Field Notes: The long and short of it: Professional development for any timeline

"Field Notes" is a Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at 

by Ewa Nowicki, Senior Assistant Registrar at Boston University. Ewa is a member of AACRAO’s Student Access & Equity Committee and LGBTQA Caucus, as well as an affiliate member of the Consortium of Higher Education LGBT Resource Professionals. Contact Ewa via LinkedIn.

As registrars and admissions professionals, we constantly evaluate our work with a keen eye for detail while simultaneously planning for the future. We are surrounded by dynamic learning environments but in the midst of project management and institutional planning, our own development can easily become an afterthought. Personal and professional growth is crucial not only to our success, but to our ability to support the communities and institutions we serve. If you are unsure of where to start, approach development utilizing similar skills required for registrar and admissions work--focus on the short and long term simultaneously. The below tactics can be built upon throughout your career, and will help re-focus your professional purpose in order to provide more innovative and informed service to your campus.

Ask for Feedback

Higher education professionals are notoriously busy and wear multiple hats at their institutions. If this sounds familiar, chances are your boss is in a similar boat. If your boss hasn’t found the time to engage with you regarding development, initiate the conversation. This can be a chance to open a dialogue about how you can contribute effectively to your team and institution while recognizing the need to learn more in the dynamic world of education. Listen with an open mind, as they may see areas for improvement that challenge you--which is a great opportunity for growth. Reach out to prior supervisors for feedback and advice they might have to help you excel. Sometimes having that distance after you have left an institution allows for a new perspective, which can help you develop in your current position. Seek out a complete picture when you ask for feedback and remember that coworkers often have the most insightful words to propel your work to an elevated level. If your institution does not engage in 360 reviews, you can still take the time to informally ask your direct reports about what they might need from you as a manager and how you can better help them to engage in institutional and team goals. After a meeting, presentation, or big project is delivered, ask your colleagues what went well or what could go better next time.

Embrace Learning Opportunities

Just as we can learn from our peers at work, most of us are surrounded by formal educational opportunities we may overlook. Whatever time you give to educating yourself is an investment in lifelong learning that will return to you tenfold. Education is our business, and it should also be our passion. Remind yourself of why you are engaged in the field and allow some opportunities to learn as a crucial part of your work. Start with finding an hour away from your desk to sit in on a lecture. Whether it is directly applicable to your responsibilities may not be as important as taking time to engage in the campus community--that time away will inspire you and your work. If your institution offers tuition remission do your best to find a way to utilize that benefit, allowing yourself some time to take classes for the sake of learning rather than immediately focusing on the pursuit of a degree.

If finding funding or time to take traditional courses is challenging, explore free and low time commitment learning opportunities. Take advantage of free AACRAO webinars, articles, and professional development resources. Read articles published on major industry sites like The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, or Higher Ed Jobs to understand challenges and trends throughout higher education. Better yet, ask a colleague in another area of education about their preferred publications so that you widen your range of sources. Focus on short and long term learning goals such as a weekly goal to read a certain number of articles, a bi-weekly goal to listen to an education focused podcast, or a yearly goal of completing a free MOOC or reading a certain number of books.

Self-Reflection & Community Connection

The greatest step that I have taken in my own career development has been taking the time to reflect on my passions and how I can integrate them into my work. Since I’ve brought my passions for social justice, equity, and diversity into the office, I’ve found that I have been able to encourage more complex conversations as we strive to approach our work with fair decision making by reviewing our implicit and institutional biases. As a result, my work has a renewed sense of fulfillment and engaging challenges to inspire me each day.

Reflect upon what brought you into education and what inspires you.  If you have been creative enough to succeed as a professional in higher education, you can find a way to bring what you personally care about into your professional life. If you are unsure of how to do this, talk to peers either in your institution or in your wider network. AACRAO allows us to connect with colleagues around the continent, reminding us that our work is about people and advancing the future of those we educate.

Invest in the Future

Each of the above suggestions has infinite possibilities to work into your life and professional development goals. Although your career development is something that only you can own, many will support you. Professional development not only impacts you but also the students, faculty, and staff you serve--and it is an integral part of the success of your institution. It is critical that we understand the world that our students inhabit, that we engage with the current events that shape their experiences on our campuses, and that we know how to prepare for the next generation of students. As educators we owe it to ourselves and our community to take the time to invest in our learning and the future.