College of Education and Allied Professions

Higher Education Student Affairs Program

What we do (Vision):

Provide students with comprehensive knowledge and experiences with which to pursue professional employment within an institution of higher education and/or a doctoral degree in Higher Education/Student Affairs.

Our Mission:

“The M.Ed. in Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA) has a strong focus on developing practitioner-scholars by integrating academic coursework and theoretical constructs with supervised professional experience. Our goal is to prepare learners to be competent student development specialists in all areas of university life and to cultivate practitioners who are committed to the growth and development of all students. In order to do this, we are dedicated to facilitating learning environments where students engage in acute dialogue, critically analyze scholarly content, and further develop their own identity.”

What Makes Our Program Different?

WCU's HESA Graduate Program is student-centered. Just as we teach the importance of holistic student development to aspiring student affairs professionals, we practice what we teach by facilitating meaningful classroom experiences and engaging out-of-classroom professional experiences (Internships and Graduate Assistantships).

We are an intentionally small program (cohort-based) designed to:

  •  Maximize faculty-student interaction
  •  Foster significant scholarly learning experiences for students
  •  Offer guaranteed paid Graduate Assistantships (professional experience) to all qualified, full-time students.

Admission Requirements

  • Applicants for the M.Ed. in the HESA program must have an average G.P.A. of B or higher, as defined by the department in upper-level undergraduate courses in the major.
  • Three online recommendation forms submitted by former instructors and/or supervisors, who are in a position to judge the applicant’s aptitude for graduate study. (Applicant will add the recommenders’ email addresses within the application system, and a recommendation form will be sent to them).
  • A recent resume or CV
  • A statement/essay of interest addressing three prompts:
    • What are your career objectives and discuss how a degree in Higher Education Student Affairs will prepare you to meet these objectives?
    • Why is Western Carolina University’s Higher Education Student Affairs graduate program of interest to you?
    • What diverse perspectives and experiences will you contribute to the HESA learning community?
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is NOT required for applicants with a 3.0 GPA or higher.
  • If you would like to be considered for a Graduate Assistantship, please click here to download the application. After you complete the Assistantship application, upload it as "Other Materials" within your admissions application (March 1 deadline).

Admission Timeline

  • Admissions deadline: March 1. To be considered for funding, scholarships, financial aid, and graduate assistantships, a completed application must be received by March 1.
  • Admissions Review Process (offers and waitlist): March 1-April 1 (cohort size limited to 15 full-time students).
  • Graduate Assistant Interview and Selection Period: April 1-May 1.
  • Occasionally, students are admitted who do not meet the priority deadline. Contact the Program Director for details.

Transfer Credit Information

Upon approval of program advisor, up to six (6) semester hours of graduate credit with a grade of B or higher may be transferred from other regionally accredited graduate schools. There are limitations that apply. For further details, contact the Program Director.

We are an intentionally small program (cohort-based) designed to:

  • Maximize faculty-student interaction
  • Foster significant scholarly learning experiences
  • Offer paid Graduate Assistantships (professional experience) to all *qualified, full-time students who desire one.

*Qualified candidates are required to have a 3.0 GPA or higher and must maintain enrollment in at least 9 credit hours per semester (full-time status).

Graduate Assistantships serve as professional apprenticeships for graduate students and enhance their academic courses. They give our students the opportunity to put what they are studying into real context, thus allowing them to further connect to the curriculum. Additional benefits of serving in an assistantship include: job experience, working in a multicultural setting, a sense of contributing to their assigned area, responsibility, networking opportunities, an addition to their resume, as well as a paid stipend (approximately $8,500 - 12,000/year).

Full assistantships require a student to work 20 hours per week at their assigned placement. However, in some cases, splitting an assistantship or opting for a part-time position of fewer than 20 hours may also be an option. View additional information

View a list of all GA placement options, descriptions, and associated stipends

 Financial aid is available in the form of grants, scholarships, work-study and loans. 

