Job Hakr

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search

Blog from the Job Hakr: Student Affairs Job Search


“Does this institution fit me?” The Student Affairs Job Search Question

“Does this institution fit me?” The Student Affairs Job Search Question

“Does this institution fit me?” The Student Affairs Job Search Question

“Does this institution fit me?” The Student Affairs Job Search Question

Many entry level student affairs professionals conduct their first major job search right when their graduate programs are ending. That can be a stressful time. They need to finish their courses, search for job postings, and then prepare for their first round and on-campus interviews.

But the one question that comes up time and time again for new professionals is: “does the institution fit me?” There are many who argue what fit is and how to affects individual professionals.  But when I get this question from my mentees, I point them to four major areas to look at when determining if an institution is the right fit for them.

The Institution

Think about the institution as a whole. First how big is it? Is it a large state school? A small liberal arts college? A community college? Working for student affairs divisions at each of these different types of institutions is going to be very different from one another.

Another factor to consider is the student body. The large diverse student body of an urban research focused institution won’t be the same as the students who attend a regional comprehensive university. Likewise, if you’ve never worked at a single gender institution, an HBCU, or a performing arts conservatory, then it might be a challenge for you to immediately transition to those types of institutions.

Some student affairs professionals also take into consideration the visibility and reputation of the school. They want others to know that they work for an Ivy League institution or one of the top research universities in the country. Yet for others that is just not a factor. You should determine how the school’s visibility fits into the kind of institution that you want to work for.

Lastly, one of the biggest areas that student affairs professionals consider in their search is the location.  This has perhaps the biggest bearing on what professionals consider within their profile for “fit.” Is the institution located in a place they wish to re-locate to? Somewhere they want to remain? No matter what the factor, geography plays one of the biggest roles in determining institutional fit in the student affairs job search


Lifestyle is another major consideration when conducting an entry level job search. Specifically, when it comes to proximity of the new institution to family and friends. Are there people that you know close by? Do you have immediate or extended family in the area? If so, is it a good thing that you’ll be close by?

Another thing to consider are culture and activities. Are there things to do around the institution that you enjoy? Are there any activities, events, or other cultural opportunities that you would participate in? That is often a big factor to consider if moving far from your home.

Professionals need to also consider the weather for the location. Working in the Pacific Northwest is going to be much different from the American Southwest or an Urban Northeast City. You may have to deal with driving snow, blazing heat, or a consistently rainy weather. Is that something that attracts you? Is there anything about the weather that you would want to avoid?

Another consideration is work hours. Student affairs professionals are no stranger to pulling longs nights and weekends. But consider the amount of time that you’d spend in your role. Positions working at the registrar are much different from responsibilities in residential life. Ask your potential new employer about your regular working hours.

Lastly, student affairs professionals should also take into account the dating scene at their potential new location. Is it someplace where you can find peers in your group to date? You will generally have more luck with this in urban areas compared to rural ones. For others you may not even consider this a factor if you are in a long term relationship, are moving with a partner, or have already started a family.


The cost of living and housing will be a major factor in determining intuitional fit. Salaries should be competitive based on your functional area, experience, and location. Though you should also take into account your housing situation when considering a new position. Will you be granted on-campus housing? Will you need to rent an apartment? If so, could you afford to live on your expected salary by yourself?

Living arrangements will then become part of your equation. Would you consider having roommates? Are there other student affairs professionals that you could live with? If not, how difficult would it be to find roommates to share living expenses?

Your housing situation also affects how you will get to and from your job regularly. If you are living on campus then this is not something that you need to worry about. Otherwise you’ll need to take into account factors such as driving and parking on campus and at your home. If you plan on using mass transit, you’ll need to find out what is available. Whether that be bus, train, ferry, bicycling, or walking: commuting will take up a significant amount of your time getting to work.

Staff Culture

Perhaps the one thing that student affairs professionals consider most present, but difficult to gauge in their job search, is the staff culture of the institution. This is most influenced by direct coworkers who you’ll be interacting with on a regular basis. During your on-campus interview you should speak with as many of your potential new coworkers as you can. Take time to determine if they are individuals you could see yourself working with.

Your interactions with your direct coworkers could help you determine the overall morale of the entire office. Do others seem happy and excited to work in the office? At the institution? In their role?

In addition, determine how formal the work environment is. Do people address each other by their first names? Do they use titles in their emails? How do they talk to each other in casual, versus formal, situations?

While it matters more for some roles over others, you should also determine the level of autonomy you’re afforded in the position. Are there any programs that you run with minimum oversight? How many students would you supervise / advise?

Most importantly, you should consider and ask about the office’s policy on professional development. You should have access to high quality professional development opportunities in order to advance and move forward in the field.  Ideal opportunities will allow you to grow, develop, and connect with other professionals.  Determine if any of your other direct coworkers have attended conferences in the past, created presentations, or can otherwise mentor you in areas you want to grow.

Closing thoughts

There are many factors that go into determining if an institution is the right fit for you. Some of them you can determine before you apply. Others require an on-campus visit from you in order gauge if this is the right place for your next step.

Click here to get a full list of characteristics to determine if an institution is the right fit for you.

Happy interviewing,

Dave Eng, EdD

Provost, The Job Hakr