach “the students they wish they had” instead of making structural changes to serve the students they have, and that deserve a far more responsive approach.

A recent position with an organization that serves higher education helped me understand that these are not anomalies. There are massive systemic issues facing the higher education sector – issues that for the most part I think student affairs is ignoring. While most of this incredible blog series is centered on the reasons one might want to reconsider a career in student affairs, I am here to offer thoughts on why you might be careful about pursuing work in higher education writ large. To set the stage:

  • American faith in higher education institutions is eroding, and there is little evidence to suggest it will recover quickly. While college degrees do add massive value to a person’s life, our national graduation rates (just over 50%: abysmal) indicate that we do a terrible job actually getting those degrees into people’s hands. We have not adjusted to meet their needs, and we are failing them. The public has taken notice.
  • Another rising critique from outside our walls: Employers are not seeing the skills they need in recent graduates. Students have a much higher perception of how capable they are than do the employers who hire them. Chief academic officers have similar blinders on, habitually overestimating the abilities of their graduates. Given career outcomes are the overwhelming reason students cite for pursuing college educations, this is a serious issue.

So it is not clear we do what our students need us to do at all. And enrollments tell the story: They are in perpetual freefall at all types of institutions over the last eight years, spanning several shifts in the economy. This is driven in part by fewer students graduating from high school, and by people pursuing other options for postsecondary education. Training at work, certifications and licenses, and other non-degree pathways can be fruitful and certainly represent a smaller opportunity cost than the time and money it takes to finish a full degree.

As colleges scramble to figure out how they will entice older learners back to finish degrees – one in five adults in this country is walking around with some college but no degree, which is a direct effect of our terrible graduation rates – they are demonstrating a basic inability or unwillingness to consider fundamental changes to their models. And they are hurtling toward budget crises and closures as a result of having no idea how to attract today’s learner. This is a business that’s experiencing a rapid, catastrophic market correction. Why on earth would you get in now?

This is a business that’s experiencing a rapid, catastrophic market correction. Why on earth would you get in now?

Even if you land a steady job with a reasonable wage, the glut of people coming out of graduate programs (and out of sick and dying institutions) will be competing fiercely for a diminishing number of opportunities for advancement. Moribund enrollments guarantee flat wages and waning retirement contributions. And in the end, adjusting to meet the needs of today’s learners, which higher education has done such a shitty job of so far, is way harder when resources grow thin. So it’s a downward spiral for many institutions at this point.

These are all facts. The numbers tell the story. But here’s an additional suspicion I have, specific to student affairs: While some folks enter a career after considering many possibilities available to them, there is no small number of people who land on student affairs by default, after a minimum of creative thinking. Graduate programs have proliferated, enticing students into mediocre preparation tracks and tossing them into a really challenging employment market and jobs where they seem to be surrounded by toxicity and retrenchment of regressive social values.

And of all of these pathways to the profession, so precious few are taking into account the massive sea change in higher education and who our students are (as artfully laid out by Niki in her opening post in this series). I routinely see big, famous student affairs programs churn out new graduates completely unprepared for today’s higher education landscape, operating on assumptions established 30 or 40 years ago.

There is good work to do in this sector. My current role is one charged with making massive changes to a single institution to make it future compatible. I believe in what higher ed can be, but am skeptical that it will rise to the occasion in most circumstances. If you see opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the change we need, I encourage you to consider those. You don’t always need a degree in student affairs to do so. But if you’re assuming student affairs will be a steady option given all that’s happening, think carefully about whether you’re ready to enter that fray.

* * *


The writer for this blog post has held senior-level positions in higher education and has 20+ years of experience in the field.

[Editor’s note: Submission guidelines allow for anonymous authorship for writers who would like to keep their identity unknown. Please respect their anonymity – this series will have a couple anonymous posts at least]

Work/Life Balance in Res Life. Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs A 2020 blog series Guest Post by @ChloeMcDs #RGS4SAM

Work/Life Balance in Res Life [guest post]

This is part of the blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program and alternatives to #SAgrad programs to pursue related interests in different careers.

In this guest post, Chloe McDowell shares their thoughts on a much discussed topic in the field: work life balance within residence life. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.


Student Affairs as a whole seems to often struggle with the idea of work life balance (or the latest phrase du jour- work/life integration). We frequently hear of departments overworking and underpaying both professional and paraprofessional staff and putting the onus on those staff to find, learn, and implement their own boundaries. This alone should give those considering the field pause.

Given this oft-shared experience, work/life balance is a topic of constant conversation in the field, particularly among entry level professionals, and especially among those that live in or live on. How do you balance work and life when not only is it easy to get called in, but your work is also your literal home?

In my 6 years in residence life, using a lot of trial and error, I have found boundaries that work for me. I plan to share these below, but I want to first recognize that these may not work for everyone. Some may think these boundaries are too strict for our students, and still others may think they somehow make me unapproachable or a bad live on staff member. It wouldn’t even be my first time hearing that statement or implication from a colleague, so if you think that I ask you simply move on and keep it to yourself. I share these boundaries with the hope they provide others with a starting point to find their own balance between work and their outside life should they join the field. Should you be unsure on whether or not to join the field, I share this as a level of caution that these are issues you will need to struggle with and resolve as well.  

I will own that a lot of this comes from my own experiences as a trans, queer, white individual and that there are some levels of privilege to my boundaries and what I share. I feel I can speak up and ask questions. More often than not, I don’t fear saying “no” or “this seems inequitable.” All of this requires some level of political capital some may not possess. My hope in sharing my experiences is that some will find it useful, and others may feel empowered to either take some steps in these directions or share where their own experience differs from my own. Please do not shy away from challenging me or sharing your own experience. 

First and foremost, your time is precious. While many of us are hired on a salaried basis, these positions are rated at roughly 35-40 hours a week depending on the institution and have built in expectations employees will take a 30 to 60 minute lunch break. Keep to that schedule as much as possible. Of course there are going to be exceptions that come up (opening, closing, duty, literal or metaphorical floods of work, etc), but by and large stick to your work schedule. Now this can be easier said than done and requires some other boundaries I’ll mention later to be successful. That being said, I attribute the fact that I am still in this field and in residence life to this boundary. 

I keep my lunch times scheduled on my calendar and noted as unavailable. I will absolutely shift that if necessary, but conduct meetings, RA meetings, etc do not generally happen over lunch. Whenever I do work over 40-45 hours, I talk to my supervisor about reclaiming time. It might mean flexing some morning or afternoon work, or using a combination of flex and vacation time to take time off, or some other arrangement, but by and large I’m taking the initiative to adhere to this boundary. Now not every department will be on board or support that. If that is the case 1) I would consider searching and 2) asking the question “why” is appropriate. If the answer comes back as solely because of salary status, but the department and/or institution claims to align with social justice initiatives, this is an area of incongruence that is worth exploring as a group. In the meantime, reclaim whatever time or schedule you can and use your sick and vacation time as appropriate to avoid burnout and ensure your personal wellness. 

When it comes to making sure I am able to stick to that boundary, I set clear expectations upfront, particularly with student staff. This means providing staff the tools to be successful without me- broadly sharing information wherever possible so staff can answer each others questions, being clear about on call protocols, expectations, and contact information so staff have someone to go to for after hours concerns or incidents, and setting a clear understanding of what is an emergency versus an inconvenience. Having to wait for an e-mail or message response regarding a staff meeting may be an inconvenience for a staff member for example, but my instant response to a staff meeting related question isn’t necessary over a weekend. I also stress with staff that I expect them to adhere to their own similar work/life boundaries as well- keeping to approximately 20 hours (again, excepting training/opening/closing/etc), putting academics and personal well being first, and then approaching and engaging this RA role. This then not only role models the behavior for my student staff, but provides an opportunity for them to learn and enforce boundaries of their own and hold me (and by extension the department) accountable for their schedule. 

