Finding a Career in Student Affairs

By: Ellen (Career Counselor & Guest Poster)

I started my career in Student Affairs technically when I was a freshman in college. I got a work study job in the career office on my campus.

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, “What is Student Affairs?” Well, “Student Affairs” means working in one of many departments on a college campus that are not strictly teaching in a classroom. I was one of those people who decided they never wanted to leave college. Then, I left the college environment after undergrad to work out in the “real world” and desperately wanted back into the college environment the entire time. Student Affairs means: freshman orientation, academic advising, admissions, student union/center, residence life & housing, career services, study abroad, cultural diversity, student involvement, leadership, conduct, disability resources, rec sports, and other similar departments. We educate you outside classroom. We help you see how to apply your in-class education to the real world. We help you invest in the tradition of your university. We provide meaningful opportunities to learn and grow. We challenge you. We help you have fun. We help when you have problems.

We help you see the possibilities.


October is Careers in Student Affairs month. It’s our chance to show you how great a career in higher education can be. Often times, people do not start off college with the career goal of being an academic advisor, greek life coordinator, career counselor, or vice chancellor. These are career ideas that come later in your college experience, usually after some great experience you’ve had through a student affairs department. I feel like I’m not describing this very well, but this round-about path is usually how people end up in students affairs and higher education. As a college freshman, could I have predicted that I’d grow up to be a career counselor who does social media, supervises student employees, and is dabbling in assessment? No. I couldn’t have even predicted that combo while I was in graduate school…or even in the first year of my professional career as a career counselor.

In Student Affairs, experience is your golden ticket. If you’re interested in working with college-aged students and being on a college campus, try out as many departments as you can. See what strikes your interest the most and what you really would like to stay away from. It may take a while to figure it all out. Like I said earlier, I started working my college’s career office as a freshman. It took me until the middle of senior year to realize that I wanted to be a career counselor. Here are some ways at UMD that you can try out working in and experiencing Student Affairs. This is not an exhaustive list, and it’s a good place to start. (Note: most of these positions you can find listed on UMD’s HR website or contact the department to get more information.)

Professional organizations are another great way to get involved with and learn about the profession as an undergraduate. The two governing organizations for Students Affairs are: ACPA – College Student Educators International and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NAPSA). Check out these organizations, and the functional area ones listed below for more information. These are the national level organizations. There are also state and regional levels to these organizations. The state and regional levels might be easier (and less expensive) to get involved in as an undergrad.

  • NODA: National Orientation Directors Association
  • NIRSA: Leaders in Collegiate Recreation
  • ACUHO-i: Association of College and University Housing Officers – International
  • NACA: National Association of Campus Activities
  • ACUI: Association of College Unions International
  • NCDA: National Career Development Association
  • NACE: National Association of Colleges and Employers
  • NACADA: National Association of Academic Advising

The Minnesota College Personnel Association is hosting a Careers in Students Affairs event on November 22nd at Hamline University. Attend sessions by professionals (I did one a few years ago about using Twitter to connect with SA professionals), get information about different grad school programs, have your resume reviewed, and connect with other undergrads interested in going into Student Affairs and Higher Education.

Something to keep in mind – work in Student Affairs will almost always require at least a Masters Degree. Your two main options will be Student Affairs/Higher Education Leadership (like these programs at Minnesota State University, Mankato or University of St. Thomas) or Counselor Education with an emphasis in Higher Education (like these programs at UW-Whitewater or St. Cloud State). If you have questions about grad school or finding experiences to best prepare yourself for getting in, make an appointment with one of the career counselors in our office.

For even more information, I recommend checking out the Student Affairs Collaborative. It’s a blog with fantastic posts by people who work in all areas of higher education. You can also check out Student Affairs Alltop for a listing of Student Affairs related bloggers and the #CSAM14 hashtag on Twitter.

I am the giver of information. Can you tell? 😉

If you are interested in Student Affairs and working in higher education, feel free to make an appointment with me, or any other of the career counselors in the office, and we can direct you a variety of people on-campus who can share their knowledge of the world of higher education.

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