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Is a Non-Traditional Student Affairs Role Right for You?

Region II Graduate New Professional Undergraduate
November 23, 2020 Ashly Huff Towson University

My first professional job search was pretty traditional: I was searching within a large region hoping to be within driving distance of family, open to a few functional areas, traveled to TPE – the whole nine yards. However, much to my surprise, I ended up in a very non-traditional role. When I was considering the job offer, I knew I had a great skill set for it, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone and I was torn considering the reality of not working on a campus. By late March, I accepted the job and I was moving to Memphis, TN that summer to start at Kappa Delta National Headquarters as a chapter services coordinator. I spent a little over two and a half years there, and I had opportunities and gained skills that I don’t believe I would have been able to in an entry-level position on a campus. Today, I find myself back on a campus, but incredibly grateful for my time at KDHQ. If you’re considering (or haven’t considered) a non-traditional role in student affairs, here’s a few things to think about.

1. Don’t write it off, and don’t feel guilty for considering it. I felt an overwhelming need to justify my decision to my peers, supervisors, and mentors. Sure, this job would not have come up on a “higher ed jobs” list, but my role was very much a “higher ed job.” I felt a lot of guilt for not choosing a “typical” student affairs role. Did I really just do two years of graduate school to not work on a college campus? Ultimately, you need to do what’s right for you and if that’s a non-traditional role, then good for you! Own it and be proud of that decision.

2. Consider your “why” for a career in student affairs. Each of our “whys” is unique, but it should be at the core of your job search and career. Whatever your why is – can you achieve that in a non-traditional role? And if not, are there other priorities that are worth the sacrifice for your “why”? Maybe that’s a location-bound search, or an organization that you’re passionate about. If you can’t achieve your why, and there’s no other priorities for your career at the moment, then maybe a non-traditional role isn’t for you. But, many of us can fulfill our “why” without working directly on a college campus.

3. Expect less student interaction. In my role at KDHQ, I advised hundreds of leaders from chapters across the country. I talked and texted with them on a daily basis, and I still felt like I had less student interaction than I wanted. Hardly ever getting that face-to-face interaction was hard for me, even if I did have more work-life balance because of it. If student relationships and interaction is something that you love about student affairs, how will you keep yourself motivated with less of it?

4. Think about what environment you need. College campuses are a unique work environment. If you’re someone (like me) who loves the hustle-and-bustle of a campus, know that a non-traditional role probably has a very different environment. Personally, I struggled in a more traditional office building – more formal dress code, cubicles, less movement throughout the day. I knew I would miss the speed of a college campus, but it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. Environment is a huge part of your day-to-day life so don’t glaze over that part of the decision.

5. Know the difference between short-term and career. Is a non-traditional role a stepping stone for you, or potentially a longer-term decision? I knew I would likely want to return to a campus-based position, so that intention shaped how I viewed my work in my non-traditional position and allowed me to truly maximize the experience. Whether it is a short- or potentially long-term career move for you, thinking about it on the front end will make all the difference for you and how you make the most of the position.

Working in a non-traditional role gave me a unique skill set and perspective on higher education. I better understand the uniqueness of campus cultures and student populations, developed a big-picture perspective for program planning, and gained experience working directly with top-level executives. I wrote programs that were implemented at 169 college campuses, wrote content for national leadership conferences, developed relationships with colleagues (and sisters) nationwide, managed more crises than I can count (unfortunately), and so much more. Working for Kappa Delta was unique, challenging, and life-changing. For now, I am happy to be back on campus, but could I see myself back in a non-traditional student affairs role in the future? Without a doubt.