After work I then return to my apartment. At many institutions our apartments may be oddly shaped, small, or outdated. It isn’t uncommon for them to exhibit weird quirks a typical apartment may not have. (I once had an apartment where the bathroom didn’t have a sink, but every other room did due to how the space was retrofitted to be a professional staff space, for example). And while these quirks may at times be unusual or annoying, the real challenge they pose is turning apartments into creating a feeling of home separated from work. For me, creating a feeling of home was absolutely necessary to avoid burnout. Whenever I step through my apartment door, I need to feel like I am stepping into a clearly mentally (and ideally physically) separate space from work. For me, that means lots of books and shelves, decorations and art, my own furniture, a closing and deadbolting door, having my animals waiting, and, if possible, an exterior entrance (I’ve only had 1 apartment with one, and it’s added such a significantly different feeling to the apartment for such a “small” thing). For you that might mean buying or requesting floor lamps to avoid fluorescent lighting and asking for new paint or appliances. It may mean having parking options for visitors and a second bedroom. Or it might mean something else entirely. Whatever it is, find a way to make your apartment feel like it is a space that is uniquely yours and somehow feels like it doesn’t “belong” in a residence hall. Anything to help provide that mental separation in addition to the physical separation that doors provide has been incredibly helpful. 

Finally, I don’t accept the premise that late night requirements need to be handled by live on staff alone. Staff meetings and fire drills are one thing, but when it comes to department wide initiatives and programming we should always be asking the question “how is everyone contributing and are we making effective use of all the resources available to us?” I have seen institutions make the transition from primarily relying on live on staff for these late night events to involve other staff members. While their were initial complaints from those being brought into the late night programming fold, it relieved significant pressure and feelings of alienation or lack of care from my colleagues. When it comes to on call, that’s what the on call rotation is for and it is important we support each other in that. In doing so, it not only makes getting off campus and enjoying oneself easier when not on call, but avoids miscommunication, overcommunication, and time or resources wasted when typically only duty staff need to respond to incidents. This also means we often have support networks on call of our own- typically some sort of assistant director or other staff member on call above. We should not be afraid to call up, rather than out to our peers, for questions or concerns about incidents, protocols, or policies. 

More than anything else, my time and my living conditions are perhaps the most precious to me. I work to live, I don’t live to work. Like many of us, I enjoy my work but it’s easy to become overworked and burnt out. Our institutions survived those before us coming and going and most will stand after us coming and going. Sometimes it’s worth reminding ourselves that we just are not that important. We have very real, meaningful, and significant impacts on our institutions and our students, but they will go on whether we work 40 hours or 80, whether we burn out and leave the field or make it a career. First and foremost, for the sake of our students, institutions, and ourselves, we need to take the time to put ourselves first.We cannot keep encouraging people to poor from empty vessels.  But, in many ways, that is what the field continues to push and encourage staff to do. Be aware that should you join Student Affairs, particularly in Residence Life, this is a conversation and struggle you will be joining in from day one. 

* * *


Chloe recently joined the University of Oregon housing team as a Community Director. They have worked at a number of institutions across the country, including Massachusetts, Ohio, and Maryland. Chloe approaches their work as an advocate, not only for their students but for their colleagues and themselves. When they aren’t working you can likely find them on their PS4, with their wife, dog, and cat, catching up on a new show or movie, or exploring their new home. You can follow Chloe on Twitter @ChloeMcDs.

Show your [monetary] thanks to Chloe via the following platforms:

Jaskier from the Witcher is standing inside a pub and sings "Toss a coin to your Witcher O'Valley of Plenty, O'Valley of Plenty"

Toss a coin to your witcher! LOL that’s me, please keep reading below

  • Venmo: ChloeMcDs
  • Cash App: $ChloeMcDs


Four things I wish my Fairy Godmother had given me on the First Day of SA Grad School by Corinna Kraemer

Four things I wish my Fairy Godmother had given me on the First Day of SA Grad School [guest post]

This is part of the blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here

In this guest post, Corinna Kraemer, shares her thoughts as a current student affairs graduate student on what prospective students should know. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.


Four things I wish my Fairy Godmother had given me on the First Day of SA Grad School

… or Santa, the Tooth Fairy, Bigfoot, or whoever else you believe in.

By: Corinna Kraemer, Current #SAGrad at Springfield College. UConn Huskies Alum.

fairy godmother from Cinderella gif with text saying "I whip my wand back and forth"

1. A magical map of acronyms and terms my professors would soon throw at me!

The main character from "That's So Raven" anxiously chewing gum

Okay so maybe if you’re 4, 5, or 10 years into your career and considering going back to grad school this may not apply to you, but being 21 and fresh out of undergrad I had NO idea what half of my professors were saying. I vividly remember the ‘deer in the headlights’ look my new cohort (I also did not know this term at the time) and I were making as we were thrown some of these terms, expected to know it all.

Here’s a few to get you started (you’re welcome):

  • NSO: New Student Orientation (fancy speak for orientation).
  • FYE: First Year Experience (that one-credit course you may have taken that some describe as life changing and others describe as an absolute a waste of time).
  • ACPA: American College Personnel Association (one of TWO professional organizations).
  • NASPA: The other professional organization that is an acronym that isn’t really an acronym anymore.
  • CAB: Campus Activities Board (changes names a lot at different places). Other examples include Student Activities Board, Campus Programming Board, or some combination of these words
  • Cohort: Those people sitting across from you that you’ll be stuck with for 2ish years. Get comfy! Cohort models are pretty common for #Sagrad programs.
  • Fieldwork/Practicum: This is a fancy term for unpaid internship that you get credit for. Do these!! (Will go into depth later).
  • Fellowship/Assistantship: TBH I still don’t know what the difference is between the two but I know they mean $$$ to pay for grad school

… And a ton more! I’m sure I missed quite a few so if there are any you’d like to add, drop them in the comments section.

2. A boatload of cash to pay for it all!
Actor Danny Devito on the phone wearing a dog shirt. Caption of gif says "CASH, YO."

Well my fairy godmother doesn’t exist so let’s talk about ways to make grad school at least somewhat affordable.

  • Scholarships: YES, they do exist!! Peep your school’s scholarship lists, local scholarships, national ones, local businesses, etc. My trick was to go back and look at the scholarships I applied to for undergrad and see if they offered for grad school
  • Fellowships/Assistantships: This is an extremely popular option if you’re not working full time already. My first year of grad school I had an assistantship that paid most of tuition with a stipend; my second year I had an assistantship that paid for food, housing, a stipend, but no tuition (yes, it is ok to change assistantships!!). Almost all graduate schools offer assistantships so make sure you ask!!!!! Springfield College (god bless) had an entire list of fellowships/assistantships available that I could apply to. If I’m being candid, getting an assistantship is what made me choose Springfield, because I would not have been able to afford it otherwise had I risked going to a school that I couldn’t find an assistantship at.
  • Alternatives: Other great programs are out there to help you pay for grad school! While they might pay less than an institution-sponsored assistantship, a lot of them offer tuition assistance while giving you experience. A great example is Americorps but there are definitely other options!

Fairy godmother from Cinderella waving her wand. Caption says :She bippity boppity do"

3. Reassurance that not knowing what you want to do after graduation is okay!

Okay so maybe this isn’t a ‘thing’ per se but it’s what I needed. Having been that undergrad who had no clue what they wanted to do in life, that continued on with me through grad school (I blame it on my still-developing prefrontal cortex) and even to this day as I’m preparing to graduate in May! Although it may drive your program director batty, don’t rush into a functional area just because it seems like the highest paying or highest in job availability.

My advice is to try whatever interests you in your fieldwork/internships. Finding out what you loathe is just as great of knowledge as knowing what you love.


4. And last but not least, a spell to make me fearless…

because grad school will challenge you!!!

Yes, there’s the papers and the classes that you’ll expect but there is so much more to SA grad school that you realize. Group projects, 2-hour presentations, long long lectures, balancing assistantships and schoolwork, that side hustle (look at you!), being on-duty, relationships, friendships, family, holidays, FOMO, drama, and keeping up with bach nation.

Seriously though, take time for yourself, #selfcare is underrated.

tiny dog holding newspaper and getting a massage. caption is Self Care Saturday.


