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ChasingMavericks

School vs. Career

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I'm sure I can't be alone in this never ending mental battle about whether to continue education right away or to step out into the field.

I know for me I graduate with a masters in public health (health education & promotion) in May, which I have always planned on using for work on a college campus as I am very into programming and addressing health problems and situations that commonly affect college students and integrating this knowledge through different areas of student affairs. I'm mostly interested in working at small private colleges and far down the road hope to become a dean of student. I have applications in for a few student affairs programs for Fall 2016, but have also been thinking heavily about going into the work force instead and gain more experience and insight. It's a very difficult choice and a scary one at that!

I would just love to open up a conversation about this. Did you work and then decide to go on for more school? Are you getting your degree before working? Why? Do you have another degree already? How in demand is a specific masters in higher ed/student affairs/etc. 

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I graduated in May 2015 and took a year off afterwards (though that wasn't the plan).  I decided to work during this year because I was presented with a really amazing opportunity, but I still completed grad school apps for Fall 2016 entry anyway.  Ultimately, the deciding factor for me will be cost - it will be hard to willingly say no to earning paychecks in exchange for having to take out potentially massive loans.

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I graduated with my MA in 2015 and will apply for student affairs Master's programs that start in Fall 2017. I'm taking two years off to work, save a little money and hopefully get a good application together. However, I am struggling to find work that is in student affairs. Right now I'm working for an after school program for high school kids which I think ties into my overall goals of working with admissions but who knows what the people reading my resume would think. 

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Higher education is such a bizarre industry. Experience is highly valued both in graduate programs and in the actual field. This makes it really difficult to get your foot in the door. I somehow managed to, after applying to a million entry-level positions. I worked for a few years to get a better grasp on the industry and now feel more equipped to take on my higher ed classes. Additionally, having a mix of practitioners and students with no actual higher ed experience in my classes, it is pretty obvious that those with experience are getting more from the course material than those that have nothing to apply the knowledge towards. Just my two cents.

Long story short: really try to work in the field for a few years, as this will not only strengthen your application but also help you decide what subfield you like (or don't like).

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I worked for 2 years full-time before my master's in higher ed and then for 3 years full-time before my PhD.  Honestly, it made me much more competitive in the admission process and I had a more solid idea of what I wanted to get out of graduate school experience.  An added bonus was that I was able to get assistantships for both my master's and PhD that paid for my tuition, gave me healthcare, and a monthly livable stipend.

I would recommend along with the other posters to get a job first and then think about applying for the master's if you find that you need it.

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2 hours ago, ZeChocMoose said:

I worked for 2 years full-time before my master's in higher ed and then for 3 years full-time before my PhD.  Honestly, it made me much more competitive in the admission process and I had a more solid idea of what I wanted to get out of graduate school experience.  An added bonus was that I was able to get assistantships for both my master's and PhD that paid for my tuition, gave me healthcare, and a monthly livable stipend.

I would recommend along with the other posters to get a job first and then think about applying for the master's if you find that you need it.

@ ZeChocMoose---Follow up question. So I've been trying to get a student affairs job and everyone (people I've interviewed with/ informational interview folks etc) pretty much tells me that since I'm changing careers and have no experience I need to go for the masters. Any suggestions on getting a job before deciding if the masters is necessary? 

Edited by Snow21

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To me, the go to job in your situation is an admission counselor.  That being said - admission has very cyclical hiring cycle.  Right now, they are still crafting their class so to speak and doing a bunch of open houses to yield students - but I imagine in the next couple of months you will see many postings for admission counselors because typically they like to hire and get them trained in the summer before people go on the road in the fall to start recruiting students to apply.  There tends to be a bunch of turn over too because the constant travel can be difficult to maintain over several years and honestly, the pay usually isn't very good.  It does get your foot in the door though and you'll gain a bunch of insight into higher ed.  (I GAed in an admission office for both years of my master's degree.)

Another option might be to look into AmeriCorps programs to gain experience if you find that you aren't getting anywhere on your applications.  There are several programs that they offer that either place you at universities/community colleges, non-profits, or high schools (depending on the partner organization) to work with first generation and low income students to help support them to either enroll in college or complete college.  Since you are interested in admission work and have experience working with high school students that might be a really great fit for you.  If you go here: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/publicRequestSearch.do  and put in "college" in the program name box, a bunch of options will come up from all across the US.  All the positions are a little different depending on the partner organization so you'll want to dig into the details on it. 

I did an AmeriCorps position for my first higher ed job and I was placed at a college.  It was through Campus Compact and it was working in a civic engagement office in a college.  I really liked it and it gave me the necessary experience to get subsequent higher ed jobs afterwards.  While the pay is usually not that great - you do get an education award that you can use to either pay off loans or put towards future tuition if you want to enroll in the master's in higher ed later on.  My college also paid for a portion of my rent and allowed me to eat in the dining halls for free - which was super helpful because of the low stipend I received.  Although, I am not sure how common that is if you are not placed at a college.

