What do you want to be when you grow up? You may have heard that question on occasion while growing up. Had you answered “college student affairs professional,” you would have been in the minority. But, perhaps now that you’ve spent time in college interacting with student affairs staff members, you may be interested in pursuing a similar career.
Developing your Undergraduate Experience
Student affairs staff work in a variety of offices across campus. You’ll see us in residence life, student activities, multicultural programming, career services and more. Some staff even work in offices within academic affairs, like ‘first year experience’ and ‘student advising’. The common denominator between all of these offices and professionals is that they are all there to enhance your learning and personal development, in college and beyond.
You may already be doing student affairs work. If not, you can get experience as a resident assistant, orientation leader, career peer mentor, outdoor trips leader, or even student organization officer or member- just to name a few. Speak with a student affairs staff member on your campus about your interest in student affairs and the options available to you. While not required to pursue a career in student affairs, having some experience in student affairs before you head off into the professional or graduate school world will better prepare you for success.
Becoming a Professional
There are several professional organizations in which you can become involved, from state associations, to functional area associations (i.e. AFA, NODA, NACA), to broad umbrella organizations that have appeal across the profession. Two umbrella organizations in particular are ACPA – College Student Educators International and NASPA.
Both ACPA and NASPA support the field with a variety of professional development opportunities, including annual conferences with components for undergraduate students (ACPA’s Next Gen and NASPA’s Undergraduate Fellows). Several of the functional area conferences have similar experiences. Participating in these undergraduate programs will expose you to key members and concepts of the profession and introduce you to many students whose interests and goals are similar to yours.
Ask your campus student affairs professionals about their conference attendance and which undergraduate experiences they may be willing to serve as sponsors for you. If you are interested in pursuing a career in student affairs, participating in one of these undergraduate programs would be invaluable.
As you progress in your interest, you can begin to explore graduate school options by browsing either of these websites: ACPA or NASPA. While there is quite a bit of cross over in regards to the schools that they cover, each site offers a unique perspective on the profession and access to different information.
This is just a tip of the iceberg when it comes to learning about student affairs. Please feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or interest. I look forward to welcoming you to the profession. Make it a good day.
Mike Severy is the Director of Student Life at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. He views his work through the lens of student leadership development believing that students are developed over time through a series of meaningful experiences and that his role is to help students create and find the meaningful experiences in their lives. You can connect with Mike on Twitter (@MikeSevery).