* * *


Corinna Kraemer is a current graduate student at Springfield College studying Student Affairs Administration, anticipated to graduate in May 2020. For comments/collaboration contact me at corinnakraemer7 @

Student Affairs: Career for Some, Detour for Others? By Chris Conzen

Student Affairs – Career for Some, Detour for Others? [guest post]

This is part of the blog series “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program and alternatives to #SAgrad programs to pursue related interests in different careers.

In this guest post, Chris Conzen shares his thoughts how a student affairs career trajectory. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.



This post originally appeared on my personal blog six years ago (which has since been archived). I do think the general spirit still holds, though…maybe even more as we continue to see a growth in HESA graduate programs. I, myself, fell into student affairs as I found that I was creeping upon graduation without a clear idea of what I wanted to do once I crossed the graduation stage. Not only that, but I also backed into a career in student life, since the activities office at my graduate institution was the only one to offer me an assistantship, and I found myself facing over a decade of “nights and weekends”. While ultimately I decided to stay in higher education, it took a while before I found the right combinations to create the fit I was looking for.

I think the story of the “accidental student affairs professional” is more common that many of us may think, so I dug up this old blog post to share once again.


A new calendar year is upon us (not to be confused with the academic year, which is just one way we confused the people we try to explain our jobs to). Grad students coming to the end of their programs will begin the job search in earnest, while others ready to take the next step will start monitoring the Chronicle or HigherEdjobs more feverishly. Still others, with New Year’s resolutions (or OneWords) fresh in their heads, might start considering a career change or shift. For some, the soul searching might result in a renewed interest in the profession or a desire to shift into a different functional area, while for others, there might be the “how did I get here and how do I get out of here” moments.

Almost half of the members of my graduate school cohort are not in student affairs. In fact, a few of them did not even pursue jobs in higher education upon graduation. A few years out of graduate school, I started thinking about a career shift, entering a program in school counseling at the institution where I worked. Ultimately, I realized I wasn’t looking for a career change, but actually an escape from what seemed to me at the time as endless nights and weekends of work. Fortunately, with the help of a supportive supervisor and co-workers, I found better ways to balance my own time (which I actually used to work a 2nd job as a youth minister at a church, but that’s another post for another time) and I once again found the career satisfaction I had been lacking.

Student affairs will be where I forge the rest of my career path. However, I’ve recently had conversations with folks who don’t see their futures in the same field. I’ve started reflecting on how we all end up on the “SAPath” in the first place. I’d venture to guess almost none of us came to college thinking “Hey, I’m going to be the Director of Campus Activities one day”. This is a career many of us find as we’re in the process of finding ourselves. How often does this scenario happen:

A third or fourth-year-student who started out in sociology, or psychology, or even mechanical engineering has started to realize “I don’t really like any of the careers that come out of this major”. Yet, the student is so far in, with all of the general education classes finished (except for maybe that math course you’ve been avoiding because it was only offered at 8:30 AM – or maybe that was just me) the student has now embarked on the classes that are major specific. The student is starting to say “Oh crap, I’m graduating soon…what the heck am I going to do”. The student also happens to be very involved…could be a SGA Vice President or a RA. The student gets even more involved because, at this point, leadership is much more fulfilling than coursework. Then, the magic moment happens – it could be that the student expresses the career doubt out loud or he or she says “Hey, how do I do what you do”. Then, like someone has activated the “SASignal” we go into action. All of a sudden we’re forwarding them grad school applications and connecting them to our colleagues. We get so excited about the opportunity to mentor a new professional into the field, we might forget to ask the probing questions like “Well, what is it about student affairs that you think you might like” and help them to explore all of the options that might also fit that criteria. When the student announces which graduate school he or she will be attending and what assistantship he or she is taking, we shed a tear and proudly send a new “SAProgeny” out into the world.

A few years pass – the now grad students learn there’s actually theory and years of practice behind what we do. They excitedly move on to their first position and get ready to cut their teeth. Then, another magic moment happens – the moment they realize that working in higher education is much different than being a student leader in higher education. It might happen when the new professional is required to support a policy he or she would have organized sit-ins against as a student. Or it could be the moment that the students who made excuses to sit their office just to hang out with them are now writing angry facebook statuses about them because they had to hold the students accountable. Or it could just be the last night of homecoming week, when, as a student, he or she would have been out celebrating with friends, but instead he or she is left cleaning up the confetti with the grounds crew. And then a familiar feeling creeps in again – the feeling they had their third or fourth year when they realized their major wasn’t for them, only this time they have student loan payments, car payments, and cat litter to buy.

Of course, I’m being a tad cheeky about this. I know a great many professionals who are in this for the long haul like me and are more than happy to be here. But I think we can also name folks we know that are probably on a career detour right now – whether they have realized it themselves or not. Is this something we need to talk more about as a profession, or is it just par for the course in any profession? Can we be better about helping students explore other professions that might also meet their goals? I’d love to hear thoughts from other folks about this…even thoughts that I’m way off base on this one.

* * *


Chris Conzen (he/him/his pronouns) is a 20-year veteran of higher education, having spent 18 of them in student affairs before transitioning into academic affairs. Chris has a B.A. in Social Work, an M.Ed. in College Student Personnel and an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration. Chris has worked in a variety of institutions, but his home is at the community college level. Chris lives in Northern NJ and is a firm believer in taking his lunch hour, not giving back vacation days, and not feeling ashamed about needing a mental health day when necessary.


So...How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

So How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

So How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. Peruse past posts on what to look for in a #SAgrad program, alternatives to #SAgrad programs, and how grad school is more than just a piece of paper. In this post, we’ll review finances.


Many folks who are entering student affairs feel as if they are though on the precipice of adulthood. 

This is not a slam (yes, I know, we are actually adults), but there’s a reason why my generation (I’m an older Millennial, but one nonetheless) and the generation behind us, discuss the concept of #Adulting. We often don’t feel like adults (even though we legally are) due to not achieving culturally significant “Adulthood” markers like being married, having children, owning a home, etc (or perhaps one but not all of these markers) – especially if you are lower-income. Adulthood is a social construct

For  folks like me, who come from low-income backgrounds, we never saw all of these traditional achievements and know more about living day to day and/or the excitement for the first of the month (y’all, so much hunger during the last week of the month – loved when the check came so my family could get groceries!). Our family/caretakers couldn’t teach us, or perhaps not teach us much, so we emerged into adulthood with a big question mark over our heads like confused SIMS characters.

If you feel some kinship with the words above, this blog post is for you. Whether you are a prospective student affairs graduate student, a current #SAgrad about to enter the field, or a current professional (or really anyone looking to enter the workforce/a graduate program), this blog post is for you.

So How Do You Live on a Student Affairs Income?

…not well, I’m afraid.

For folks looking towards entry-level positions, we shall start with your prospects. Please see this spreadsheetA Student Affairs Professionals’ Example Budget to Living in a Mid-Sized Midwest Metropolitan Area”. It will work best if you pull this up in a different window, and follow along as you read.

This spreadsheet is based on my actual paycheck and my lived experience of bill paying (but extremely generalized). I live in Indianapolis, Indiana (a fact you can easily google, so why not share). But you could inflate or deflate anticipated costs + income as needed for the jobs you are considering. 

Let’s walk through the spreadsheet:

Overall, this is for an entry-level position that advertises a salary of $36,525. (note: most non-res life entry-level jobs in student affairs range from $32k-$42k. Maybe $45k if you’re lucky). The hourly wage (important if you are non-exempt and possibly eligible for overtime) is $17.56.

This salary sounds pretty decent, right? I mean, my family of four managed to survive in extreme poverty on $18,000 annually…I mean this is DOUBLE my family’s annual income? Y’all this sounds like a blessing!

Person saying "I'm queen of the rich" in gif form

Okay, but when you dig into it…

On Tab 1 “Example of your Student Affairs Income”, we see that this gives a gross total (this means, all the money the university gives you, not counting deductions or taxes) of $1,404.8 on a biweekly paycheck.