 

 

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20 minutes ago, ZeChocMoose said:

To me, the go to job in your situation is an admission counselor.  That being said - admission has very cyclical hiring cycle.  Right now, they are still crafting their class so to speak and doing a bunch of open houses to yield students - but I imagine in the next couple of months you will see many postings for admission counselors because typically they like to hire and get them trained in the summer before people go on the road in the fall to start recruiting students to apply.  There tends to be a bunch of turn over too because the constant travel can be difficult to maintain over several years and honestly, the pay usually isn't very good.  It does get your foot in the door though and you'll gain a bunch of insight into higher ed.  (I GAed in an admission office for both years of my master's degree.)

Another option might be to look into AmeriCorps programs to gain experience if you find that you aren't getting anywhere on your applications.  There are several programs that they offer that either place you at universities/community colleges, non-profits, or high schools (depending on the partner organization) to work with first generation and low income students to help support them to either enroll in college or complete college.  Since you are interested in admission work and have experience working with high school students that might be a really great fit for you.  If you go here: https://my.americorps.gov/mp/listing/publicRequestSearch.do  and put in "college" in the program name box, a bunch of options will come up from all across the US.  All the positions are a little different depending on the partner organization so you'll want to dig into the details on it. 

I did an AmeriCorps position for my first higher ed job and I was placed at a college.  It was through Campus Compact and it was working in a civic engagement office in a college.  I really liked it and it gave me the necessary experience to get subsequent higher ed jobs afterwards.  While the pay is usually not that great - you do get an education award that you can use to either pay off loans or put towards future tuition if you want to enroll in the master's in higher ed later on.  My college also paid for a portion of my rent and allowed me to eat in the dining halls for free - which was super helpful because of the low stipend I received.  Although, I am not sure how common that is if you are not placed at a college.

 

 

Thanks for answering my question. I personally loved Americorps but didn't really think about them for working with college students, I did two years at education related sites (mostly for high school kids) and used my ed award for my MA in something not student affairs related. I'll have to think about that, not sure I can do that stipend again with no ed award payoff. I do wish I could find a better way to parlay my education and working with students  experience into student affairs ( I was an English teacher and worked in tutoring) , but that doesn't seem to be useful when applying for jobs. 

The admissions jobs sound like they might be the way to go. I'll keep an eye out for any openings. I appreciate you giving me a couple of things to look at! 

 

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Have you thought about academic affairs?  They might be more friendly towards you given your previous experiences.  Some other areas to look at are: writing centers or a center of learning and teaching since you have previous experience teaching/tutoring.  Academic advising might be another option but sometimes can be tricky depending on the university in terms of degree requirements - sometimes they want a master's in a related area that you are advising on.  Have you thought about advising undergraduate students in a school of education?  My good friend worked as an academic advisor in a school of education advising future teachers and he really liked it.  You can leverage your previous teaching experience too which I think would make you competitive.  Since you have community service experience through AmeriCorps- do you have any interest in working with college students in a volunteering/civic engagement office?

RE: AmeriCorps.  I do know you can get a bonus stipend if you have exhausted the ed award options.  It is not as large though and maybe not make financial sense since the living stipend is low.

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On 2/25/2016 at 10:07 PM, ZeChocMoose said:

Have you thought about academic affairs?  They might be more friendly towards you given your previous experiences.  Some other areas to look at are: writing centers or a center of learning and teaching since you have previous experience teaching/tutoring.  Academic advising might be another option but sometimes can be tricky depending on the university in terms of degree requirements - sometimes they want a master's in a related area that you are advising on.  Have you thought about advising undergraduate students in a school of education?  My good friend worked as an academic advisor in a school of education advising future teachers and he really liked it.  You can leverage your previous teaching experience too which I think would make you competitive.  Since you have community service experience through AmeriCorps- do you have any interest in working with college students in a volunteering/civic engagement office?

RE: AmeriCorps.  I do know you can get a bonus stipend if you have exhausted the ed award options.  It is not as large though and maybe not make financial sense since the living stipend is low.

Hm, no I hadn't thought about academic affairs. I'll have to look into that. I would love to advise education majors. I had great advisors who really helped me figure out my education plans, it would be nice to help other folks.  

I'm open to working with college students in pretty much any format outside the classroom. 

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If you have some mobility, I'd recommend a few things- Apply for positions in Student Health Centers/ Campus Wellness and the like - my institution values an MPH degree for those type of student affairs positions. Also if there are student affairs programs you are interested apply to those campuses - I went to a Master's program where about half the students were employees using their tuition benefit and the other half were full time students with GAs. 

To answer your questions- I worked two years before applying and it made me much more competitive. I even took two classes in the Master's program before applying. Depending on where you'll end up (region, institution type, etc) the pay after a master's can be pretty crappy. While my alma mater values the master's in student affairs, many of the positions were around 35k right out of the program. (My undergraduate major had a higher starting average salary than my masters). As far as in demand- it's good if you want to work in higher education but depending on the role an MPH may be sufficient. You could always do a higher Ed/student affairs phd down the road. To be honest, I tend to recommend people do an MPA and specialize in higher Ed if possible as the degree is more transferable across industries.

 

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