Considerations for Residence Life Professionals Exploring Work in Privatized Student Housing

February 14, 2018

privatized student housing

In January 2018, I served as a faculty member for the ACUHO-I Senior Housing Officer (SHO) Institute in Pittsburgh, PA. I presented on student housing public private partnerships (P3) with a colleague from Brailsford & Dunlavey. I shared that I myself worked for over 10 years for a student housing industry firm at two public university P3 communities in order to gain much needed experience in budgeting, staff supervision, and capital project management. I was approached by a handful of the institute attendees who stated that they were being recruited to work for various privatized housing firms and wanted my perspective and some advice. The following information should prove insightful if you are debating a potential opportunity to work for a privatized, student housing firm.

PRIVATE MANAGEMENT COMPANIES – There are multiple student housing industry firms in the United States that develop, construct, own and / or manage college housing. Some of these firms are privately-owned while others are a public corporation whose shares are publicly-traded on the stock market. Some firms may own and manage private housing in your local off-campus community while others may directly own and / or operate student housing in a P3 relationship on (or near) a college campus. Like any organization, these firms have different histories, goals, priorities, leadership styles, and company cultures. *Note: Do not confuse privately-owned student housing communities near your campus with P3’s. There needs to be a direct public-private financial arrangement between the university and the private firm in order for it to be considered a P3. REIT (i.e., real estate investment trust) firms may own a property off-campus that is completely independent of your university.

ORGANIZATIONAL & STAFFING STRUCTURE – Each housing community (i.e., “property”) has its own staff, which typically includes a community manager, leasing and marketing staff, student account / financial staff, maintenance staff, and student staff. Student housing properties can be small or relatively large depending upon the college or university it serves. I managed two different, campus-affiliated apartment communities of 407 and 770 beds respectively, but I worked with colleagues who managed properties of 1,000+ beds. It should go without saying that the larger properties have a larger staff infrastructure.

The community manager (CM) is in charge of the property and supervises all of the staff. In some cases, the CM and / or maintenance manager (MM) may live on the property. In turn, a regional manager (RM) supervises a portfolio of properties and is the supervisor for those respective CM’s at those properties. The RM is typically a corporate office-based employee who is charged with staying in regular contact with their properties and visit at least once every quarter to make sure that everything is copacetic operationally. They will also interact with campus stakeholders if there is a P3 arrangement.

P3 properties that are operated by a private management company are financially self-supported in that the operational and capital costs come exclusively from the property’s bed revenue and reserves. The management company has a corporate office and supports all of its properties through various departments, such as accounting, human resources, marketing, and purchasing.

It is important to understand that a property CM is NOT the equivalent of a resident hall director or area coordinator. A CM is in charge of all aspects of property operations, including, but not limited to, leasing, rent collections, budget creation, vendor and utility payments, monthly income statement reviews, capital project management, and crisis response. Essentially, they would be the equivalent of a senior housing officer at a very small college. Some properties, however, do have a subordinate resident director that helps with student programming and CA / RA supervision.

REAL ESTATE VS. RESIDENCE LIFE – There is a very distinct difference between working for a student housing management firm and for a college or university residence life department. For a housing firm, the “bottom line” is paramount, particularly if it is publicly-traded with investors involved. At the end of the day, it is a business. In that regard, student learning outcomes, residential curricula, and student affairs are generally not a part of the day-to-day discussion. Operations mostly mirror what multifamily housing real estate management would look like in the rental apartment and townhouse market within the general community.

The vast majority of my community manager colleagues nationally did not have a background in higher education or student affairs and could not tell you what ACPA, ACUHO-I, and NASPA are nor the importance and applicability of student development research into their work. In some cases, there can be community managers who do not have a college education. This is not a criticism, this is simply an industry reality. Additionally, there is a semblance of programming, but overall it is not tied to student learning outcomes or assessment efforts. Programming is essentially a marketing tactic in order to entice students to renew their leases at the property for the following year.

COMPENSATION – It is crucial to understand and consider the different compensation structure that comes with working for a privatized student housing firm. Community managers will receive a base salary and typically the potential for a bonus.