Once you go through all your deductions (mostly required) of $67.78 and your (definitely required) taxes of $316.45, your net pay (aka, the amount you get to take home) is $1,020.57.

So while your gross pay (total the university gives you) salary is $36,525…

Your annual net pay (take-home) salary is $26,534.82.

Ok, ok. STILL MORE than what my family made. This is fine.

this is fine2

Let’s go to Tab 2 “Student Affairs Personal Expenses Budget Example”.

Taking the average monthly pay (when you are paid biweekly, this can get complicated) of $2,041.14, I did a spreadsheet of examining expenses.

The estimated housing expenses are 55% of the total monthly income in this scenario. Did you know that the federal government says that folks who spend more than 30% of their monthly income on housing are considered “cost burdened” and those at 50% or more are “severely cost burdened” (CNBC). This is bad news bears, my friends.

These costs could decrease if there are roommates, fewer amenities, smaller space, live far from the city center, live in an area with higher crime rates, etc. It could also easily increase for those who wish to live in a trendy neighborhood/downtown, etc, or for those who live in major cities – special shout-outs to the Bay Area folks whose government cares more about gentrifying developers and use police to protect the rich and evict the poor (LA Times) and tech bros publicly advocate for the government to harm people experiencing experiencing homelessness because they don’t want to “to see the pain, struggle, and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day” – all while housing prices skyrocket! [rant over. for now!]

After paying the estimated $907 in housing expenses, one has $1,134.14 remaining. If someone has a car, they may spend $190 on regular expenses and maintenance. One could save money by using public transit if they are fortunate to find a home on a bus line and their city has good transit options. For example, I moved to a very affordable side of town so my housing costs were lower and I live near a bus stop, but the commute by bus would be 1.5 hours including transfers, but only 25-40 minutes via car. With my irregular student affairs hours and the need to schlep supplies at times, then a car is my desired mode of transportation.

After housing + car, we are at $944.14.

Now, food is a major expense. It is terribly easy to spend too much on dining out (including coffee, take-out, and delivery) – especially if your work hours are intense. Due to one major program, I used to spend about 3 weeks in February and 1-2 weeks in March working easily 50+ hours weekly. I’d be at the office sometimes from 10am-11pm, so of course I did delivery since my commuter campus didn’t have much to eat after 5pm. When it comes to purchasing groceries, they can add up easily – especially if you purchase frozen meals for convenience and want something sorta healthy or if you purchase fresh groceries. The worst was purchasing great groceries, then having my energy stolen by work stuff, so some food would go spoiled since I didn’t have time to cook that night/week. 

Because food can add up, I budgeted $450. This may be way more (or way less) than folks expect. If you’d expect to spend less on food, that’s fine because this budget spreadsheet doesn’t include quite a few other expenses.

Giant plant saying FEED ME

So now after housing + car + food, our remaining total is $464.14.

Add in student loan payments and a cheap cell phone plan (but no cell phone payments) at $330 and…

Your total funds after paying bills is $134.14

Note, that this budget does not include the following expenses:

  • Healthcare needs, like prescriptions and co-pays
  • Monthly payments on a new cell phone or cell phone insurance
  • Car payments
  • Clothing or household items
  • Funds to put into a retirement account
  • Major car repairs
  • A “fun money” account for seeing movies or tickets to events
  • A larger loan payment if you had significant undergraduate + master’s loans –> Or no payment if you had many scholarships/your family paid for you/you worked a lot during school
  • Supporting your family, if you have a spouse, dependents, or other family members (a real life thing for many first-gen folks!!)

So for the above expenses (especially towards healthcare or a new car or phone) that will likely come up, you think “This is fine. I will save my $134.14 for a whole year and create a nest egg.”

Cool. After one year you will have $1,609.68.

This is better than nothing! This is fine.

tina fey crying and saying everything is fine

But then you go into possible miscellaneous expenses and all of a sudden you owe $5,764 to get a new car, new phone, pay off medical bills, etc. 

And you’re in the red for $4,154.32.

In the red.

Meaning, in debt.

I’ll give you a real life example:

In December 2011, I noticed a hole in my back tooth (!). One of my silver fillings (silver is the least effective for cavities because they will wear down, but hey, Medicaid folks aren’t eligible for anything fancy) had fallen out! Well, fuck. Here I was working at an AMAZING nonprofit but only making $12 an hour with little benefits and applying to student affairs graduate programs. Turns out, I didn’t need a new filling – I needed a root canal that cost me close to a thousand out of pocket.

Fine, whatever. I went into grad school. I graduated in May 2014 and got a new job at a large public university system. I finally, at the age of 29, had good healthcare. I found a dentist. He did an X-ray. Turns out my dentist in Toledo forgot to TAKE OUT BROKEN METAL EQUIPMENT IN MY JAW. 

You read that right. I had slivers of metal in my jar and now had an infection IN MY JAW. In early 2015, I got an oral surgery that cost me $1,300 out of pocket. I could barely afford it and (sadly) honestly didn’t understand my Health Savings Account (HSA) and how it could be used for dental expenses. On top of this, sudden family expenses popped up that I had to cover. So I stopped paying my student loans for a while to make ends meet, resulting in many angry emails from Navient and growing interest on my account. Which wasn’t good, because I had to take a lot of loans out during grad school, despite having a great assistantship, because my father died and I had family obligations (#poorkidlife #firstgenlife).

That is just one example of how quickly your finances can change unexpectedly. 

Danny DeVito setting cash on fire and saying "You Want It?!"

So even though I was making much more than my parents ever did, as you can see by the estimated numbers (not my exact personal budget, but an estimation if I lived alone and didn’t have family expenses), it was still a struggle. For fellow entry-level folks (honestly, and mid-level), they also struggle, especially if they have additional expenses. 

It’s why if you peer into student affairs social media or even conference presentations, you’ll hear a lot of talk on “side-hustles”.

That sounds nice – like, “ooh, folks have hobbies!” or “Cool, they get to make some extra spending money while doing what they like!” But in reality? Most of these side hustles are necessary for folks to be able to breath and not worry about financial ruin.

So…Do you still want to go into student affairs?

(It’s okay if you do. Really. But I just want to make sure folks – especially low SES folks and first gen folks – go into it with a bevy of knowledge at their disposal).

P.S. Amma Marfo has a recent blog post on the topic of resources for learning how to manage finances that I’d recommend.


Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore

Jaskier from the Witcher is standing inside a pub and sings "Toss a coin to your Witcher O'Valley of Plenty, O'Valley of Plenty"

Toss a coin to your witcher! LOL that’s me, please keep reading below

Did this information help you? Leave a tip for the hours spent on this project via one of the following platforms:

Venmo: @Niki-Messmore
CashApp: $NikiMessmore


4 Things You Need to Know When Selecting a Student Affairs Graduate Program

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here.  In this post, we’ll review graduate school options for folks interested in student affairs that are not student affairs.

At this point, you may have read the other articles in my “Reconsider Graduate School for Student Affairs” series (even the “Reconsider a Career in Student Affairs” that shows the field isn’t puppies and rainbows) and you still tell me “Niki, girl, student affairs is my future and I am doing this!”

Then…awesome! Welcome! While some of my posts are a Debbie Downer, it comes down to my desire to talk to you in a real way about an imperfect profession that has real challenges. 

Listen – I really do enjoy my work in student affairs. I have worked in toxic environments that made me want to run screaming into a different profession in the past, but I’ve always loved working with students, and love my current workplace!

So if you are going to do this, here are my suggestions for doing it right. There are additional resources on this topic, including from Dr. Will Barrat in this ACPA handout.

Tip #1: Beware the Predatory Student Affairs Master’s Programs

Look, that sub-heading is not going to make me friends with everyone reading this. I know that. I have supervised graduate interns from several programs across the country. I have friends who earned their master’s from diverse schools. I know folks who are faculty. Some of the things I’m going to say may be about a program that someone reading this may be working at right now…but let me explain.

