Referred to as “the other career in education,” the realm of student services has many names: student affairs, student personnel administration, student support, and university administration (to name a few).
They all describe one job: an administrative position in higher education. From campus activities to financial aid to academic advising, student services includes a wide range of university positions.
Regardless of where you end up within a university, being a part of student services can be challenging. It is a competitive field. Often the job requirements include having a master’s degree. So, why invest the time and financial resources to become an administrator in higher education? The pay? It is true that within a university, administrative staff are the best paid. This is a legitimate reason for considering student services. However, if money is your only motive in choosing a career, there are other jobs that will provide financial security. Choosing a career in higher education is motivated by more.
Here are 6 (non-monetary) “pros” of a career in student services:
PRO #1: ABILITY TO MOVE UP AND AROUND
Campuses are like small cities. The internal opportunities are endless. If your interests vary, student services is for you. At a university, you are not confined to one career path. An excellent example of enjoying the ability to move up and around within student services is Concordia’s own, Steven Taylor. His job record at CUW consists of Hall Director, Director of Residence Life, Director of Financial Aid, and Vice President of Student Life. (Apparently it is mandatory that every student services title has “director” in it.) That is quite the career!
Let’s take a brief look at a few of the areas you could serve in: admissions, advancement, career development, financial aid, student life, international and multicultural programs, residence life, the president’s office, and athletics. (Whew! Try sayingthat in one breath.) In a corporate office you are not likely to have the freedom to pursue such diverse positions both vertically and horizontally. University life is ideal for those who are eager to explore and challenge themselves.
PRO #2: CREATIVE COMMUNITY
Universities by their nature have different cultures than corporate settings. Most are non-profit and this changes how employees relate to each other. Dr. Lori Reesor, at the University of Kansas, says that campus life is like a family. They may vary in size and values, but always share a common thread: community. Whether at a small community college, a quiet private university, or a large public school, you will experience a unique and engaging group dynamic.
The non-profit aspect of universities also fosters creativity. When a collective mission is bigger than the organization (“helping students develop in mind, body, and spirit for service to Christ in the Church and the World”), employees aren’t narrowly focused on a hard bottom line. This opens the door for creative problem-solving. As one non-profit employee points out, “you’ll constantly be challenged to figure out how to fulfill your mission quicker, cheaper, and better and reach people in new, innovative ways.” For those interested in joining a creative community, a career in student services is rewarding.
PRO #3: RESPONSIBILITY OF SHAPING THE SCHOOL
If you are considering student services, you already recognize the importance of education. You care about students bettering themselves and growing into informed, thoughtful adults. You care about students’ ability to apply their education to their career. You care about creating the best environment for learning. Guess what? Through student services, you can put those values into action and help shape the direction of the university. You have the power to do a great deal of good.
Like the any job that carries a great deal of responsibility, this role has to be taken seriously. You have the power to both help and hurt the university. (E.g. A policy could hamper a professor’s ability to teach; An event designed to build community on campus might have the opposite effect; A learning objective can appear beneficial on paper but waste time in the classroom.) The power to shape a school must not be taken lightly. So is this responsibility a “con” or a “pro”? The truth is that it can be either; you determine which it will be. This is good news because the best way to help the university is by being informed (and you can always inform yourself)! If you are committed to critically evaluating ideas, communicating regularly with faculty and students, and understanding the “why” behind your actions, then you will be equipped to make this responsibility a “pro.” The satisfaction of successfully serving students (and faculty) makes the responsibility worthwhile!
PRO #4: DEVELOPING A WIDE VARIETY OF SKILLS (THAT APPLY ELSEWHERE)
A career in student services pushes you to grow and learn as a professional. Departments within a university must work together closely, so you’ll learn how to adapt and relate to the whole network. Having a background in student services helps develop abilities that you otherwise might not have realized you possess. Your master’s degree and exposure to university life enhances your verbal communication skills, understanding of legal issues, business writing, leadership, and emotional intelligence. You’ll grow as a professional.
What if the time comes when you decide to transition into a career outside of university life? The practical experience gained from working in a university directly applies to many other careers. The above traits are highly sought after in the business world. If the time comes to step outside the bounds of university life, you will be prepared for whatever comes next.
PRO #5: CULTURAL OFFERINGS
Do you enjoy listening to bright thinkers and experiencing the arts? Regardless of your geographical location (yes, even the plains of North Dakota), all universities offer “culture” on some level. Within a university, you have direct access to almost any experience you can imagine: special seminars, concerts, sporting events, art exhibits, plays, volunteering opportunities, bible studies, etc. What if you want to not just listen to music, but be a part of it? Many schools have choirs, bands, and orchestras where staff participation is encouraged. What other career can provide you with such a wide variety of cultural sustenance?
Those who work in a university receive perks that the general public does not. As a student services professional, you benefit from special discounts. For example, at Concordia University staff and faculty can attend Concordia Bible Institute’s Bible Studies for no cost and Concordia’s theater productions at half price. Some schools even allow employees to sit in on classes for fun or receive course credit at a discount. Universities enrich all who enter, and the administrators are no exception.
PRO #6: MASTER’S DEGREE
How do you start pursuing a career in student services? You get a degree (after all, it is the academic world). As somebody interested in education, you probably don’t need to be convinced that more of it is a good thing. (However, writing about education is my whole job. In the spirit of keeping that job, let me tell you why a master’s degree is a “pro.”) Having a master’s degree helps you develop your own abilities, learn more about the world and higher education, and improve the lives of those around you. This applies not only to your professional development (as noted under pro #4), but your personal life as well. Education is valuable for its own sake. The fact that this master’s degree also prepares you for a career is icing on the cake.
Although requirements vary between universities, many recommend that you receive a Master of Science: Student Personnel Administration in Higher Education (SPAHE) degree. This program is specifically designed for university administration positions. In a time when more people than ever are receiving their bachelor degrees, completing a master’s sets you apart. If you are interested in supporting higher education, check out Concordia’s own SPAHE degree. There is no time like the present to begin working toward the future. We wish you the very best as you start your path toward a career in student services!
— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 262-243-2149.
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