Bonus Structure: Bonus programs can vary from firm to firm and can also differ if there is a P3 arrangement with a college or university. Community managers are normally paid quarterly incentives based upon predetermined objectives tied to revenue, expenses, and leasing efforts. While this may seem alien to a residence life professional, financially incentivizing performance is a standard practice in the real estate world. To give a theoretical example, there could be a $500 bonus for reaching a set goal of at least 98% of the budgeted revenue for a particular quarter. If the property revenue earnings are a total of $1,300,200 for a quarter and the budgeted amount for that time is $1,320,000 (i.e., 98.5%), you would earn the $500 because you would be above the 98% goal. If you were able to maintain that goal for every quarter, you would earn $2,000 (i.e, $500 x 4 quarters). There can be a combination of different bonus amounts for different goals so there is the possibility to earn a considerable aggregated bonus. However, bonuses are never guaranteed and can even be challenging to earn depending upon the financial health of the property and the team’s ability to keep beds filled and costs under control.

Benefits: Unlike working for a college or university directly, the benefits are going to differ in many regards. Educational benefits are generally NOT included for the employee and / or their spouse and dependent children. Also, any 401(k) retirement plans are also not going to be as generous either. For example, when I worked for a privatized housing firm, their match was 1.5% for the 3% that I contributed toward my retirement fund. Colleges and universities commonly match at a much higher rate, including above a 9% contribution where I currently work. In some cases, a firm may offer discounted company stock options that can be paid for by deductions from your paycheck. This can be a nice option, but there can be various restrictions set by the company related to how much you can purchase and the terms upon which you can sell that stock. Additionally, health care coverage is generally going to be more pricey than what is typically offered through colleges and universities.

Below is a compensation chart that illustrates the base salary, bonus, and total compensation for property community managers based upon the bed count of the property. Different firms are going to offer different compensation packages and they will vary dependent upon the size of the property. Obviously there are going to be differences based upon the cost of living of the area in which the job is located. This data came from the July / August 2017 Student Housing Business magazine (pp. 40 – 41).


PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT – Professional development looks different than what you may have become accustomed to on campus, particularly with going to ACPA, ACUHO-I, NASPA or other Student Affairs-related conferences. Most of the training will be based on operations, including marketing, leasing, customer service, and facilities management. This can occur through webinars, online training modules, and even during company retreats held at locations near the corporate office. The training that I received working for a private student housing firm has been invaluable in my current role as a senior housing officer.


  • Look at the turnover history of the property staff and ask why the manager position is currently open? It is naive to think that you will be able to save the day for a property that has a history of challenges. Be careful that you are not walking into a nightmare situation you will regret. Granted, people leave for a variety of reasons, including being promoted. However, there is a significant amount of volatility among manager positions nationally so assess the culture of the company, the qualities and experience of the person that you would be reporting to, and be prepared to ask thoughtful and probing questions.
  • If it is too good to be true, it probably is. Be particularly careful when talking with “headhunters.” These are contracted recruiters who earn money by finding viable candidates for companies. I have been contacted numerous times by headhunters who were attempting to sell a position that I was simply not interested in. I also had one recruiter that was particularly pushy trying to get me to interview for a manager position at a property that was struggling in a saturated market. Don’t take the bait and inherit a problem that has little chance of being resolved.
  • As should be the case with any job offer, get it in clear writing, including any bonus programs offered. Never accept anything unless you have it in writing. A hiring manager (and / or their human resources department) should be transparent with the salary, benefits, and how bonuses are earned. Don’t get caught into “We’ll see how it goes!” or “There are bigger opportunities coming down the road!” red herring-type conversations that are empty promises. Know exactly what you are agreeing to. In the end, it should be a “win-win” relationship.
  • Once you are out, it can be hard to get back in. While P3’s and privatized housing firms are here to stay and an important part of the higher education landscape, there is still much suspicion and disdain among Student Affairs professionals regarding these companies. I certainly felt this among certain campus colleagues and oftentimes at many professional conferences across the country. I clearly remember one time interviewing for a senior housing officer position at a flagship institution and the hiring manager made the comment, “I have no clue why an institution would ever outsource their housing?!” Because of these types of negative opinions and stereotypes that exist about privatized housing firms, you can be easily dismissed over other candidates applying and interviewing for campus positions that have a traditional residence life path.

CONCLUSION – There are many considerations to make when deciding to work for any organization, including colleges and universities as well as privatized housing firms. You need to do your homework and find out as much as you can about the position. Talk to your colleagues and mentors about the opportunity as well as any current or former colleagues from that particular housing firm that you may know.

