Personal Reflection

4 Reasons Why Working in Higher Education Pisses Me Off! (And 4 Reasons That Make It All Worth It)

I’ve been working in my current role as an academic advisor for almost two years now. This is my first post-graduation, full-time student affairs gig and I ride the emotional rollercoaster of loving and hating this job on an almost daily basis. As is the case with most things in life, everything has it’s ups and downs and here are mine when it comes to my dream job as a higher ed professional. Let’s start with the ugly, so that we may end this article on a good note.

4 valid reasons that my job annoys me on the daily

The low pay

If your plan of going into student affairs is to make bank, this ain’t it, chief! The average salary for advisors is around 44k, according to with little improvement over time. I always believed that if I went to college and got a full-time job doing what I studied to do, I’d live happily ever after in financial security bliss without the need for my parents to pay my phone and car bill. Boy was I wrong! Financial independence from my parents is still years away and while I have received a merit increase, that increase amounted to a meager $50 extra each month – not exactly earth-shattering. To make things worse, there is a Panda Express two blocks from where I work with a giant banner that reads “Hiring Managers, $58k starting salary”. Seriously, how does anyone make this salary work, especially if you live by yourself?

Constantly fighting for respect for my job

I still shake with rage when I think back to a conversation during which I told someone what my role was and they said, “Oh that sounds pretty easy. Just helping students with classes and stuff”. Typing it out is making me relive that anger all over again. Yea sure, helping with course scheduling is easy but it’s the “and stuff” that causes the burnout. You know, the students who struggle financially and mentally and emotionally who you can only help but so much, the ever-increasing workload without the accompanying increase in pay, the ever-rising demand on my emotional and mental wellbeing due to the aforementioned increase in workload. I don’t think I need to go on. To make matters worse, my job is continuously referred to as entry-level. While that may be true in the human resources sense, I have several colleagues who have made this their career who are fighting for recognition and the ability to move up within their current role. Because popular to contrary belief, not everyone wants to become a dean or director and lose the direct student contact.

Difficulty in moving up

I know you have to start somewhere and work your way up but I have borne witness to colleagues who have been in the field much longer than me who are still in the same position I am in currently, i.e. that entry-level job with the same entry-level salary. Where will that leave me in the future? Will I be in this same role for the next 5 years with little to show for it? In my current office, for example, advisors have to have worked at this institution for 2 years before being eligible to move up to senior advisor and even then, that’s only if another leaves (though I suppose with the high turnover rate in SA, I shouldn’t have too wait long). 

Ever-increasing expectations

I mentioned this briefly above but it bears its own paragraph. During orientation, we are advertised as the point of contact for our students. While I agree with that to some extent, we are then not intentional about explaining exactly what our role is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. I am not qualified to be a counselor, to deal with a student’s severe depression and anxiety nor to make life decisions for them. Unfortunately, all too often that is the unspoken expectation or at least it feels that way. Let’s not forget that the pay does not increase along with the responsibilities.

After all that, you may wonder how I could possibly speak of loving this job or even going so far as to call it my dream job. Well, let me regale you: 

4 honest reasons that make it all worth it

Passionate & caring colleagues

After spending my teenage years in retail, working for crappy, uncaring supervisors and even crappier colleagues, working in SA has been a breath of fresh air. After all, if we don’t do it for the money, then it has to be for the love of helping students. The passion that my colleagues feel for this work is a palpable force I can feel in the air. The vehement conversations we have about how we can do our work better gives me all the warm and fuzzy feelings. On the flip side, we can always commiserate together about this frustrating email or that annoying new policy. Truly, if it wasn’t for my amazing co-workers, there would be some days that I wouldn’t make it! 

Tangible evidence of the difference I make

I have an actual folder in my email titled “Feel Good Emails” from grateful students that I read when my days are rough. Students, especially our first-gen students, are so appreciative to have someone to walk them through this crazy time called college. And most of the time, I feel truly honored to be a part of their journey, even if it’s only for one semester. I have met some students who have taught me more about life than I could ever teach them and I will always be grateful for that.

Bangin’ benefits

Working for a public university, at least in Virginia, means you work for the state. Which in turn means that the benefits are bangin’. I have good health insurance, life insurance – all the insurances. I get two weeks paid leave for winter break along with several hundred hours I can take off at any other time. We get telecommute days a few times a month along with professional development funds. The summers are a breeze because the students aren’t here for the most part. The holiday parties with the free food are always a favorite. In terms of benefits, I can’t complain.

I’m good at what I do

It feels damn good to know that I’m good at my job. My work challenges me in ways that nothing else ever has by pushing my creativity and problem-solving abilities beyond their limits. And every time I overcome a new challenge, I feel like a woman warrior! Accomplished, proud and ready for the next curveball.  Every day is different and every student meeting is different. I never know what to expect, for better or for worse. But at the end of the day, I can put my name on this day and know that I did my job well.

How do you feel about your work in higher education? Do your pros outweigh your cons or the opposite? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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