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Another Higher Ed/Student Affairs Program Question


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I have read most of the threads related to Higher Ed and Student Affairs masters programs on this board, but I am still kind of confused with regard to my situation, so I was hoping someone might have some info that could help me.

I am interested in pursuing a career in advising (either academic advising, career advising, or maybe something related to study abroad or promoting STEM careers). I graduated from college a few years ago and have been working in a field unrelated to higher ed since then because I was unsure of what I wanted to do when I graduated. Currently, I have been looking for a job at a college or university just to get some experiece doing ANYTHING professional in a higher ed setting in order to improve my grad school applications.

I AM a little confused though about why types of programs I should be applying to. I THOUGHT that for what I am interested in (advising) I would want to do a student affairs masters program? Perhaps one that was a little heavier in counseling and student development theory?

But then, the other day I was talking with an individual who attended the same undergraduate institution as I did and is now working as an Academic Advisor at George Washington and for her masters she did the Higher Education program at Harvard. She seemed to be a big advocate for doing a Higher Ed program, particularly at one of the more highly ranked schools (like Harvard, Stanford, Penn or Vanderbilt), and said most of the more student affairs type stuff you can pick up experientially rather than learning it in the classroom.

So now I am just a little unsure of what type of programs I should be looking at. I am really nervous about being able to find a job when I complete grad school and would like to be able to get the best possible training in order to make myself into an attractive candidate.

If you have any thoughts or experiences that might be valuable, I would really appreciate hearing them.

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It honestly doesn't matter that much. I have seen people do either Higher Ed or Student Affairs programs and secure advising positions. Hiring managers tend to be more concerned if you have experience in advising during your master's program than your specific type of program. I would select a program depending on what you want to study and its overall fit. If you want to learn about student development and counseling-- then go with a student affairs program. If you want to learn about faculty, admin, students, higher ed policy, organizational theory, etc -- do a higher ed program. If you want a combo, you can always look into HESA (higher ed and student affairs) programs.

Master's degree programs are not ranked in higher ed programs. She might be referring to the rankings of higher ed PhD programs, but they are not the same. (Some depts treat their master's students very differently from their PhD programs--- and some don't.) I would be much more concerned about coming out debt free or relatively debt free from my master's program. You also want to make sure that you are getting enough quality experience either through assistantships or internships so you can get a job when you graduate.

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  • 1 month later...

Most programs use the words "Higher Education Administration" and "Student Affairs" interchangeably, some distinguish the two, and others combine them together.

Higher Ed Administration focuses more on the administrative workings of colleges and universities, such as policies, management, etc.

Student Affairs focuses more on the social aspects of the college/university environment and typically revolve around student wellness (physical, mental, and academic)

Academic/Career Advising would be most closely associated with Student Affairs since you'd be working one-on-one with students to help them succeed academically. This is personally something I'm interested in doing so I'm mostly focusing on HESA (Higher Ed and Student Affairs) programs which have a mixture of both categories. I feel that it would be a benefit to find a degree that incorporates both since it makes for a more well-rounded program and would probably give you more flexibility when job searching.

Depending on your current situation you may want to look for a program which offers grad assistantships. They allow you to work part-time and typically cover some part of your tuition. It's also helpful because you'd be gaining practically experience while going to school.

Hope this helps and good luck with your search!

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