  • The WCU Financial Aid Office is here to assist you with the process of applying for financial aid. 
  • For scholarship opportunities please apply at October 1 through February 1.
  • The WCU Graduate School offers additional ‘Tuition Award’ opportunities. These applications are generally made available in the months of March and/or April. For more information, contact the WCU Graduate School office at 828.227.7398.
  • Out-of-State Tuition Remissions are available for non-North Carolina permanent residents. These competitive remissions do not waive tuition costs; rather, they offer tuition at the in-state rate. There is a separate application for this remission, which is disseminated by the HESA Program Director to qualified students who have met the priority admissions deadline and are then successfully admitted to the HESA program.

The M.Ed. in Higher Education Student Affairs requires 39 credit hours of graduate study (27 semester hours of core courses, 6 semester hours of internships, and 6 semester hours of electives). Courses incorporate content that is appropriate for working in student affairs in a variety of two- and four-year higher education settings. Students complete a common core of courses that integrate theoretical constructs and applied practitioner experiences.

The HESA program and curriculum proudly aligns with the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Education.

For a full list of courses, see our recommended course sequence.

Pedagogical Philosophy

As a learning community, knowledge acquisition and the co-creation of meaning heavily relies on each person’s attendance and engagement in the course work and discussion. Faculty members take on the role of a facilitator, a “guide on the side” (as opposed to a “sage on a stage”), who encourage students to pull from their own and others’ lived experience to interpret course materials and co-create meaning.

About the HESA Curriculum

The M.Ed. in Higher Education Student Affairs requires 39 credit hours of graduate study (27 semester hours of core courses, 6 semester hours of internships, and 6 semester hours of electives). Courses incorporate content that is appropriate for working in student affairs in a variety of two- and four-year higher education settings. Students complete a common core of courses that integrate theoretical constructs and applied practitioner experiences.

The curriculum is organized on a WHAT-HOW-WHY model. Students take courses within the first semester and year that lay the foundation of the field – the WHAT. The middle semesters, students take courses that delve into specific applications of the field – the HOW. Finally, the students’ internship experiences and a capstone course serve as the culminating experience to their holistic education – the WHY. Starting with a broad foundation and narrowing the focus as the students progress through the program fosters a contextually educative experience rooted in a deep understanding of the field, which allows research and theory to then guide their practice.

“The HESA Graduate Program at WCU adheres to the national CAS Standards for graduate preparatory programs.”


HESA Course Sequence

HESA Program and Learning Goals

The Higher Education Student Affairs (HESA) program at WCU is committed to preparing its students so they have the tools and experience needed to succeed and thrive in their profession. Listed below are the cognitive, affective and behavioral goals the program addresses through course study and graduate assistantships. 

Cognitive Goals

Upon completion of the HESA program, graduates will be able to demonstrate a thorough knowledge of:

  • all current models, philosophies, practices and time-honored fundamentals of the student affairs profession, as well as its history;
  • the standards of professional practice as defined in the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education;
  • basic student affairs teaching methodologies, counseling theories and techniques, and principles of group dynamics;
  • all student affairs activities and related goals;
  • the college environment and its impact on the growth and development of students;
  • the importance of diversity, as well as the characteristics, needs and values of students from varied backgrounds, cultures and nationalities;
  • organizational development, administration, budget basics and resource management;
  • the basic principles of enrollment management related to student recruitment and retention;
  • how the academic and student affairs cultures co-exist on campus;
  • the legal and ethical issues involving student affairs professionals; and
  • the history of higher education, its structure, current role and other issues.

Affective Goals

Graduates of the HESA Program will have learned: 

  • appreciation of the worth and dignity of all people and to value differences;
  • awareness of their personal impact on others;
  • a sensitivity to their professional and ethical responsibilities as student affairs practitioners; and
  • the need for continuing professional development as an integral part of their success.

Behavioral Goals

Graduates of the HESA Program will be able to effectively:   

  • work with students in one-on-one and group settings;
  • implement proven listening, response and referral skills;
  • use and integrate various theoretical approaches in analyzing both student and departmental issues;
  • design programs and interventions based upon cultivated theories;
  • analyze, compose and promote necessary and timely student affairs literature;
  • demonstrate competency in oral presentations; and
  • be able to apply principles of organizational development and administrative practice in their work settings.
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