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Higher Education assistantship with little experience?


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I've recently decided that I want to have a career in higher education. (Academic advisor would be my dream job.) Right now I'm in between my sophomore and junior year of college, and I don't have a lot of experience. This past year I tutored math to small groups through my school's tutor program, and I was an administrative assistant for about 6 weeks for the school's TRIO tutoring program (started after spring break). I didn't have any student contact or anything for that one - just working on organizing information about the program so a report could be made about the effectiveness of the program basically.

Besides that, I haven't done anything remotely related to higher education. (No RAing, giving campus tours, working for any student affairs type departments or anything like that.) I'm going to be studying abroad for a full year this year, so I won't be able to get any experience doing that stuff this year either. I'm hoping to get involved my senior year by signing up for this online program where you "meet" virtually once a week with a high school student and help them with getting into college, and I want to get involved with the study abroad department a little by being a peer advisor to an exchange student.

Writing this all out, I'm actually starting to feel like maybe I do (or will have) enough experience to get an assistantship, but I just feel like I'm kind of late getting the ball rolling since I didn't decide what I wanted to do until halfway through my undergrad career and I'm not sure how much the things I'm planning on doing my senior year will count since I'll be applying to programs and assistantships in the middle of that before I really get my feet under me.

Basically, I'm just wondering how much experience one usually needs to land an assistantship in higher education (especially in something like advising since that's what I'm most interested in, but I'll take anything). Is it super competitive or do most people (even those without experience) end up getting assistantships? If it matters, I'm okay with pretty much any school in the country as long as they have a decent employment rate.

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Some programs have guaranteed assistantships as part of their curriculum, so if you're worried about competitiveness, that may be an option for you. Depending on the institution and area you're going to, getting an assistantship or internship isn't necessarily competitive. Some urban areas such as Boston have assistantship opportunities at universities outside of the institution where the program is held because not every university has an education/higher ed program to hire students from.

I am about to enter a master's program for higher ed and have met someone who is 5 years out of undergrad that decided to go for a career change into the field, so you're not late in the game at all - with higher ed, I don't think anything really qualifies as "late in the game" because different experiences and areas of interest can translate well into different functional areas in universities. I also knew someone in undergrad who didn't get higher ed experience until their 5th year of college - they stayed just to get the experience really, but were accepted to at least one program.

20 hours ago, rcbx0210 said:

Besides that, I haven't done anything remotely related to higher education. (No RAing, giving campus tours, working for any student affairs type departments or anything like that.)

Study abroad in itself is actually related since you become familiar with the logistics of studying abroad from your own experience. Also look for opportunities to get involved if there's a study abroad/global study/global experience office on your campus once you return. Senior year is a great time to have really meaningful experiences in leadership/jobs. I was like you and didn't have the traditional experiences a lot of students have going into higher ed programs (did not do res life, orientation, tours, etc) but I did a lot of admin work through work study jobs and was able to get some relevant leadership positions my senior year after not having any the previous 3 years.

21 hours ago, rcbx0210 said:

since I'll be applying to programs and assistantships in the middle of that before I really get my feet under me.

Depending on the programs you apply to, the assistantship process may not be til after you get accepted. The programs I was accepted to had their admitted student day/assistantship interviews in late March to April, so that's enough time to have valuable things to talk about from your senior year.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I am currently in my master's and hold a student affairs assistantship (financial aid advising) and it was a bit different for me. So, I got admitted into the program in November and started in January of this year. It was up to me to find an assistantship, which was very difficult on an "off season" admittance to the university. However, assuming you start in the fall like most places do, you should be fine. I can not speak to all institutions, but most have a mass interview where you get a list of all openings and you rank them. Usually you get interviewed for your top choice and then any other groups that want to interview you will. Then you will get offers and can pick which one you are interested in. It is possible to change assistantships throughout your education, but I would advise only doing that if the first one was not a good fit in terms of what you wanted to do after the master's. For example, financial aid is so large it takes about a year just to learn everything so leaving without even a year doesn't work well as there is such a high amount of training to replace you (other areas can be similar such as a semester, or more).

When I applied I had a lot of experience as an undergrad, 2 years as an honors house (LLC) RA, 3 years in tours and marketing, 2 years in student involvement and development, 2 years in student government, and 1 year in admissions and academic advising. (Yes, it was quite a lot while trying to do a physics bachelor's)

Honestly, none of it really helped me much other than in the courses. The assistantships typically will look for experience in the interviews, but I know plenty of students get them without any student affairs experience. Also know that if you don't get any assistantships at your school, there is a chance other schools will have opening that will pay your tuition. I go to a state system wide school, so any system school would pay my "home" university's tuition bill. So, that may be an option as well, but I wouldn't worry too much. There are so many assistantships in student affairs, but you probably won't have access to teaching appointments and there may be some research appointments - but those are extremely rare.

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