The A to Z of Transferable Skills in Student Affairs


If someone offered you a job outside of student affairs, could you name the skills you would bring with you? What if you had a chance to move to an area of the country (or world!) you have always wanted to experience; do you think you have that courage to work outside the field of student affairs?

I’ve shared before that unexpected life changes lead to me taking a break from work. With the arrival of twins and my husband’s company closing, we both had to make a choice that would work best for our growing family. As a result, I have to find a new job in a new area. As I continue on that journey to find my next place of work, I am discovering that my work in student affairs is very unique, but at the same time, our field of student affairs offers tons of transferable skills!

Think about the favorite part of your job. Now think about what other kinds of college jobs, academic or student services-related, your skills can apply to. Studies continue to show that you will change jobs approximately seven times in your life time. At some point, you will face budget cuts. You might come to a time when you want to be closer to a loved one. You will most likely find a life partner, and their job might affect where you work. And sometimes, you’re just ready to make a change. So, thinking outside the Student Affairs Box is useful!

I wasn’t working on a college campus in 2014, but when I look back at the year, I used a lot of the skills I used in student affairs. So many, in fact, that I came up with the A to Z skills that every Student Affairs professional most likely has and probably use every day.

A – Accounting. Many student affairs professionals, including myself, have experience managing either a Student Activities, Student Center or a Student Body fee. If we don’t document and account for the money of the students, students will come after us with questions and demands. This past year, while serving on my twin club board, I found myself addressing the importance of documenting and accounting of expenses.

B – Budgeting. Every year we teach and advise our AS students on budgeting their money for the upcoming year’s activities. Budget skills are a huge asset at most jobs. When my husband and I moved to one income, we signed up for It helped us handle all the changes, helped me with applying my budgeting skills, and kept us from going over budget.

C – Conflict Resolution. An excellent student affairs pro knows how to defuse a student conflict and to get a group of students or adults to work together. Now imagine two toddlers learning to play together. I’m defusing mini conflicts on a daily basis!

D – Developer. Student development is the foundation for anyone who works in Student Affairs, and the great thing about having developer skills is that you can work easily with others: you have the ability bring home the development side of any project. Every company, city government and non-profit is looking for employees who support the development of their services and others.

When I was co-leading my twin club garage sale, I put an emphasis on growing as a team as much as developing our sale. I started each planning meeting with an ice breaker/check in because I wanted the members to get more out of their experience. At the last planning meeting, I had everyone share what they learned from the experience. It was great to hear everyone’s answers, and I thought the exercise gave us that extra push of energy and support to make it through our three day event.

E – Experience. If there is one thing I learned from my stay at home in 2014 it is that experience is something you take with you to any job, to any activity, to any group. Trust yourself and your talents when you are transitioning to a new campus, a new stage of life or a new career field! Any work experience you have will benefit your new place of work, even if the environments are totally different.

F – First To Know. Student affairs professionals are trained to have a thumb on the student pulse so that our deans, vice presidents and even our college presidents are not caught off guard. Think about it: we work so close with students that we are often the first to hear things. How often have you picked up the phone or walked into the college president’s office right after you heard of a student disruption or an unfavorable agenda item? This skill is huge when building trust, especially with supervisors, at any job or on any team. It shows you have excellent communication skills.

G – Group Facilitation. I’m at my best when I’m facilitating a group. It doesn’t always have to be the actual leading of the meeting: the real skill is to keep the meeting on track, and every group needs that kind of person. At my previous job, my student government officers appreciated me keeping them focused; currently I’m the person sending out the agenda and meeting reminders for my Chamber of Novato Leadership Team. Once we meet, I hand over the facilitation. If I need to, I step in and get us back on course.

H – Hotel Reservations. Need to book hotel and plane reservations for 10 people? Count on a student affairs professional to make it happen! With you have to take student leaders to three conferences a year you get this hotel reservation thing down – an easily transferable skill at any work place.

I – Ice Breakers. I love this skill! In my opinion, one of the top proficiencies that student affairs professionals bring to any department is the ability to lead a group in an ice breaker. Ice Breakers are huge! They build trust. They break up a day or meeting. They can be used in many different work situations, but not everyone is big on them. It takes someone with experience and confidence in the exercise to make the magic happen. If you are forming a new team or leading a work retreat, volunteer to lead the ice breaker. In a job interview, don’t forget to sell yourself on that skill.

J – Jump. Student affairs professionals have an amazing ability to jump from one task to another: While I was volunteering to co-coordinate my twin clubs annual garage sale fundraiser, I remember thinking: “If I can run a college commencement, I can do this.” Come that Saturday morning, before we were ready to open the doors to the public, after thousands of items from 94 different sellers where organized and ready to be sold, I took a deep breath and rocked it for the next 8 hours! I jumped from helping the cashiers to moving items, to making sure the bathrooms were stocked, to unloading the racks in our club’s storage. I loved it. Having the skills to move from one task to another is huge and I’m grateful to my years in student affairs for making me an excellent floater.