In the last 10-15 years there has been an increase in student affairs master’s programs – perhaps due to the perceived need since more people were returning to college for advanced degrees. But there are quite a few programs that are created with very few full-time faculty and then mostly adjuncts who are student affairs professionals at the university. This in itself is not necessarily predatory – I think a blend of faculty centered in academia and in practical experience is important. But programs that mostly pay current staff as adjunct faculty likely are likely making a good profit for the university – just sayin’.

It seems that many of these programs form and then do not offer funding or much support in finding graduate assistantships. Some of them will admit students, but it is up to the student to actually find a GAship on their own. Without faculty developing relationships with university offices to support incoming master’s students and advocating for students, the GAship packages may not offer much tuition remission or a good stipend. 

As an example, a fellow first-gen once told me how they entered the field. As an active student leader, they were encouraged by mentors to apply for the student affairs master’s program at that university. The student didn’t have knowledge on the field at large or the process of applying to graduate school. So they applied, were accepted, and then went deep into student loan debt to pay for their studies because their GAship paid only a stipend/maybe a small bit of tuition. This colleague was definitely upset, once they got into the field, learned more about how most SAgrad programs are run, and realized they were taken advantage of.

I truly believe that many of these student affairs programs should shut down, just like how many PhD programs in English and other programs need to close their doors. In academia, too many people earn PhDs but then there aren’t university teaching jobs (source). But programs keep accepting PhD students in order to turn a profit and be able to pay existing faculty. Sounds gross, right?

We have a similar issue in SA. Too many programs. Too many graduates. Not enough jobs. 

I know a director who honestly was okay with the high turnover ( less than 1 year retention due to toxic office culture) in their office of entry-level professionals because it was ‘so easy’ to hire new folks – and it was. It is an employers’ market. There is no reason for some managers/directors to make their workplace better for entry-level employees because they consider those employees replaceable. 

The student affairs job search is difficult – there are a good number of folks I personally know who did not find a job until 3-24 months after graduation; some of them immediately entered a different field than student affairs and never looked back. It’s more difficult to job search when someone is location-bound (i.e., they are only looking for jobs in one city or region). For example, friends on the east coast have told me it is so difficult to get a student affairs job there: you need to go to graduate school there, do an internship, and/or have connections (their words, feel free to fact check me). 

With tough conditions for a job search, low salaries, and a likelihood (50%-60%) you’ll exit the profession, why go super deep into student loan debt for it?

*Note: I know that more programs = greater access to students who cannot easily move. More programs also = more current working professionals who can go on to get a master’s or doctoral degree from that SA program. Yet despite the benefits, I think the issue of too many SA programs is a true threat to the field and folks’ inability to have a job. Plus, the number of SA jobs will only shrink once we hit the 2026 enrollment bust.

Tip #2 – Only Go if you have a Graduate Assistantship or are Already Working in the Field 

To be blunt,  a student affairs/higher education degree is worthless without actual work experience in the field. If you don’t have solid work experience before entering grad school, you’ll need to obtain some (or have held a job with easy-to-understand transferable skills, because many hiring managers in SA don’t understand different fields). Almost always, a graduate assistantship in student affairs while taking classes is needed, or students need to be working part-time or full-time in student affairs and be a part-time student, in order to be hired after graduation. 

As mentioned above, your graduate assistantship package is important. Some things to look for:

  • Full Tuition Remission, for 9 or 12 credit hours. Chances are, you’ll need at least two semesters of 12 credits in order to graduate on time (or take summer classes, but most GAships don’t cover that), but 9 credits per semester is a great number. 
    • Ideally, they will cover out-of-state tuition, but this is sometimes rare. Make sure you ask if that’s your situation!
    • Of  course, some assistantships just offer a stipend and no tuition remission.
    • Remember! You will always be responsible for your student fees, even if you get a full tuition remission.
  • Free Room & Board. This is only possible if you work in residence life, so perhaps not ideal for folks who don’t want to supervise RAs, do hall conduct, or work weird hours. However, many institutions have GAships for Leadership Development (that’s what I did!) or Social Justice within residence life, which may or may not require duty hours but will include on-campus housing.
  • Professional Development: Some GAships will give students $500 a year or something else related to pro devo.
  • A Stipend. If you receive room and board, your stipend will be low (maybe $5,000). If you do not, most folks receive around $10,000.
    • Remember, you’ll still have expenses like fees, books, car expenses, clothes,  phone bill, food (even if you have a meal plan), and probably going to a conference.
  • Health Insurance. Some GAships provide university health insurance. Even if you’re a lucky human who is under 26 and on a parent’s insurance, the Affordable Care Act may be dismantled by the GOP and your parent’s insurance may not longer cover you. So health insurance is a great asset to a GAship!

If you get offered less than this….seriously rethink accepting the offer. It is better sometimes to work another year and re-apply than spend thousands more on your education than you need to. Also, revisit if you really want to enter this field and plan to stay in it for a while, or have a good alternate path to utilize your master’s degree. Maybe even go into a different academic programif you are very passionate about pursing higher education and have some various careers in mind.

And one more thing – ask about your hours and flex time. I’m aware of an advising center that literally requires their GAs to work 20 hours weekly and if they need time off for a conference, class project, illness, or interviewing for jobs, they must actually make up that time, which can be burdensome and (imo) not student-friendly at all. And of course, there are many GAs in Student Activities and Residence Life who are exploited and work an average of 30+ hours weekly. Get all the information above in writing!

If you’re already working at the university, check out the tuition benefit and become a part-time student. Or, some folks opt to work full-time and do an online master’s program in order to save money and time. There are multiple options.

Tip #3: Rankings Don’t Mean Much 

One thing I learned in my amazing enrollment management course is that college rankings are just a cesspool of elitism. U.S. News & World Report gets its rankings by asking prominent college leaders to rank programs. So these leaders rank programs – not by doing thorough research, but based on who they personally like or hear good things about (which is why faculty are encouraged to publish and present!). Some schools mail their annual report highlighting how awesome they are to influential folks: #marketing campaign.

Let’s take a look at their rankings for best “Best Higher Education Administration Programs”. It is very important to understand that they rank the doctoral program on these lists – not the master’s program. Which is a problem, because some of the programs on this list definitely focus their attention on their PhD students, not their master’s students. 

There are plenty of lesser-known  programs that I, elitist that I was in my youth (my undergrad was BGSU, graduate program was IU), didn’t think much of until I met folks from those programs and they raved about their experience. There are programs that are better known regionally than nationally, so really do your research to see who is out there and don’t just rely on rankings or even word of mouth. For example, one friend did her master’s at a program in the southwest that I had never heard of….so I was skeptical at the time (because I was being an elitist jerk!) and then realized that she wanted to work with Latinx students, so of course that program at an HSI in the southwest was brilliant for her! Pick your program based on factors other than rankings.

Also: Rankings can drop or rise easily. University of Maryland-College Park used to be ranked between #1-#4 (I forget) when I started graduate school in 2012. Then many faculty left and the program changed, and they are off the rankings list. However, the program updated over the past couple years with new faculty and students there are very happy that I know – but that’s not on the rankings, is it? Or check out Ohio State University – it is #12 on the list but summer 2019 included a recruitment of badass brilliant rock star faculty so I imagine they should shoot up the list very soon. Colorado State University also has some rockstar brilliant faculty, yet also are not on a rankings list.

Rankings are fickle and a farce, and should not factor fully into your graduate school choice.

Tip #4: Scholar or Practitioner, or Both?

Well-established programs tend to have tenured faculty, doctoral programs, and often one or multiple research centers. For example, my master’s degree was at Indiana University, home of the Center for Postsecondary Research, which includes the National Survey on Student Engagement (NSSE). We certainly had a focus on reading scholarship and academic writing. 

But some programs feature a large number of adjunct faculty who are full-time practitioners to teach specialty topics like law, conduct, assessment, finance, and more. Some programs even only have folks with practical experience with little to no academic publications.

Likewise, some programs have brilliant faculty with PhDs, but very little practical experience working in student affairs jobs.