What questions do you have that I may help you with? Additionally, what advice do you have if you have transitioned from campus to the privatized housing world or vice versa. Leave your comments and questions below. 


Developing Community in Apartment & Suite-Style Student Housing

August 21, 2016

While apartment and suite-style student housing may pose certain challenges, there are certain strategies and tactics that will make you more successful when attempting to create community within these environments. However, if you approach programming as an ends to a means (i.e., simply a requirement), the chance that you are going to have an authentic and vibrant community is going to be slim. Community building can occur through intentional and strategic programming and by re-thinking how we actually do programming in the residence halls.

RELATIONSHIP BUILDING IS KEY – This may seem like common sense, but this is one strategy that many housing and residence life staffers fail to accomplish. Putting food out in a lounge, clubhouse, or other common area with little to any interaction with students is a recipe for failure. Pizza, movies, and cookies won’t make a community. I strongly believe in the adage that people don’t care about you until you show that you care about them. I have heard many RA’s complain that no one is coming to their programs, but they can barely tell you the names of their residents, where they come from, what their majors are, and what each of them is passionate about. Why would anyone want to attend your programs if you don’t really know who they are? If their attendance is merely a means to an ends for a programming requirement, your success will be low.

Simple and thoughtful interactions in and of themselves will help to develop relationships and thereby set the stage for community building: asking them to go to eat at the dining hall; get a crew together to go to Walmart or Target with you; putting together an intramural sports team; inviting a few to watch TV or play a video game or board game; etc. Work on small wins throughout the resident population rather than attempting to always expect a bunch of people to come to a centralized location for a program. RA’s should be able to thoughtfully touch the lives of each resident once (at the very least!) per semester.

IT’S NOT ABOUT THE PHYSICAL STRUCTURE – I always take pause when I hear housing and residence life staff blame the lack of community on the type of housing in which their students reside. Just because there are a multitude of online and DVD options for in-home exercise programs, this does not mean that less people are signing up for and going to gyms and recreation centers across the country. Likewise, just because students live in newly constructed suites and apartments, this does not mean that they do not want to be involved with their peers for various educational and social opportunities.

For a ten year period, I was in charge of student apartment housing at two different campuses and was able to create community at both places through hard work, creativity, strategic planning, and perseverance. Granted, not every one was best friends with each other nor did everyone participate, but this is never guaranteed within traditional residence halls either. However, I had success in developing a community in which students respected one another, the facilities, and attended and enjoyed various programming options that were offered.

RE-ADJUST EXPECTATIONS & GOALS / RETHINK NUMBERS – Netflix, smart phones, social media, and tons of online entertainment options for students are here to stay. With that being said, Residence Life staffers should re-adjust their expectations for programming success because we’re competing with a multitude of options for activities. Staff should not expect that every activity or program have tons of attendees present; nor should professional staff push that agenda either because overall it’s mostly unobtainable.

Additionally, Residence Life should not be charged with providing constant entertainment for students. Also, some students will attend programs and others will not no matter what you do. And that’s OK! Unfortunately, we can take this to heart and “stinkin’ thinkin” comes into play with unproductive thoughts (e.g., students don’t want to do anything; the RA didn’t work hard enough; we’ll never be able to build community in these buildings; etc.) Don’t take it personally. Reach as many lives as you can, and celebrate your successes!

FAIL FAST – I have read many articles in which serial entrepreneurs (i.e., business people who have created many different businesses) say, “FAIL FAST!” Basically this means that you should try something, and if it doesn’t work, move on, and try something else. The same goes for programming in the suite and apartment-style housing. If something works, stick with it. If not, move on and try something else. Also, don’t get hung up on the things that didn’t work.

DO AWAY WITH THE 1970 / 80’s PROGRAMMING ARCHETYPE – Gone are the days of dance parties in the “dormitory” rec room with a house mother and / or Dean of Men or Dean of Women present. As the times have changed, so should our programming efforts. However, we drag around old practices and traditions that are largely ineffective. With the emergence of various innovative practices, such as residential curricula and living-learning communities, there is more of a need for Residence Life to tie directly into retention and meaningful student learning outcomes rather than glorified entertainment.

