Choosing a career: many students say it’s the most difficult decision they’ve faced thus far on their academic journeys. The choice can be especially daunting for students considering options that demand advanced degrees and ongoing education, such as many careers in the health professions. Complicating matters further, students may not have access to someone practicing in the fields that they’re exploring. Fortunately, associations dedicated to education in specific fields can often provide students the information they need to evaluate potential fit.
The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) and the Physician Assistant Education Association (PAEA) offer strong examples of the ways such associations may guide prospective students through the process of choosing a career. Both associations offer general information about the field to showcase the types of work professionals perform in their roles; the associations also provide resources that enable students who have opted to pursue a degree to research schools and programs.
Providing background on the profession
“To support prospective PA students, we developed PAFocus.org, a website with information about the profession, what a PA is, what they do in practice — anything you’d need to know about the profession,” said Danielle Di Silvestro, PAEA’s director of applicant development. PAEA also hosts virtual career fairs several times each year. Attendees can learn about the profession, as well as explore academic programs — schools have virtual booths with admissions staff available to answer questions via chat.
ASPPH focuses on introducing the public health field to a broad audience through an awareness campaign branded “This is Public Health.” Tracie Seward, ASPPH’s manager of student services, explained the campaign originated as way to help prospective students understand how public health ties in to many different fields. “Public health faces some challenges you don’t have with other fields,” Seward said. “We wanted a way to show that public health is everywhere — you can be a dentist and still be involved in public health!”
The campaign includes an annual road show during National Public Health Week, engaging students of all ages in activities that teach them about public health. ASPPH also has a robust social media program supporting the campaign. “We hold Twitter chats, engage current public health students as ambassadors, present to K-12 students and do social take-overs,” said Seward.
Both associations participate in Health Professions Week, an annual event for high school and college students designed to provide details about various health career options and program choices.
Narrowing the field to identify best-fit programs
Di Silvestro said PAEA also provides more detailed information on various PA programs for students exploring schools. “We have an online directory, directory.paeaonline.org, that makes it easy to research programs. Students can search by specific criteria or narrow down by program requirements,” she said.
ASPPH has similar resources to help applicants select schools, including an academic program finder and a digital viewbook. The association offers grad fairs as well, both online and in person. “We want to give students opportunities to search for things they’re interested in and meet admissions reps from all of our member programs,” said Seward.
The core of what professional associations like PAEA and ASPPH offer prospective students may stay the same, but how they provide this service to prospective students has evolved and will continue to do so, according to Di Silvestro. For instance, each association began offering a Liaison-powered Centralized Application Service (CAS™) when they realized that previous applications weren’t meeting students’ expectations. SOPHAS, the CAS for schools and programs of public health, and CASPA, the CAS for PA programs, both allow students to easily apply to multiple programs and check their application status via a centralized online portal.
“Higher education is changing in general — we needed to become more modern,” said Di Silvestro. “Applicants used to have to create new applications every cycle; since we’ve changed to a system that allows them to save their applications, we’ve seen the number of applications in progress skyrocket.”
The labor market continues to change: new fields emerge and others evolve. Colleges and universities constantly add and revise programs to keep pace, making keeping track of which schools offer which programs basically a full-time job! Students need reliable information to help them choose careers and find right-fit schools. In this environment, associations are more relevant and valuable than ever.
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