Today’s learner looks much different from what most consider the “average” college student. While most think of young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four, adults in different age ranges have become the majority in recent years. 

Additionally, college students today juggle multiple competing priorities more often than in previous decades. While technology helps make education more efficient and flexible, students also require robust support services to ensure they have access to the tools needed to succeed in coursework and ultimately graduate. 

Institutions have a responsibility to meet students where they are to provide resources and direct support through counseling to ensure learners feel connected to their school and remain motivated to finish their program. 

There are many ways colleges and universities can step up in order to support students more effectively. Leveraging multiple departments and meeting student needs outside the classroom will reinforce student relationships with the university, increase completion rates, and bolster the institution’s reputation. 

How Can Student Affairs Help Grad Students?  

Graduate students still have the same access to academic support as undergraduate students. Adapting to a new learning environment can be difficult, and graduate students challenge themselves in a different stage of life. Graduate students are more likely to maintain a full-time career, and many of them have families as well. 

Two college students study together
Photo by Alissa deLeva

Student affairs can support graduate students by offering the right resources. Student affairs can help answer general questions, help students understand which courses to enroll into, their degree timeline, as well as the graduation process. Student affairs can also provide graduate students with community resources. Graduate students who have the opportunity to participate outside the classroom in relevant activities report higher rates of satisfaction.  

Student affairs can help graduate students participate in 20 hours per week of graduate apprenticeships, internships, teacher’s assistant positions, research assistant positions, or other career and academic programs to financially support them while in school.  

Student affairs should ensure student satisfaction regarding their assistantship or other program and provide aide progress that relates to the student’s area of study. These programs not only bring  

Meeting these needs starts during the enrollment process. Advisers can preemptively reach out to learners to ensure they are aware of available resources from the time of enrollment. Since many students are not aware of services available to them, it becomes crucial for the administration to ensure awareness campaigns are effective. 

In addition to student affairs being a helpful support system, professors are also valuable resources. They can provide industry advice, help students develop professional and networking skills, and write letters of recommendation.

Graduate Student Workshops  

Workshops can be composed of students and faculty within each program. They are designed to discuss student progress, skills, and opportunities for improvement. 

Workshops can also be an open discussion to receive feedback from other graduate students on papers and course material. Students should discuss issues and opinions, learning from one another. This format is a great way for students to interact with the school and other members of their program.  

A man in a suit conducts workshop with post-it notes.
Photo by Jo Szczepanska

Graduate students also want to learn how to brush up on their networking skills and perfect their resume. This is where the school can support students by having networking and writing workshops. For the students who have not been back to school in several years or more, networking can be intimidating. However, it’s essential for students to make connections to fuel the next step in their careers. Providing informative sessions for students to benefit academically and professionally can offer essential opportunities for long term learner success.  

Colleges and universities can leverage career centers to ensure students have appropriate career preparation resources. Students can act as ambassadors to career centers, gaining leadership experience and volunteering. 

Career centers can offer interview preparation as well. Mock interview programs are a fulfilling opportunity because students learn how to conduct themselves in advanced interviews, they will face post-graduation. This type of program builds professional development skills that will bring students closer to their career goals. 

Resources for Finding Work-Life Balance  

With so much time focused on school, students may feel frustrated and overwhelmed. Finding a way to balance school with other obligations can help students avoid burnout and complete their programs faster.  

Build Community

Students can come together in groups within their courses or within their department to support one another by sharing connections and resources. It will also boost student career growth by building meaningful relationships with their peers. 

Find a Mentor

Students who develop a relationship with a mentor that addresses topics beyond academia can offer additional resources as well as a safety net. Mentors also provide support, moral reassurance, and encouragement by facilitating development in all areas of a student’s life. 

Partner with Advisers

The availability of advisers varies based on the institution, though they may also act as a significant source of encouragement and key resources for finding work-life balance. Advisers can support students in choosing courses and in working through theses and dissertations. Many advisers focus on a particular program and have experience in the field. 

Typically, most schools lack enough advisers for their students, unable to provide them needed attention and guidance. There are usually only one to three advisers for every 1002 students at state schools.  However, CalSouthern has more advisers assigned to a smaller group of students for their entire learning experience with CalSouthern. This creates a stronger relationship between the student and adviser and receive the support they need.  

Other Staff Support and Self Care

Other university employees can plan and implement programs and services for the grad students’ family. This can include providing orientation programs for spouses of the students, or other support services to understand what to expect.  

Despite managing busy schedules, it’s important for students to have the time and ability to rest. Getting enough sleep and engaging in calming or creative activities can help students avoid feeling overwhelmed. Having a schedule for studying as well as coursework and other activities helps learners maintain a clear view of what is expected of them. 

Smooth Transition  

A wooden table holds a notebook, laptop, ,coffee mug, and small vase with flowers.
Photo by Nick Morrison

Graduate school is a difficult transition. Most students are returning learners after managing a career for several years. Unfortunately for those students who do not receive much support can feel alienated from their family and friends. When students feel disconnected from those around them, 55% of them experience stress and anxiety

Graduate students need comprehensive support from the school, professors, mentors, and family members. Their transition and process will be a lot smoother when students receive encouragement and guidance from respected professionals, university faculty, and other mentors.  

If students don’t receive support from home, school, or work, there is a higher risk the student will drop out of their program. In 2013 there was a 50% dropout rate of PhD students because they did not receive the supported they needed.  

At CalSouthern we have one-on-one mentoring because higher education students, especially those who juggle full-time careers and family obligations, need personalized education. Mentors help students through the coursework as much as is necessary to help each individual master established learning outcomes. Their instruction is customized based on each learner’s professional background and career goals. 

About Dr. Donald “Doc” Hecht — Doc is an Educator, University Founder, and President Emeritus writing and discussing the trends and challenges facing higher, online, and distance education, among other topics. Please feel free to comment, make suggestions, or ask any questions! You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

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