Prospective student tend to have a preference. Interested in a doctoral degree at some point? Definitely go for the former option. Not so interested in academic reading and writing?* Go for the latter option. Interested in them both? Plenty of programs have a dual focus.

*Note: If you’re not interested in academic reading and writing, please be on the lookout for an upcoming post from CJ Venable because they have something to say about that…

In Conclusion

These are just a few tips I think are important to share with prospective graduate students. Be sure to seek multiple opinions, do a lot of research, and listen to yourself as you work to make a decision!


Jaskier from the Witcher is standing inside a pub and sings "Toss a coin to your Witcher O'Valley of Plenty, O'Valley of Plenty"

Toss a coin to your witcher! LOL that’s me, please keep reading below

Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore

Did this information help you? Leave a tip for the hours spent on this project via one of the following platforms:

Venmo: @Niki-Messmore
CashApp: $NikiMessmore




11 Things to Do Instead of Graduate School for Student Affairs

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. In this post, we’ll review why you should reconsider a career in student affairs. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.

There are 406 graduate programs for student affairs in the NASPA Graduate Program Directory (including programs named “College Student Personnel”, “Student Affairs”, “Higher Education Administration”, “Adult Education”, and variants of these names). This includes programs that host master’s and doctoral degrees (some just do one of these, some do both). I’m uncertain how accurate this list is – I saw one incorrect listing.

Suffice to say, there are many student affairs graduate programs. Too many (but that’s for another blog post). 

But…if you are interested in working with students and/or working at a university or related student affairs job characteristics, there are MANY options for you. I strongly encourage you to do a different graduate program so you have easily transferable skills when you need to leave student affairs, but to also get a graduate assistantship or internships in student affairs in order to gain the required work experience. I do recognize, however, that often a well-established student affairs program at universities tend to lock down many of the student-centered GA opportunities for only their students. But there are options…  

Alternatives to Student Affairs Graduate Programs

1. Don’t do a graduate program at all

Many folks in student affairs, that I either have relationships with and have personally shared this or they shared in various Facebook groups that I’m in, stated that they went into student affairs graduate programs because they weren’t sure what else they would do for a career, and whether their mentors encouraged them or they knew peers who went into it, they jumped for it as something to do. During the Great Recession from 2004-2014, there was an increase in graduate school enrollment (Douglas-Gabriel, 2015), due, I believe, to economic and career uncertainty; when folks couldn’t find jobs, they could do grad school! (I say this airily, as I was one of those people).

But…given the economic outcomes that come with a student affairs job and additional student loan debt, I really don’t think it is necessary. There are other jobs you can do that either don’t require a master’s degree or could be a degree in a different program that will allow you to more easily transfer skills. 

Also – you can just work one year, or even longer (I took 5 years) and then go into graduate school! It’s important to give yourself time to consider a major life choice that will result in loan debt, and make sure you choose the graduate program best for you. Plus? With work experience, your likelihood of obtaining better offers for graduate assistantships greatly increases (trust me – I know from experience!)


To be fair, there are a handful of student affairs programs that have a focus on counseling (according to NASPA’s website). But I’d encourage folks to consider a counseling master’s program (U.S. News list of ranked programs) where you can be trained as either a school counselor or a clinical mental health counselor…this means you can also serve as a counselor at a university counseling center or if you obtain experience in student affairs (via a graduate assistantship or internship), you can still apply for ‘regular’ student affairs jobs like student activities, residence life, etc! 

3. Social Work

When I was a kid, I thought social workers were scary – they ‘took children away’ (sigh, #liesmyparentstoldme)! Yeah…not so much. It is a complex world with so many opportunities. While I worked in nonprofits, my main focus was youth ages 11-19, and I do wish (and sometimes do consider) a Masters in Social Work (MSW). There are some social workers who do social work within higher education (see this article) – just consider the increase in students experiencing homelessness, food insecurity, mental illness, and other major social issues. If you have an MSW degree and obtain licensure, you can legally (and ethically) counsel students – something that many of us in student affairs think we do…but ethically and legally need to be careful not to actually counsel students. Additionally, social workers are trained on using community resources, so you could easily work in service-learning, civic engagement, or generalized social work to connect students to their community. If you decide to leave higher education, you can fairly easily find positions with government or nonprofit organizations working with populations other than college students – our society needs more social workers!

4. Public Affairs/Public Administration/Nonprofit Management

Masters in Public Affairs (MPA) programs and related nonprofit management programs are an excellent alternative. These programs train students to work with the community (i.e., people), manage programs and budgets, and so much more! My former graduate student was an MPA student; she had an assistantship in civic engagement, I brought her to ‘the dark side’ that is student affairs (joking – she chose herself, truly), and now she’s working professionally as an assistant director in civic engagement at a large public university! As always, having an assistantship in student affairs while working towards your masters (or just working in SA full-time) is what majorly helps you get a job in student affairs. The program supplements it.

5. Business

Masters in Business Management (MBA) is ideal for folks who are interested in the higher education administration side of things. Truthfully, I wouldn’t count on a student affairs program teaching you how to manage university budgets, supervision, or leading large teams (sure, some do to an extent…but don’t expect very much). If you are interested in areas like admissions, becoming a director of an office or dean, finance administration, financial aid, marking, or related roles, these programs can teach it to you. But remember – they require a GMAT instead of a GRE (although some programs will waive it base on your undergraduate degree and GPA). 

6. Public Health

You may be surprised by the admission of a Masters in Public Health (MPH) on this list, but my brilliant MPH friends who worked in my former student affairs division showed me the light and I am a convert! “Wellness” is the growing need for college students. There are 7 identified dimensions on the “Wellness Wheel” used by collegiate wellness professionals: Spiritual, Emotional, Intellectual, Physical, Social, Environmental, Financial. With a MPH, you’ll gain training in health data/statistics/assessment, identifying population needs, building programming around needs, and marketing said needs. Of course, the transition for student affairs jobs with a MPH include Wellness offices and recreation, but easily can be brought into residence life (I knew a Public Health PhD student serving as a graduate hall director), student activities, civic engagement, advising for health science programs, and even serve as faculty for public health courses (visit the NASPA KC for Health & Wellness Promotion to learn more). If you decide to jump out of SA, you can easily go into so many government or nonprofit programs or even research organizations making a solid salary! Check out the best public health schools here.

7. Law 

I know – you’re probably like “LOL Law School is expensive, requires an LSAT, and is difficult as hell – why would I work in student affairs afterwards making pennies?!” Well, everyone needs a lawyer – especially institutions of higher education. I’ve know quite a few people with JDs go into conduct (especially Title IX work) or work in other administrative capacities (a past mentor is an associate provost). I’ve known two folks who did a master’s in student affairs then got a JD after working in the field a few years – one was a general counsel member for a Big 10 and then became a Dean of Students and the other is working in labor law now. Whether you work as a university lawyer or in conduct, there are additional teaching opportunities (since a JD is a terminal degree!) in law schools, political science, or public administration. And if you decide student affairs isn’t for you? You’ll be well set with a law degree! (to my fellow low-SES folks – you can get full ride scholarships to law school. It can happen.)

8. Computer & Information Science

Some of you may be thinking “But I want to go into student affairs because I like being around people, not machines!” My Dear Prospective Student, there are still opportunities with that! Let’s face it – higher education is rapidly changing. Online course enrollment is increasing. Technology needs are increasing. Even student affairs needs tech folks, to help manage residence life operations (online systems for roommate sorting and more) and more. Many large universities are having their tech people create “in-house” programs for financial transactions and related projects instead of outsourcing to private companies. If you have a mind for using and understanding computer programs and databases + you want the higher education environment (and benefits!) this may be for you. Once you leave higher ed, you can go into a higher education adjacent company (for example: the various companies that run platforms for student organizations like OrgSync or Presence) – or really go anywhere.  Heck, the world is your oyster!