PARTNER WITH OTHERS – ResLifers can be crazy territorial when it comes to developing and implementing programs. I myself, unfortunately, have been like this for the majority of my career. However, over the past few years I have come to find that partnering with other campus departments is definitely a “win-win” when it comes to developing successful activities and programs within suite and apartment-style living (and saves time and resources in the meantime!) I have seen a virtual “arms race” when it comes to program implementation and the competition for the attention of students between such departments as Residence Life, Recreation & Intramurals, Greek Life, Student Activities, and Diversity & Social Justice. Partnering with others allows for the sharing of resources and the ability to market to a broader resident population.

For example, within the one apartment community I managed, my staff partnered with Student Activities for biweekly, large-type events in our clubhouse space. We hosted everything from an open mic coffeehouse, “Stuff-A-Buddy” stuffed animal making activity, make-your-own beta fish bowl (including the fish!), Lucky Bamboo, and other “crafty” type events, with much success.

Furthermore, I created and advised a comprehensive Leadership Living-Learning Community complete with a curricula, budget, and assessment activities. I was even able to advocate for and obtain 40 housing scholarships for the student members of the LLC  group. I developed lectures, workshops, and service learning opportunities with various campus partners, such as the Office of Volunteering & Service Learning (i.e., community volunteer opportunities), Career Services (i.e., networking, resume development), and Veteran Affairs (i.e., leading and supervising people). We worked with a faculty member and even the university president and the VP of Marketing & University Relations spoke to the group on separate occasions. This partnering strategy was successful because all of those campus entities got a “win” with the program and were able to report their work to the community at large and were proud of it. (By the way, I am a Maximizer and Achiever for all you Strengths people!) And yes, this LLC program occurred within an apartment community!

DON’T SET UP YOUR STUDENT STAFF TO FAIL WITH RESTRICTING REQUIREMENTS – Along with the programming archetype and re-adjusting expectations, be mindful of the programming requirements that you place upon your student staffers. This can really make or break their success. We need to remember that RA’s are students as well and have competing priorities. (Plus we have to be very mindful of hours worked and the Affordable Care Act.) This does not mean that we cannot expect excellence from them, but we need to work toward setting them up for more wins than failures. Requiring a tons of programs in which ultimately only a small handful of students are going to attend is counterproductive. Not only will this burn out staff, but residents can feel hassled as well with a constant barrage of marketing.

Here are some tips for changing typical requirements:

  • Allow “passive programs” as part of the requirement (these are easy wins for the RA!)
  • Permit RA’s to work together as much as possible (fun + teamwork = good!)
  • Foster building-wide programs rather than floor or wing-specific; there is a larger chance of more attendees showing up if you are marketing to 500 building residents overall rather than 50. For example, my one previous Senior RA was an avid “Gotham” TV show fan. Instead of forcing her to solely market to her apartment building (96 residents), she was permitted to market to the entire community of 770 residents. By doing this, she had roughly 15 students appear to watch the show, which was a positive attendance given it was a “niche” program; if she would have offered the program to only her building, she wouldn’t have had the same success.
  • Emphasize “relationship-building” as part of the programming requirement so that the RA becomes an actual trusted resource and mentor rather than a glorified “dorm concierge.”
  • Create “unorthodox” options as well, such as online and social media options to interact with, engage, and educate residents (e.g., blogging, webinars, YouTube videos, etc.)
  • Work on small wins throughout the resident population rather than “one off” large-type programs.

ADVERTISE! ADVERTISE! ADVERTISE! – I cannot emphasize this enough! A lonely flyer on a bulletin board isn’t going to cut it. Staff need to be strategic and persistent when it comes to marketing their programs. There are so many resources available now at an RA’s dispense to get the word out there (i.e., social media, email, text, etc.) Friendly reminders the day of can also help. Marketing in and of itself can help to develop community as staff must interact with residents in some shape of form to get the word out there. As much time should be put into marketing the program as the actual event itself.

Check out other tips from my post Why Your Programming Sucks! (And What to Do About It).

The Role of Housing & Residence Life on Student Success (***Free Activity Sheet***)

April 27, 2016


I have developed an activity for resident assistants that can be used during annual training or as a session for staff development throughout the academic year. A university requested that I give a presentation on “What role does on campus housing have in the overall collegiate experience and student success?” Rather than doing the typical PowerPoint presentation and frequently cite research from Pascarella and Terenzini’s How College Affects Students, I thought I’d create a more active and creative experience. Click here to get a free PDF activity sheet that you can print and use with your own staff.

