From K-12 to Higher Education: Applying to Graduate School While Serving as an Adviser

There is likely something ironic about the fact that while I was assisting students in applying for college, submitting their FAFSA, completing Residency Determination, and anxiously awaiting admissions decisions, I was doing the same thing. Heading into my second year with the Appalachian College Advising Corps, I was met with the harsh reality that my time with the corps would be over soon, and I would need to figure out what comes next. For me, that meant applying and hopefully attending graduate school the following year. Coming out of my undergraduate degree, I had no idea what I wanted to do. Part of the reason I joined the Advising Corps was to take some time away from my education and think about what I wanted my future to look like. It was through my time with the Corps that I was able to discover my passion for supporting students which led me to the decision to pursue a Masters Degree in Higher Education Administration.  After working so hard with high school students to promote college access and equity, working in higher education seemed like the next natural progression.

Much of our work in the College Advising Corps is surrounded by the concept of equity. That is demonstrated through our commitment to providing college access to primarily disadvantaged groups. This includes students from marginalized backgrounds including; racial/ethnic minorities, low socioeconomic statuses, first-generation, and undocumented backgrounds. With all the work that is done to help students reach college, it made sense to me to want to work with students once they arrive on campus. After all, the end goal is not just to get students to college, but to see them graduate. Students from underrepresented backgrounds already face an uphill battle just to arrive on campus; I want to be in a position where I can ensure they get the chance to stay there.

The process of applying for graduate school is difficult for everyone, and I had to learn that the hard way. It was a struggle to balance my time between working full-time at my high school, supporting students, and fulfilling all the requirements associated with graduate school. Coming home from work and then having to sit down and prep for the GRE for a couple of hours was not my ideal way of spending an evening.  Despite the difficulties in finding time for myself, as well as for my students, the process gave me a renewed sense of appreciation for all the work that our students in high school do. On top of a 40-hour school week, extracurriculars, athletics, and part-time jobs, our students make the time to prepare for entrance exams, write essays, apply to various universities and scholarships, and submit financial aid documentation. And that’s just to apply to the schools, not to mention all the things that come after their acceptance letters arrive. When we feel frustration with our students for still not having completed their FAFSA after being reminded for the umpteenth time, it helps to have some context into how much else is on their plate. At least I’m being compensated for the time I put in at school. 

I truly believe that my time with ACAC set me apart from other candidates and provided me with a wealth of things to talk about during my graduate assistant interviews. I didn’t fully realize all the roles we fulfill as advisers until I sat down in an interview and was able to speak on all the skills I’ve developed as a result of the position. The ability to work independently, problem-solve, communicate effectively, and efficiently manage my time are all skills that have vastly improved since I began my time in the Corps. I also think that working in the Corps has taught me how to navigate a professional setting far more effectively than any of my undergraduate experiences.

I can’t overstate how big a role CAC played in my decision to pursue a Master’s in Higher Education Administration. In 2019, I graduated from Appalachian State with a degree in History, Secondary Education. Despite earning my degree, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. My clinical experiences showed me that I didn’t want to teach for thirty years. I was at a loss for what to do next and looked at CAC as an opportunity to re-evaluate what I wanted my career to look like. Through the work I have done as a part of AppCAC, I was able to realize my passion for student support. Working with higher education institutions and getting the opportunity to see all the different facets of higher education helped clarify my next steps. If not for AppCAC, I would probably still be at a loss for what I wanted to do. 

To provide some context on my journey, I applied to the Higher Education Administration programs at NC State, Appalachian State, and UNC Charlotte. As with everything over the past year, recruitment and graduate assistant interviews have been different. Rather than getting the opportunity to visit the campus, conduct interviews, and learn about each university in person, I have been subjected to 5+ hour zoom sessions in my apartment bedroom. Despite this, I was able to have some engaging conversations with members of the faculty at NC State and Appalachian while interviewing for graduate assistant positions. By the time this perspective is published, I will have *hopefully* been offered a graduate assistantship at Appalachian State and will have an opportunity to interview for GA positions at NC State. 

Article written by Advising Corps Adviser Zack Beasley

Published: Mar 8, 2021 10:47am