A Day in the Life of...


Arlene Vargas

Arlene Vargas

Graduate Assistant, Making Connections Program
California State University–Northridge
Northridge, Calif. 

Educational Background

M.S., Counseling
Emphasis in College Counseling/Student Services
Expected Spring 2010 

California State University–Long Beach
B.A., Psychology


How did you become interested in the field?

I first transferred from community college to Long Beach State thinking I wanted to be a high school counselor. My first year at Long Beach State I was not involved; I was your typical commuter student. I attended classes and then left, usually to the beach. After my first year everything changed. I became super involved as if though I was making up for lost time and in a way I was. I helped advise and register the new, incoming students. Within the next year, I also became a psychology peer advisor, a student athlete academic mentor, and a leadership academy member among other roles. My involvement at my alma mater opened the doors to my new passion, higher education career opportunities. 

What are your career aspirations?

I have a lot of interests and what is so wonderful of this field is that I have the flexibility to attain them. I have a great interest in international education so one of my goals would be to be an advisor living abroad, welcoming American study abroad students to their new location. I am also interested in gaining experience in residential life and student programming. I would like to take advantage of my education and the field of student affairs by gaining exposure to student involvement. As I progress in the field I would enjoy teaching a course or two while still maintaining my involvement in student affairs. As you can tell I am an eclectic individual but I think that is especially helpful as a new professional since I allow myself to gain exposure to the different areas of student affairs.

What advice would you give to individuals who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in your field?

There are different areas of student affairs, so make sure you do your homework. Do you want to be an administrator, counselor, researcher, or other? Look for a program that will fulfill your needs because your passion for the field will get you through the tough times.

Your desire to achieve a degree will be tested so make sure you enjoy the field before enrolling in a graduate program. Therefore, get a lot of exposure to the field. As a student you are already living in the area of interest (i.e., you are in college and want a career in higher education). Take advantage of your immediate resources. Seek out individuals who are working in your area of interest and ask them how they got started. Informational interviews are very helpful. I would suggest interviewing people in the field, current graduate students, and others; put yourself out there, network. And most importantly conduct an informational interview with the graduate programs. Ask them about the curriculum focus, the type of career the program prepares you for, the amount of applicants they get, their acceptance rate, graduate assistantship opportunities, etc. You want to be as well informed as possible since you will be investing a large amount of your time into the program. Be a good consumer. If possible and if it is an interest for you, I would suggest enrolling in a cohort-based program; it is very helpful because as a group you get through the program.

Graduate school is hard work with a lot of sacrifices, including social life and family time. Be aware of the sacrifices you will need to make before you enroll but do not become a bookworm only. You need to find balance. Remember all your hard work will pay off in the end.

Lastly, graduate school is not only about sacrifices you make. You will gain so much out of this growth opportunity so take advantage of it. Enjoy!

Paper Clips 2A Typical Day for Arlene

6:30 a.m.

My radio goes off. I just need a few more minutes.

7 a.m.

I finally stretch out of bed. I turn the TV to the local news station (KTLA) to watch the morning news and find out what the weather will be like for the day. I know it is Southern California and the weather is almost perfect but I still want to find out so that I dress accordingly.

7:30 a.m.

After I finally decide what to wear, I get in the shower.

8 a.m.

I finish getting ready for work. I grab my breakfast to go, usually some fruit, yogurt, juice, and a bagel. I also prepare my lunch for the day. I should have done this the night before so that I'm not rushing in the morning.

8:30 a.m.

I wish my roommate a good day as I walk out the door to drive to school.

9 a.m.

Finally made it to the union. I wish everyone a good morning. I turn on my computer and check my e-mail as I finish my breakfast.

9:30 a.m.

We have a staff meeting today so I review the agenda for the day. I also prepare for my presentation. I'm a bit nervous because I will be presenting at the staff meeting. My presentation is on the career-related program I helped develop known as the Making Connections Program (MCP).

10 a.m.