Not only do the student participants get to understand important outcomes associated with living on campus, but they get to reflect on their own personal residence life experience, and actually get to walk away with a personally-significant souvenir. Participants are given a pack of beads and a plastic bracelet strand with a knot tied in the end. You can obtain bags of these beads at a craft store, such as Michaels and Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores. The activity leader reads each outcome and the participants put that bead on their bracelet strand if it pertains to them. If not, they simply leave the bead in their pack. Everyone’s experience is different, so it’s perfectly fine if they have different looking strands of beads!

Outcomes include the following:

  1. Orange = Held a leadership position in the halls
  2. Yellow = Participate in at least one extracurricular activity on campus
  3. Red = Resolved a conflict or argument with a roommates
  4. Lavender = Have a friend or have a hall mate who is GLBTQ
  5. Dark Blue = Participated in an living-learning community activity or program
  6. Pink = Feel you have made good decisions for yourself
  7. White =You are satisfied with being at your university
  8. Light Blue = Have met your significant other
  9. Cream = You have decided to go to graduate school
  10. Black = You feel that you are an independent person
  11. Clear Light Blue = You have decided on a profession
  12. Clear Dark Blue = You have a friend or hall mate who is of another culture or nation
  13. Clear Yellow = You enjoy your college experience
  14. Clear Red = Your political views have changed since high school
  15. Clear Pink = Your religious views have changed since high school
  16. Clear Green = You feel confident about your academic abilities
  17. Clear Orange = You feel self-confident about yourself
  18. Clear = You feel like you have personally grown while living in the halls
  19. Green = You have made close friends
  20. Animal (or other special bead different from the others) = You will be graduating this year

The following questions can be used to engage discussion related to the outcomes:

  • Which of these outcomes stood out the most for you personally?
  • How have you felt you contributed to one of these outcomes for a resident you oversee?
  • What can the residence life program do to foster more of these outcomes for residents?
  • How has this activity motivated you to any new action or attitude?

Additionally, the participants can continue to customize their bead strands into a bracelet or keychain with supplies you provide. This can include lettered beads into which they can incorporate their names. This is a great way for your staff to learn about the important role of living on campus while also giving them time to bond, share their own experiences with each other, and be creative.

Click HERE to receive a free PDF copy of the activity sheet that you can use and share.

Please comment below if you use this activity and let us know how it went!

Difficult Discussions: Coaching an Employee Out of the Job (*Guest Post in The Student Affairs Collective*)

March 31, 2016

Difficult Employee Conversations

One challenge of being a supervisor is having to discuss performance shortcomings with employees. In some cases, you may need to coach someone out of the job. This month I wrote about the topic as a guest blogger on The Student Affairs Collective blog. To see the post in full, please click on Difficult Discussions: Coaching and Employee Out of the Job.

Special thanks to Tom Krieglstein and his team for the opportunity to discuss this issue!

Turn the Tide: Rise above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace (*Book Review*)

February 9, 2016

Turn the Tide by Dr. Kathy Obear

Dr. Kathy Obear recently published Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace, which is a resource that you can use yourself or with your staff and / or students. The book is available as a $2.99 Kindle download on Amazon.

While Dr. Obear explicitly states in the text that she herself is not a therapist, the book is essentially an illustration of rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT). “REBT’s basic hypothesis is that our emotions stem mainly from our beliefs, which influence the evaluations and interpretations we make of the reactions we have to life situations” (Corey, 2013, p. 268). Through the REBT process, individuals can replace ineffective ways of thinking and thereby change their emotional reactions to various situations they encounter in their life. Likewise, Dr. Obear walks the reader through a similar process in which individuals, particularly those who are having challenging times in the workplace, can shift their thoughts and reactions to more positive and proactive outcomes.

The book is organized into ten chapters: 1.) I can’t control how I react! Maybe I can; 2.) Step 1 – What pushed my buttons; 3.) Step 2 – Intrapersonal Roots; 4.) Step 3 – Making meaning: Change your story, change your reactions; 5.) Step 4 – Common physiological, emotional, and mental reactions; 6.) Step 5 – “Choosing” your intentions; 7.) Step 6 – Tools to Respond Effectively; 8.) Step 7 – The impact of our triggered reactions; 9.) Maximize our effectiveness: Focus on Self-Care and Healing Practices; and 10.) We Always Have a Choice. The book has many self-directed exercises in them, which helps the reader to explore and work through the various feelings and thoughts they may be having as a result of being in a challenging work environment. While the content of the book centers on one’s own personal reactions to the day-to-day dynamics of working with others, it does not cover the more nefarious and even illegal issues that can and do occur in the workplace, such as bullying, discrimination, harassment, and how to manage those particular situations.