9. Education

Wait, but isn’t student affairs in the school of education? Yes (I assume always). But there are additional master’s in education programs geared towards k-12. This could be a great opportunity to increase your transferable skills to working with any student age. While the course content may not always connect to college students, it will better inform you on the experiences that college students have already had prior to entering a campus. Plus, you can go into leadership positions in k-12, become a teacher, or work at nonprofit organizations that serve youth.

10. Library Science

We can all agree that librarians are the coolest, but could someone with a master’s in library science work in student affairs? Again, if they get an assistantship or internship, I believe so. Librarians are resourceful, excellent researchers, know how to program, gain education in cultural competency, and much more that I think can transfer to student affairs. Also? I just think having this degree would be fun, but I am a total book nerd, so *shrug*. 🙂

11. Psychology

I personally think a master’s in Industrial/Organizational Psychology would be amazing. What is it, you ask? “I/O psychology applies the scientific method to understand human behavior in the workplace and to find solutions to workplace problems” (IUPUI).Not only would you learn brilliant human resource data, but you’d better understand how to manage a team. In a profession where good supervisors are rather rare, student affairs could use folks with this knowledge. Plus, there are many opportunities in the public and private sector, from consulting to HR. 

In Conclusion

Personally speaking, if I could go back in time I would have gotten a MSW since so much of my work and interests connect back to social work. Currently, I’m considering a MPH – although I probably won’t, since I’d rather get a doctoral degree than a second master’s. In a world where I liked paperwork as much as I like reading law reviews and arguing with folks, I’d get a JD (lawyer fact: they do tons of paperwork! Law & Order did not prepare me for this boring reality).

I will say – if you really are interested in student affairs, it is the program on this list most likely to require/offer graduate assistantships. However, students in non-SA programs can still apply for graduate assistantships, so please don’t think it is required.

Finally, let me say that I did enjoy my master’s program – it introduced me to critical theories that I use in my everyday life and it made me a better writer and researcher. But I know the reality is many with this degree feel limiting in applying to positions outside of higher education, so I truly want to encourage folks to look outward. Many current professionals, especially my fellow first gen folks, didn’t know there were other options besides a SA graduate degree in order to work in higher ed. Please know you have choices!


Jaskier from the Witcher is standing inside a pub and sings "Toss a coin to your Witcher O'Valley of Plenty, O'Valley of Plenty"

Toss a coin to your witcher! LOL that’s me, please keep reading below

Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore

Did this information help you? Leave a tip for the hours spent on this project via one of the following platforms:

Venmo: @Niki-Messmore
CashApp: $NikiMessmore


Reconsider a Career in Student Affairs

This is part of a blog series dedicated to exploring if going to graduate school for student affairs – or even going into student affairs – is worth it. To see the introductory post on this blog series, please visit this page. To contribute a guest post, visit here. In this post, we’ll review why you should reconsider a career in student affairs. Welcome to #RGS4SAM.

@HumanofHigherEd retweeted a post and said: "The ol' #SAChat proverb: the best time to leave the field is the year before you started. The second best time is now." The original tweet was from @AngelMandujanoo" and said "I'll be here before I graduate with this degree tbh lmfao." This was in reference to a post calling for all the folks who left student affairs.

The perfect tweet for this blog post: It is in reference to ‘who left student affairs in 2019″ tweet.

In November I intended to write just one blog post on why prospective students should reconsider student affairs graduate program. On my personal Facebook, I asked my friends (many who are in SA) “For folks in SA, what reasons would you give to discourage someone and advise them into a different grad program and/or field?” 

Let’s just say…folks had a lot to say on the topic. 

This first entry in the blog series will comment on the many darker aspects of student affairs that most prospective students, and even graduate students and some new professionals, are not well aware of. Student affairs has a bevy of systemic issues and more folks, particularly on social media, discuss these issues. But for every person who discusses these issues, there’s a high ranking white lady or dude in student affairs who calls that person a “dumpster fire” instead of, uh, actually calling the systemic issues a dumpster fire and working to address them.

Welp, here’s the dumpster fire:

gif of an adorablly drawn turquoise dumpster on fire

FYI you can actually purchase this as a tiny toy via here:

1. Student Affairs Isn’t Puppies & Rainbows

Many folks believe that student affairs is focused on social justice. This is a fair assertion, especially because “social justice” is literally in the professional competencies of the organization. And there are many folks doing great work and consistently working towards justice, working towards liberation, working towards inclusion (these are all, to me, different levels of work, but all still important). 

And then there are others…Everyone will overlook or mess up on an area that they are privileged in (we are always learning as  educators) but then there are some folks who systematically contribute to oppression and tend to ‘fail upwards’. 

Ultimately, institutions of higher education were built on white supremacy (Wilder, 2013), colonization and genocide (Wright, 1995), sexism and classism (Cohen & Kisker, 2010), abelist (the ADA wasn’t signed until 1990 and many faculty still have issues providing accommodations), and in general have been against folks who weren’t Christian (read how the Ivy League discriminated against Jewish students) or LGBTQ+ (dip into the research with K. Renn) either. Yes, there have been many advances in equity since World War II and later growth during the Civil Rights Era. But there are still significant issues creating an equitable playing ground for students of color, disabled students (or ‘students with disabilities’/SWD – the community uses both terms and its personal preference), low-income students, trans students, queer students, non-Christian students, women, older students, students with children/families/who are caretakers, transfer students, first-generation students, immigrants, international students, undocumented students, and any other student who doesn’t fit the mold.

And remember, Dear Prospective Student, the research on disparities for marginalized students that is published in media (and most of the academic literature), focuses on students. If the environments at all institutions (to an extent, and then it depends on the college, department, supervisor, etc) can be negative to student well-being…what do you think that means for the student affairs professionals who hold marginalized identities?

…yeah, folks, there’s a lot of toxicity in student affairs for marginalized folks.

Cody Charles(2017) dives into this through his essay “Student Affairs is a SHAM”; focusing on the recruitment of marginalized students into student affairs. As a white woman, I have not experienced racism, but the stories I’ve heard from friends and colleagues of color…what I’ve read in the various student affairs Facebook groups…and all the other oppressive environments and actions experienced by student affairs professionals holding one or multiple marginalized identities…Whew! And then the stories of transphobia, sexism, ableism, etc…there are many dumpster fires in this field.

Personal disclosure  – Five years of FT nonprofit experience + 2 years working in graduate school, and I don’t think I ever experienced systemic sexism at work (besides this one misogynist pastor who literally stapled papers and stared at his desk the whole time when I was meeting with him to discuss an important issue, ugh)…until I began my first post-graduate position in student affairs? Oof, yes. Multiple incidents that maybe I’ll write about in depth ten years down the road when there’s some more distance. (Lol yes, be nervous, you know who you are)

Trust me: Student Affairs is no better (yet also not any worse) than most other fields. I have folks who work in the private sector who have healthier work environments than some of the folks in student affairs. 

However, while its not puppies and rainbows, I will point out some benefits to balance this section…

The benefits for some folks for working in higher education:

  • Generally, most institutions have strong diversity statements so you can try to advocate for yourself to HR + more comprehensive reporting measures on civil rights (but that still doesn’t mean the institution will protect you necessarily).
  • If you come from a low-income family and/or have disabilities that require medical attention, generally most institutions have great insurance – often better than other fields.
  • Plenty more Paid Time Off (PTO) than most other fields, which is great if you have a chronic condition, family time, and/or love breaks from work. There are usually differences between institutions (public or private, small or large) on how much PTO you get.
  • If finances are a concern and you have dependents and/or you/your spouse wants to continue your/their education, many institutions will cover tuition for perhaps 1-2 courses a semester or some will cover all courses. You’ll still need to pay fees, however.
  • For trans folks, more and more institutions’ insurance policies include gender affirming healthcare (of course, this exists at large firms as well)

2. This isn’t a Lifelong Career

Perhaps you really are interested in working in student affairs forever…or perhaps you’re applying this fall to graduate school because you’re not sure what else to do with your career,

I’m sorry, Dear Prospective Student, but if you go to graduate school for student affairs, you’ll likely be in a different field anyway within 5 years – or at least, 50%-60% of professionals will be gone (Lorden, 1998; Tull, 2006; Marshall, Moore Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery (2016).

