Careers in Student Affairs: Denise Ho

Dear Future Higher Ed Graduate Student,

I hope you will consider a career in Higher Education. You may be wondering why or how you should get started.  When I an undergrad at UC Irvine, I had big dreams of being a biology teacher. Sophomore year my hopes and dreams were shattered after barely passing organic chemistry. I was a Community Programmer in the Reslife and my supervisor told me to think about higher education as a career. After many trial and tribulations which involved odd jobs, switching majors, and a trip to the Career Center (I needed to take a 1 unit class and glad I did!) I found out what I qualities I was looking for in any career. I enjoyed meeting people, helping others, and putting together events. I could have done hotel management, human resources, or the nonprofit route but I love the college atmosphere. I encourage you to seek out different opportunities to test what you like/dislike.

Was there an AH-HA moment when I knew my path? It was more gradual a sense of wholeness or feeling like it was the right path. If you are not touchy feely, it was just you were in your flow.

What’s important to consider in choosing a graduate program?

  1. Location! I wanted to be in a city with great public transportation, a Target, and lots of cool things to explore.  I needed to be by the water too.  Think about what you need to be around?
  2. Size/Population of School: I wanted a smaller program but wanted to attend a large private school. I went to a large public school so I wanted something different.
  3. Assistantships: What assistantship are they offering? Do they have something you want to do?  Do all people who are accepted in the program required to get assistantship?
  4. What is the focus you want? Counseling vs Administration. What classes do they offer? Do you find them interesting?
  5. Money. Money. Money. Check out their financial aid package. Do they offer scholarships? Are there assistantships with tuitions remission?
  6. GREs. Study and get a “good” score. Just remember a standardized test does not determine your abilities and talents which is why grad programs will look at your resume, personal statement, and your letters of recommendation. They want to invest in someone who is willing to advance in their program and contribute to the field.

When I got into graduate school I basically did this dance…

What was your graduate school experience like?

It was kind of like this.

My graduate student experience was swinging from tree to tree in a humor. What I learned in class created a good foundation of knowledge for me. My favorite classes were my college student development theory, higher education law and field experience. I love learning the past, present, and future of higher education and it solidified my decision to pursue a career in higher education.

My assistantships in Reslife and Career Services allowed me to really develop myself as a young professional in the field.  I made mistakes, felt stupid at times, and was sometimes lonely. I say this because it seemed like EVERYONE had it together. I had to be honest with myself and took the time to care for myself. I had the great support of mentors and good friends who I still keep in touch with today.

How can interested students prepare themselves for a career in…

  1. Talk to as many people as you can about going into the field. Have people refer you to others. Some people say networking should take up 20 hours a week! I say be intentional with who you want to spend your time with since you are still a student!
  2. Connect with programs you want to apply to by emailing professors to see what they teach. Ask if you can talk to current graduate students in the program.
  3. Get organized on how to apply, go to $ucessful Start in BC’s Student Services to talk about how to pay for graduate school, and get those letters of recommendations ready.
  4. Get those experiences. You don’t have to be a RA or Orientation Leader to go into this field.

So future higher ed graduate student If you want to know more about a career in higher education please feel free to email me at


Denise Ho
Assistant Director, Office of Graduate Student Life
Masters of Science in Educational Pyschology with a concentration on College Student Development, Northeastern University, Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from University of California, Irvine



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