I highly recommend Turn the Tide: Rise Above Toxic, Difficult Situations in the Workplace for graduate students, new professionals, and those supervisors who are responsible for developing staff training and professional development opportunities. 

Works cited:

Corey, G. (2013). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Stamford, CT: Brooks / Cole.

Relocation 501: Five Things to Consider Financially When Job Searching Nationally

January 28, 2016

Student Affairs Job Relocation

In our previous post, “Relocation 101: Three Things to Consider When Job Searching Nationally,” Adrienne Boertjen covered some of the essentials to think about when expanding your job search outside of your current region. This was written particularly with graduate students and new professionals in mind. For this current post, I will cover financial considerations and logistics for those more seasoned professionals, especially those looking to relocate with partners, children, and / or other family members.

1. COST OF LIVING: I use Sperling’s Best Places Cost of Living Comparison to enter in my current salary and town in which I live in order to get an estimated comparable salary and find the related costs associated with living in the city in which I am interested in working. If you are looking at a potential promotion to a mid-level or senior level position in the field, not only should you expect an increase to what you are currently earning, but the pay should align with the cost of living in that particular area. Don’t dupe yourself into a situation in which you are asked for your current salary numbers and the offering institution offers a modest increase to that number. You need to be able to make a living and thrive in the the new community so don’t sell yourself short. There are wide fluctuations in the price of housing in various markets all over the United States so be prepared.

2. SALARIES: Do your homework on what the average salary is for the position you are being offered and factor in the cost of living difference. has a nice listing of various salary surveys that you can view. If you are looking at a state school, salaries may be publicly posted online so you can get an idea of what current administrators are making there along with other public officials. Some regional newspapers and “watchdog” groups also publish public salaries, which you can search for online (e.g., PennWatch is one example for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania). In the case of institutions that have collective bargaining units (i.e., unions), you may be able to find a copy of the associated contract for the type of position you are applying. In the contract, they typically list out the schedule of salaries for various levels of position and seniority. An example for one of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education bargaining units can be seen HERE. Also, many job descriptions, particularly on the institution’s human resources webpage, will include a position salary level signified by a payroll code. If you dig deeper through their HR site, you may be able to find a chart or listing of those payroll codes and the corresponding salary ranges. Keep in mind that not all have this however.

One time with my own job search, I found the organizational chart of the public institution for where I was interviewing. With the names of the search committee members in hand along with the key administrators in the division, I was able to search their salaries online very easily. Seeing that the supervisor of the position I was interviewing for was earning roughly what I would negotiate for, I knew that it would be highly unlikely that I would be offered nearly what I thought would be fair with my credentials and experience. Given the highly expensive cost of living with the location of the institution, I knew it wouldn’t be financially viable for me if offered the position so I didn’t get my heart set on it.

You have to be able to weigh all of the intrinsic and extrinsic benefits associated with working at a particular institution in a specific part of the country. Obviously, salary isn’t everything, but you need to be able to pay your bills.  If it doesn’t make sense, walk away from it.

3. LIVING IN VS. LIVING OUT: There are many special considerations when you are a Residence Life staff member in regards to living in vs. living out. This can also include non-ResLife administrators in other roles that require you to live in or simply give you the option to do so. As any ResLifer will tell you, there are both many benefits and drawbacks to living on campus.