Staff meeting from 10 a.m.–noon. Various topics include: Union event feedback, the campuses' 50-year anniversary, and other logistics.

12 p.m.

The presentation was a success. I received a lot of positive feedback and was even invited to present at different locations. I'm excited!

12:30 p.m.

Lunch Time. Yay!

1:30 p.m.

I continue working on developing a manual for the MCP. It's a bit cumbersome developing a manual from scratch. You would think it would be easier because you have the freedom to develop it however you like. However, with that freedom comes a lot of brainstorming, time management, and responsibility.

2 p.m.

I continue working on the manual. I have a few pages done already which makes me happy but I continue having ideas of new sections I would like to add. It is a bit difficult to write in detail the components to a program you helped develop because there are always a few things you forget to add or want to add but do not know where to put them.

2:30 p.m.

Alright, I'm off the clock now. I walk over to the steps of the library, and I want to lay out on the lawn for a few moments as I review my readings for my next class, research principles. The course reviews items relevant to research and statistical measures. I've taken research methods as an undergraduate but it is interesting how fast you can forget things. Plus it's nice to have a refresher in research principles especially if you are interested in completing a thesis for your culminating project.

3:30 p.m.

I meet up with a few of my cohort members before we head into class. I am so thankful for my cohort. It's such a great support system when going through graduate school. We are all experiencing the same stress and joys of graduate school. We stick together through thick and thin.

4 p.m.

Research principles class has started. The instructor is funny. She is very quirky and has lots of energy which is very helpful especially now as I am losing energy by this time.

4:30 p.m.

I sit through a presentation by fellow classmates on the topic of the research paper submission process.

5 p.m.

Unfortunately, I've lost my level of concentration. I'm hungry. Luckily I have a few snacks in my bag. One thing I have learned the hard way is to always carry snacks in your bag. As a graduate student you are always on the run and hunger will always come at the inopportune time, when you are in class.

5:30 p.m.

Break time. And the best part of this class is that we have weekly snack sessions. It was my turn to bring the snacks for class so I brought sliced watermelon, chips, and salsa. It's May so it's hot and watermelon is such a good way to cool off.

6 p.m.

Back to class. The instructor continues the discussion on research paper proposal. She talks about her experience in having her research paper published in journals and such. She also reminds us that our final paper is due real soon. Ah!

6:30 p.m.

The end of class is approaching. I have to grab my stuff and walk with my cohort to the library. Some of us decided to grab some snacks and ice cream before we head to our next class.

7 p.m.

My favorite class is about to begin. I enjoy this class because we learn about various topics in higher education. Today we will be sitting through a few student presentations. The topics include various forms of student involvement and my favorite, multicultural understanding and involvement.

7:30 p.m.

So far we have sat through one presentation, student athlete retention and involvement. Now another student will be presenting on intramural sports on campus and student learning outcomes.

8 p.m.

One of the students will present on ethnic identity development among multi-ethnic students. This presentation will be followed by Latino student academic achievement and Greek Life.

8:30 p.m.

Break time!

9 p.m.

All right, a few more student presentations. The day is coming to an end and I am beginning to get antsy.

9:30 p.m.

Last activity of the night: Ethics in 15. Our instructor gives us an ethical dilemma in a higher education setting. As a group we are to discuss the dilemma and how we would go about solving the problem. The group I am in is faced with the dilemma of accommodating the needs of three students who are wheelchair bound but want the recreation center to offer appropriate accommodations, as stated by ADA standards, so that they can play basketball. Unfortunately, limited funds stand in the way of purchasing a hydraulic basketball stand. Our dilemma is how do we balance the needs of the three students and fall under ADA compliance with those of what the organization can afford? As a group we come up with a few options, including using resources to find funds to afford the hydraulic basketball stand.

10 p.m.

Finally it's the end of class. Now I am on my way home, to have some cereal for dinner, catch up with my roommate to see what she has been up to, finish up my readings for the next day of classes, and finish up my final paper. As always I probably won't be getting to bed until 1 a.m.

Updated June 18, 2009