K – Keeper Of Documents. Who is better at keeping documents than a student government advisor? Just watch yourself every time the students vote to approve a financial expense! I bet you are back in your office filing away a document to document the vote, keeping a paper trail of every decision that has been made. It is all about history and transparency.

L – Learning. The ability to incorporate learning into your work with others is a skill worth sharing. Some of us love learning and it shows in our work. Some of us love supporting others learning and always find a way to ask the question, “What did do you learn from it?”

M – Multi-Department Management. Student affairs teaches us how to manage more than one program. Because campuses and budgets are small, many of us often find ourselves managing multiple programs and projects. Companies and agencies appreciate someone who is capable of managing more than one area.

N – Negotiation. Student affairs pros always negotiate with concert promoters, speaker managers, students & administration. This is valuable experience that any place of work benefits from. Think of a time you negotiated to positive results! It also helps at home! This past year, I had to negotiate with my husband on who was going to get up during the night feedings. (Remember, we had twins so this it was double night feedings).The result was a happy wife, and a happy life.

O – Opportunity. Student affairs is a field of opportunity. There are always new programs in development and new students arriving on campus. Which means that you too can find new opportunities when you need them! The key is to not sell yourself short. As I mentioned, many people might not understand what you did for a living but remember, you bring unique skills that can benefit many places of work.

P – Promoter. Who is the person handing out flyers to upcoming campus events during the monthly managers meetings or the weekly staff meetings? The student affairs professional, of course. I don’t know a single SA professional who is not a promoter.  When I enrolled in my local Chamber Leadership Class I had been home with my twins (and away from a college campus) for over a year. During my first leadership class we took the DISC personality assessment and predictably, I scored in the Promoter area. I kind of laughed to myself. “Hmm.. how many past concert or speaker series posters have I held on to? When was I not handing out flyers on a daily basis before I went home with the twins?”

Q – Qualification. Never doubt that you are not qualified. The challenge with finding a new job or transferring to a new area is that sometimes, it takes more than skills to land a new job. You also have to find the right fit. It takes rewriting a cover letter. It takes practice on selling yourself. It might even take starting over. And that is okay. We are all qualified for the next job we will do. Trust yourself.

R – Retreat Planning. When I think of my ‘top five musts’ at any job I do, I always put retreat planning on my list. I love the planning of, and the experience of going on, a retreat. Retreat planning brings out our teaching, facilitating, organizing and creative skills. When my students return after moving on, they always tell me that our AS Retreats is one of their favorite memories.

S – Shopping. As a student affairs professional, you know your way around Smart & Final, Office Depot, Costco, Custom Ink and countless other stores. Think about all the shopping you do when you plan events! Depending on where you work next, that experience will come in handy to get the best deals for the next company event!

T – Team Building. Team building skills are needed everywhere, and most places of work rely on team projects to make things happen. Use your knowledge in personality assessments, team dynamics, and trust-building to make your current or next place of work shine.

U – Unity and Social Justice. When a campus is in crisis, people look to the student affairs professional to provide insight, support and advice. Beyond our experience and training in diversity, social justice, and advocacy, we have the innate ability to bring people together.

V – Visionary. Every year, you must lead a group of students to think big and envision what the upcoming school year will look like. Each year, in your program review, you have to envision what students will learn, what your department will achieve and how you are going to make it all happen. That vision will be useful anywhere!

W – Willingness To Try New Things. We constantly encourage our students to try something new.  As one student affairs pro to another, I encourage you to try something new! There is usually a reason we give this advice. Maybe our students are stuck planning the same kind of events. Maybe one of our students is lost. We have this ability to encourage others and to try new things in our lives too. This past year, I tried writing more and got published. I tried leading a group of women who where not students but fellow twin moms and made a whole new group of friends. If your boss or you see a new opportunity come up, go for it. I know you can naturally do it.

X – Roman Numerals. Don’t you just love it when your student government insists on numbering their agendas with roman numerals? How is it that, even after 20 years of high school, I still use roman numerals?

Y – Young At Heart. There is an old saying that working with college students keeps you young at heart. It’s true! It also flows right into our last letter: Z.

Z – Zip Line. If you have been on a retreat with a ropes course, you have probably gone on the zip line. And this zip line brought you back to life. I’ll always remember my first retreat after I had given birth to my son Sam: it was 8 months later, and I was back at work on my AS Fall Leadership Retreat. As I stood there, watching my students go on the zip line, something happened: I usually pass on the zip line! But this time, something came over me. “If I can give birth, I can do this.” So I climbed up, wearing my favorite AS t-shirt, listening to my students cheering in the background. And as I pushed off I felt a huge wave of energy. The kind of exhilaration that reminds you that are always young at heart. Always. At the end, we took an amazing group photo and I never felt more alive.

Okay: I’ve given you 26 reasons, words, skills why YOU can work wherever life takes you and wherever you want to go. Any place would love to gain the skill set of a student affairs professional, be it in leading the ice breaker or in leading the team through the Zip Line.