  • Housing Expenses: If you are currently living in and looking to change to a “live out” position, you need to look at your current financial situation and how that will change by what is being offered with a new position. Earning $35,000 as a live-in hall director in the rural Midwest will most definitely be worth “more” financially than a $50,000 live-out assistant director position in New York City. Living out means that you will need to rent or mortgage housing along with all associated costs, including, but not limited to, utilities and transportation. So don’t jump at something simply because it’s a position promotion. You do not want to move and then be unable to afford your living situation and then have to job search all over again or acquire debt that you do not necessarily need.
  • On-Campus Culture: If you are currently living out and now considering a position that is live-in, you need to understand that there is a distinct culture with living among and near college students. I myself and my family have had (and continue to have) positive experiences with living in. The conveniences with living in a university community are numerous. With easy access to educational, cultural, and recreational opportunities, it’s pretty awesome! Also, not having to pay rent or utilities is definitely the biggest plus (if, of course, that is a part of your compensation package). Additionally, I don’t have to worry about lawn care, and all of the other expenses and hassles that come with having your own home. I was a previous home owner prior to moving back in so I know. However, living in is not for everyone, nor for others’ partners or their children. There isn’t the level of privacy and anonymity that you would get with living out so that’s something you need to keep in mind. For me the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, but this is something you will need to consider if faced with this option.
  • Family & Partner Policies: Those who are not married, but with a partner, may need to take dig deeper to find the institution’s policy on this type of arrangement for living on their campus. The same goes for married couples and children as well. What one institution finds copacetic may not necessary be permitted at another college or university. Find this out ahead of time well before considering a move because you definitely do not want to be surprised when you show up with a packed moving van. I have a close friend and colleague who shared with me that he had a phone interview with an institution and started talking about his fiancee (now wife). The committee chairperson made the remark that they did not permit live-in professionals to have other occupants living with them, including spouses. At that point my colleague respectfully ended the conversation because their non-cohabitation policy was simply a “deal breaker.”
  • & I use these apps on my phone to quickly look up the general price of housing for the needs of my family related to institutions I may be interested in applying to. I can quickly rule out some potential opportunities simply by seeing how much it costs to live in a particular area. This can save a lot of time and heartache for both myself and my family because the job searching process can be both time-consuming and anxiety provoking. Why look at something that simply is not going to be realistically affordable?

4. RELOCATION EXPENSES & TEMPORARY HOUSING: Some institutions will reimburse you for relocation costs while others will not. Typically you won’t see this for entry-level positions, but it never hurts to ask. Picking up yourself and potentially your entire family is very stressful and can be an expense you normally don’t consider when job searching. If possible, see if the hiring institution can provide temporary housing for you on campus while you work out the logistics of getting settled into your permanent housing situation. This can be an easy sell because it will help you to better focus on the job during the work week while you can spend the weekend searching for various options. I myself asked for that when moving across Pennsylvania to a new institution. I had to sell my house while my wife and kids lived temporarily with my in-law’s. The university graciously permitted me to live in a residence hall room at no charge for the summer until I could get things squared away for permanent housing.

5. SCOUTING THE AREA: It is imperative that you take time to scout the area of the institution in which you are looking to relocate. This can be done before, during, and after the on-campus interview process. My recommendation is to always steer clear of an institution that offers the job without actually bringing you to campus. Even if you are familiar with or visited the campus previously, or even attended there as a student, being offered a job only after having a phone or Skype-type interview is clearly a red flag! Not only won’t you get to meet your peers, staff, and students in person, but you will not get a chance to explore the campus and local community.

  • Rental Vehicle: Typically I will rent a car after flying in when I am offered an on-campus interview. This allows me to cruise around the area and explore the community in which the university is located. You can come a day early or stay a day later if you need extra time to accomplish this. Sometimes the college or university will accommodate your request for the extra day. When exploring, I am particularly interested in looking at housing, shopping options, entertainment and recreation venues, and the general locations of schools for my kids. I want to know what the basics of day-to-day life would be like living in that community: Where would we go grocery shopping? Are there things for my kids to do? Would I have to pay a bunch of tolls to get around? What is traffic like? What would my commute be like? Do I think my wife would like it here? How much of a hassle would it be for family to visit if traveling from the airport?
  • Google Maps / Street View: If you cannot explore the area, you can also use the Google Maps Street View option to see what many areas look like. Not all towns and streets are always covered, but you can get a pretty decent idea of what the surrounding area of a college or university looks like. I do this ahead of time to get a lay of the land and to potentially figure out something to do in the evening(s) with the free time I would have during a multi-day interview process (e.g., movie theater, brew pub, bookstore, sporting event, concert, etc.)

 What are some other strategies and tips that you have used when job searching nationally? Please share your comments below or simply retweet this post and add your thoughts to the tweet.