Can you imagine? Two years of your life studying and perhaps thousands or tens of thousands of dollars in debt for a career that last <5 years??? (Of course, if you get everything paid for, this can be fine – there are plenty of transferable skills, which I’ll cover in a future post).

Multiple scholars have covered this: Lorden (1998), Tull (2006), Marshall, Moore Gardner, Hughes, & Lowery (2016), Frank’s (2013) dissertation, Ward (2015), and more…

3. So why do folks leave the field of Student Affairs? 

Marshall, (2016) noted the following themes; but note I am adding my own observational notes for the rationale and I have a large number of friends who contributed their own thoughts on this as well:

  • Burnout – Many functional areas require long hours (except for academic advising usually, but that still is a depending flow of talking to students non-stop throughout the day), including evenings and weekends. When offices are short-staffed or just have ambitious goals, this results in even more hours – and yet still, the professional feels like they aren’t hitting their goals. Sometimes when an office is short-staffed, but nothing is on fire, higher-up administators think “by golly, look how well things are working! let’s save money and cut x position immediately” resulting in long-term low-capacity and a culture of over-working.
  • Salary issues – Many jobs that one can obtain with a bachelor’s degree range from $30,000-$60,000 starting immediately. So why do most student affairs positions with required master’s degree start with a range of $29,000-$42,000? With a median of $35,000? This is not a lot to live on, as I will explain in a future post on personal finance in SA.
  • Career alternatives – I know folks who left their positions in student activities or multicultural affairs to become trainers at corporations making $65,000 and working regular hours. If student affairs type of work is what you are interested in, there are many alternative careers that use those same skills. (Again, I will explore options in future posts).
  • Work/family conflict – The weird schedules associated with student activities and residence life can be killer on a personal life. (for a light-hearted read, check out “25 Ways You Are Dating A Student Affairs Professional”)
  • Limited advancement – Renn & Jessup-Anger (2008) stated that the student affairs workforce is 15%-20% new professionals with less than 5 years of professional experience. There are a great number of entry-level positions but the competition gets fiercer for Assistant/Associate Director positions. And once you’re ready for higher levels? An immense amount of competition for director roles…often a doctoral degree is preferred for some of these roles and anything higher than director tends to require it. (But of course, as we know, having a doctoral degree does not automatically, in any way, make someone better at running an office or division).
  • Supervisor issues and institutional fit – The critique I have about current scholarship on this topic of leaving student affairs is it doesn’t cover the specific issues facing marginalized folks in oppressive conditions. Essnetially, this tends to get at the concept of “institutional fit” – some folks ‘fit’ while others do not (“fit” is almost always shrouded in power and privilege). As for supervisor issues, supervision is not really taught in graduate school (although for some graduate assistantship positions they’ll have a training on it), which means there are some mediocre and some absolute terrible supervisors running around….people get promoted or hired into supervisor roles with little regard for how well they actually supervise people, but hey! “Golly gee they supervised full-time staff at xyz university, so they must know how to do it, so let’s hire them!” -_-
  • Loss of passion – With all the above going on, who wouldn’t lose passion for their student affairs job?

4. You have to Still Pay for Parking as a Professional

Like….Tell me why at the age of 29 and freshly graduated with my master’s, I started my job with an annual salary of $35,000 and had to pay $600 a year for parking…just because my institution was adjacent to downtown of a city?

How many other companies or organizations charge their employees hundreds of dollars for the privilege of parking at work (some who are downtown in a city, but still). The one difference is sometimes smaller schools, especially community colleges, will provide free parking.

(okay this issue is small in the context of everything else, BUT I shall always remain mad about it)

5. The Pay Is Insulting for a Master’s Degree

Yes, I covered this a bit in #2, but it must be emphasized…

Most institutions have entry-level folks listed as “exempt”, meaning they must work at least 40 hours, but can be ordered to work “as much as needed” to get the project done. This is serious labor – high student contact, event planning, etc. All for maybe $17/hour or around $35,000 a year? In an upcoming post, I’ll share a copy of my old paycheck and do a ‘personal finance class for the entry-level SA person’ to give you a better idea of what this means.

6. The Student Affairs Field is Losing Value and Budget Cuts (i.e., jobs) are Coming

Until the research era in the 1920s-1940s, funded by millionaire philanthropists, hit higher education, faculty were the ones to serve as deans, advisors, etc. Many faculty, honestly unfairly, still think student affairs jobs are not necessary because ‘they’ can do it. But they cannot, because the professoriate has changed (to be fair, mostly at research universities) and the focus is research, publications, etc. Additionally, the needs of students have diversified and trained professionals (i.e., student affairs) are there to support student retention, advising, and running programs – training that falls outside the scope of studying one topic (history, biology, etc) in depth and teaching on it.

However, we are hitting a crisis in enrollment and across the board student affairs divisions at many institutions are thought to be of lesser value. I absolutely agree offices like cultural centers, student activities, etc are critical to student retention and absolutely necessary but when we are hitting a budget crisis, student affairs is going to be (and already is at many locations) the first to go once the president/board of directors get a chance. Colleges require faculty, financial aid offices….they don’t require programming in order to operate on a bare bones budget.

Why are budget cuts looming?

College enrollment has declined for the 8th consecutive year (Inside Higher Ed). “States with the largest decrease in student enrollment numbers were Florida, California, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania, according to the center, in that order. Alaska, Florida, Illinois, North Dakota, Hawaii and Kansas had the largest percentage declines.” Birth declines began in 2008 and by 2026 higher education will begin to experience the “college enrollment bust” (Bloomberg).

“Over the past eight years, college enrollment nationwide has fallen about 11%. Every sector — public state schools, community colleges, for-profits and private liberal arts schools — has felt the decline, though it has been especially painful for small private colleges, where, in some cases, institutions have been forced to close” (NPR)

Meaning if you enter a student affairs graduate program in fall 2020, you’ll likely graduate in spring 2022 and then have 4 years before your institution will (likely) start experiencing more cuts. 

7. Student Affairs Programs Aren’t Preparing Graduates for These Changes

The majority of student affairs programs are located at 4-year public campuses that focus on traditional undergraduate students (i.e., often straight out of high school, living on campus, not parents/caregivers). Which means the practical experience that graduate students obtain through their assistantships will primarily be with the “traditional student”. Our SA faculty primarily have their research focused on this “average” student population. Many of the theories taught in most SAgrad programs (though this is changing through texts like this and this) are rooted in the experiences of white middle-class college students.

Today’s college student, per the Lumina Foundation, has changed from what we may think of:

  • 37% of college students are 25 or older
  • 46% are first-generation college goers.
  • 9% of college students are first-generation immigrants
  • 42%of college students are students of color.
  • 64% of college students work, and 40% of them work full-time
  • 49% of college students are financially independent from their parents
  • 6% of college students serve of have served in the U.S. armed forces
  • 24% of college students have children or other dependents
  • 36$ of college students reported not knowing where their next meal was coming from   
  • 9% of college students reported being homeless within the past year
  • 31% of college students come from families at or below the Federal Poverty Guideline. The majority of college students (53%) come from families at or below TWICE the poverty level

These numbers? They will only change further as we hit the enrollment bust and colleges need to recruit even more students outside of the traditional high school recruitment circuit.

If you’re a current #SAgrad or in the field, did your graduate program teach you how to better serve and work with students from these (and other populations)? If you are a prospective student, definitely ask about this during interview season.

Faculty – feel free to prove me wrong and share in the comments or Twitter what your program is doing different. I want to believe #SAgrad programs are evolving, but have seen evidence to the contrary so far.

In Conclusion

gif of an adorablly drawn turquoise dumpster on fire

FYI you can actually purchase this as a tiny toy via here:


Want to add to the conversation? Tweet me at @NikiMessmore

Did this information help you? Leave a tip for the hours spent on this project via one of the following platforms:

Venmo: @Niki-Messmore
CashApp: $NikiMessmore