Student Affairs as a (Graduate) Field of Study

You may or may not have known that October is Careers in Student Affairs month. And some student affairs organizations like OACUHO,  ACPA and NASPA are promoting it in very interesting ways. Hearing about this, I started thinking about how we develop of our own careers, and those of the students we work with.

Right now many students at or near the end of their college or university programs are thinking about their employment options and additional education. Formally and informally we are called upon by many of them to help them make these decisions and provide input, guidance and recommendations about their options. But what if a student you are helping is interested in the very same work you so – student affairs and services work – how and what would you advise them to do? Is that something they could even study? Does it even exist as a program or field of study?

Each year, the number of sessions on graduate and professional development in student affairs at conferences like CACUSS, ACPA and NASPA seems to increase. Also, OISE, the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto, and many other institutions are hosting information sessions to inform and meet potential students interested in starting programs in the Fall of 2013.

But while the students we work with may have dozens of options for additional study in areas like business or social services,  the options for additional or graduate study in student affairs are fairly limited. But they do exist! CACUSS hasactually compiled a a very good list of many of the student affairs and services program options in Canada, and there may be some others as well.

In the U.S., student affairs programs have existed for decades. And each year it seems that a small, but possibly growing, number of people are heading ‘south’ for them. But the overwhelming majority of us stay in Canada.  So given that there are few options to study student affairs as a formalized ‘field of study’ in Canada, and our own personal and professional situations may also present limitations, what can we do? How can we go about gathering information to help make informed decisions about the options that exist for ourselves or interested students?

A very important way we can support those considering applying for these programs is by sharing our own stories formally or informally through arenas like the CACUSS annual conference, our other professional associations and networks, and through information sessions at our institutions on and offline. These are venues to ask questions and get answers from others who have a similar interest, even passion, for student affairs. Personally, I have always found student affairs staff exceedingly generous with their time when I have had questions about different programs, faculty members, potential pathways and descriptions about how they navigated their own program.  Regardless of the level of study or the format, I think having more people becoming a part of the conversation about student affairs careers and the role that additional education can play in that, we, and the students we work with, will be richer for it.

So for any current or future student affairs and services staff considering further education related to student affairs I leave a few small thoughts.

1. Review the institutions website to find about the courses likely available to you and the faculty who will be teaching them. Search for course outlines to give you an idea of the content of the classes you may take, the projects and assignments you will be expected to do. How much flexibility is there to pursue the interests you are most interested in and passionate about? Also look at what research courses are available. While many steer clear of research and research related courses, even if you are not on a thesis or dissertation route, developing a variety of research-related are extremely valuable for personal and professional purposes.

2. Talk to current/former students. Here you can get the inside scoop on what they feel they gained, how they made sense of their program, how they balanced work/school/personal demands. Find out what they know now that they didn’t know when they applied or were in their programs? Similarly, talk to friends, colleagues and co-workers in the field. Pick their brains about what options they and others have pursued.

3. Think a lot about why, for what reason and where you are applying. What is it about the institution, the program, that you are attracted to that will help you get where you want to do. Consider the range of options full-time, part-time, online, distance, cohort etc and again if that option will meet your goals. What are the costs (financially and other) associated with each of these options?

The fall, and Careers in Student Affairs month, is a great time to talk to students about the possibilities for them in our own field. Application deadlines for graduate and certificate programs are approaching quickly. Its also a very pertinent time for us to consider what the next step and next adventures in our own careers might be, and the role that further education may play in it knowing that studying student affairs and services is a very real option at institutions across Canada.

– Jeff

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