Relocation 101: Three Things to Consider When Job Searching Nationally (Guest post by Adrienne Boertjens)

January 5, 2016

Student Affairs Job Relocation

Job search season is right around the corner, and as colleges and universities across the country prepare their search teams for trips to the various student affairs job placement events, the time has come for aspiring graduate students, new professionals and some seasoned professionals alike to face the inevitable question: “Where do I go from here?”

When it comes to job searching in Student Affairs, career progression is the obvious primary consideration. As a field, we also talk a lot about “Institutional Fit” and how to identify an employer that aligns with your professional values, desired culture, and educational philosophy. All of these are incredibly valuable factors in the job search process, however even if you find your “dream institution” it’s important to consider geographical fit, and how adjusting to life in a different regional culture may impact your overall transition. What kind of move will both challenge and support you in your professional growth? To get started, here are a few things to consider when determining your geographical fit:

1. Consider the basics, but don’t stop there!

  • Geography: Everyone has their geographic deal-breakers, and while it’s best to minimize them when it comes to these basic considerations for job searching, some things just can’t be avoided. For some people, certain geographic regions simply don’t agree with their lifestyle, whether it’s because they can’t stand the heat of the Deep South, or because shoveling snow off their car at 7am just doesn’t sound like a good time. Either way, knowing the extremes of what you’re willing to handle is a good place to start, but shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all of your search.
  • Personal support system: When it comes to a dual-job search or considering the needs of your dependents, there are a ton of factors to consider. If you’re moving on your own or if your job is the main factor in a move, as is the case for many new grads and new professionals, it’s helpful to identify just how far you’re willing to move away from your loved ones. Thanks to technology, staying in touch with your personal support system is easier than ever, however when you live far away from the people you care about, you have to consider how far and how often you’re willing to travel to be with them. Are you willing to miss out on a holiday or two for the sake of landing your “perfect fit?” Are you prepared to shell out for a plane ticket should a family emergency arise? While we can always hope for the best when it comes to these situations, it’s good to know literally how far you’ll go for your dream job.
  • Pro-tip for aspiring graduate students: These basic considerations may be better off on the back-burner when you’re searching for graduate assistantships and choosing your graduate program. While it can be tempting to continue your studies at your undergraduate alma mater or to stay close to home, graduate school is a wonderful opportunity to step outside of your geographic comfort zone. Your graduate program is probably only 2-3 years long, and it will be over before you know it! Take advantage of this short amount of time and consider moving somewhere you normally wouldn’t live long-term. Your resume and your professional network will thank you!

2. Consider your professional networking goals. For new grads and professionals especially, growing and developing your professional network in the field of Student Affairs is a must. Now is the time to establish a strong and positive professional reputation, which can present a challenge if you’re not willing to leave the comfort of your alma mater or home state. As a Student Affairs practitioner, growing and maintaining a strong network will contribute to your own professional development and can even assist you in future job searches. On the flipside, maybe you’ve already spent some time away from your Student Affairs family or a special mentor, and you’d appreciate being within regional conferencing proximity to them. When starting a new job, having an existing professional network close by may provide a certain level of comfort and support that can make your transition easier. If maintaining close ties with your existing professional network is important to you when it comes to relocation, consider moving to a region where you’ll strike a balance between having lots of new networking opportunities, and where you’ll still feel the support of your existing professional relationships. There’s nothing like a good ol’ regional conference reunion!

3. Consider state/regional professional development/involvement opportunities. Each department in each institution is going to have a different opinion or level of financial support for their professionals’ development opportunities. Regardless of whether or not your department has the financial means to send you to a national conference each year, it’s important that you’re able to seek out your own professional development opportunities in order to continue to grow in the field. As such, consider researching state/regional professional organizations or chapters of national organizations as a way of determining whether or not there will be opportunities for you to join committees, attend conferences, network, and take charge of your own professional development outside of your place of employment.

While this list is certainly not the end-all, be-all of relocating, these are some important things to think about as you begin applying to jobs and considering where you may want to spend the next phase of your career. What are some other things that you’ve considered when making a decision to relocate? Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet me at @aboertjens.

Adrienne Boertjens is a Residence Director at Plymouth State University in New Hampshire, and a proud alumnae of Eastern Michigan University (2015, M.A.) and Minnesota State University, Mankato (2013, B.A.). She is passionate about travel, arts and crafts and all things technology! Connect with Adrienne via email, Twitter, LinkedIn.

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