Eye of the Tiger

The past week at my institution we have started “Interview Season” for graduate assistantships. It’s a busy time in the Division of Student Affairs as we prepare to welcome new students into our Post Secondary Education graduate program, as well as say goodbye to some great people. In my department, our current graduate assistant has decided to change departments for the next academic year. Interviews with new candidates happened earlier this week, and as I rustled through a stack of resumes, I began to reminisce about my experience applying for graduate assistantships.

My journey with Student Affairs began my 5th year of college when I became a Resident Assistant. During an educational training session, one of the Hall Directors talked about Student Affairs. I was intrigued from the very beginning, but I was quite naïve about graduate school and this great post-secondary world. I raised my hand and asked “So, you’re saying I can be an RA forever?” and the Hall Director chuckled at me and said “Something like that. You could run your own building”. My eyes grew bigger with excitement. I was hooked (and I’m not sure what about running my own building was so appealing, I just knew I loved Residence Life). For the continuation of the year, many individuals in the Department of Residence mentored me and helped prepare me for the next step in my life. I attended the UMR-ACUHO conference during the fall semester and was sponsored by my institution to go to OPE in the spring semester.

The time came in which applications to graduate programs were due. Little did I know this would be a costly adventure. In addition to this, I had to figure out costs for resume paper, a suit, dress shoes, travel, and meals. Going to OPE was a great experience, but it made me so nervous. I wish someone would have told me to practice for my interviews beforehand. Along with this, I really should have done more research about the schools I looked into because when I look back on it, I really wasn’t prepared enough. I interviewed for 7 different assistantships. I was invited to 3 on-campus visits (one which I could not attend because it conflicted with another visit). I was offered a graduate assistant position at 2. I accepted 1…the rest is history.

Out of the many things I learned from that experience, as well as going through the job search process post-graduate school, I try to remind students about a few things: 
  1. Have an honest conversation with yourself and figure out what type of graduate program will work best for you. If you want something more research-based than hands-on, or if you prefer a small cohort versus a large one, you need to know what works best for YOU. It’s your experience.
  2. Don’t interview with a school for the sake of interviewing. You have to be genuinely interested in a school or graduate assistantship position. Employers will notice if you are not that interested.  
  3. If you are offered only one position, don’t accept it just because you will be employed. Sometimes that doesn’t work in your favor at the end of the day. Go with your instinct! If it doesn’t feel right, chances are that it’s not.  
  4.  Make sure multiple people review your resume. Everyone will have a different take on it. Different eyes notice different things. Also, don’t sell yourself short. If you are doing an internship, or you work at the dining center, whatever…write about it. Sometimes employers will bypass your resume if they don’t see what they want to see right away. You may think you don’t have what it takes for a particular job, but truth is you will have transferable skills you can apply in any position.  
  5. As much as I’m an advocate for having a back-up school in case your first choice doesn’t pan out, look at other options. Whether it means staying at your undergraduate institution for a few more years, going to a state you have never been before, or taking a year off – don’t think it’s the end of the world if you get a rejection letter. It causes much stress, and you will need to save your energy for when you start classes.
So march on future Student Affairs professionals! Get your resume paper. Polish those shoes. Don’t forget to pack the breath mints. Your time is now! Good luck to all those applying for graduate programs and graduate assistantships this year.

Tabatha Cruz

Student Affairs - the First Years

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