SAC Frequently Asked Questions

Please Read these FAQ Before Contacting Us!

How do I apply? What is required?
You can access the application from the UMD webpage. We require a resume, personal statement, transcript(s), and three letters of recommendation. GRE scores are optional. Typically statement of goals/experiences are about 4-5 pages for a doctoral applicant and 3.5-5 pages for a masters applicant. Additional information about graduate admissions can be found here:  

When will I find out whether or not I have been accepted?
We usually notify applicants about admission decisions in February.

Didn’t you used to be called CSP? Where do you exist in HESI/CHSE?
Yes! We have been the Student Affairs Concentration since 2011. We are a concentration/program within the broader program of Higher Education, Student Affairs, and International Education Policy (HESI), which exists in the Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education (CHSE). Please note that “Higher Ed” and “Student Affairs” are separate concentrations/degree programs within HESI.

What can I do to strengthen my application?

Use your personal statement to show us more than just your resume. We appreciate reflection on meaningful personal or professional/academic experiences (something that has made you who you are today), as well as reflection on social identities such as race, class, gender, or sexual orientation, etc. Ph.D. students should consider discussing research interests as well.

What is the difference between the Student Affairs and Higher Education concentrations in the HESI program?
The Higher Ed concentration generally has a strong orientation towards policy and some of the macro-level dynamics that shape higher education. SAC required Ph.D. courses include courses on student learning, advanced student development, and social justice. For SAC masters students, the SAC curriculum has a counseling-based sequence and some required classes that focus on the development and experience of the college student. Students commonly take classes across the concentrations, and 1st year Higher Ed and SAC students take a first-year seminar together. In selecting one, we encourage you to review the curriculum and faculty in both concentrations.

What are some unique features of your program? 
Overall all of the faculty’s work addresses issues related to race, social identities, diversity, and inequality, and we often attract students who are interested in these issues. For the masters program, unique features include the opportunity to take an intensive practicum with either the Counseling Center or to facilitate an Intergroup Dialogue. Students note that our seminar paper/thesis option provides a particularly rigorous academic experience. We also have affiliate faculty who work full-time in the Division of Student Affairs who serve as mentors for our students. For Ph.D. students, our location near Washington, DC offers a plethora of opportunities to do internships at local associations, think tanks, or the government. Our strong partnership with the Division offers additional opportunities to connect theory, research, and practice.

Who should write my letters of recommendation?
For Ph.D. students, ideally at least two of the three references should be from academic sources (faculty/instructors who have had you in class). If you are unable to submit at least two academic references, you may offer an explanation in your statement of goals/experiences. Applicants may submit more than three letters of recommendation but we can only guarantee that three will be reviewed due to the high number of applications we receive.  

What about assistantships, stipends, and tuition?
Admitted students are invited to the Preview Program. Employers review resumes, students review job descriptions, and both send in preference lists. Interviews are scheduled during Preview. Over 60 assistantships were posted this year. You do not need to apply for assistantships prior to notification of admission. Both 9 and 12 month assistantships are available. Generally all attending students hold assistantships unless they are working full-time. 

GRE Scores, GPA, and Provisional Admission
GRE scores are OPTIONAL for both the masters and Ph.D. programs. A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 is required, along with a graduate program GPA of 3.5 for doctoral applicants. Students who do not meet one of these requirements, but show other evidence of outstanding potential, may be considered for provisional admission. Provisional status is removed when students maintain a graduate grade point average of 3.5 or better after 12 credits of course completion.

Difference between M.A. and M.Ed. Program
The primary difference between the two masters degrees is that M.A. students complete a thesis as part of their graduation requirements. M.Ed. students have two options. 1) Seminar paper, which is similar to the thesis, but does not involve data collection and analysis. 2) Seminar project, which is an applied project that is grounded in relevant theory and research. Masters students can switch options once enrolled.

Part-time vs. Full-time
We aim to admit the strongest group of students regardless of status, so we fully consider applications from part-time Ph.D. students, although we encourage full-time enrollment when possible. In general, masters students are expected to be full-time, on rare occasion we have accepted masters students on a part-time basis.

Can I take classes without being admitted to the program?
Yes, you can take several classes without being admitted to the program. If you contact Graduate Admissions (, they can advise you as to how to be admitted as an "advanced special student" so that you can take any course that is open enrollment or with instructor permission.  You can view open courses at Some, but not all courses, may not be open to you. We generally restrict masters core courses to admitted students, doctoral courses are up to the discretion of the instructor so please contact the instructor for permission. Generally electives are open to advanced special students.

Masters Degree for Ph.D. Students
Generally we expect that Ph.D. students have a masters degree in Student Affairs, Higher Education, Counseling, or another Behavioral Science or Education-based field. However we understand that people come to student affairs from a diversity of backgrounds. If admitted, you may need to plan a course of study with your advisor that may incorporate some masters-level courses or a schedule of independent readings. (For example, taking Student Development Theory before taking Advanced Student Development)

Work Experience for Ph.D. Students
We encourage several years of full-time work experience for Ph.D. applicants. In rare cases, we may consider students who are coming straight from a masters program if they demonstrate exceptional academic achievement and aptitude. This trajectory is usually only recommended for those who desire to pursue a research-related position following the Ph.D. position. If an applicant's general goal is to work as a student affairs practitioner following graduate study, we generally discourage going straight into a Ph.D. program (or applying with limited work experience) from a masters program due to the dilemma of being "over-prepared but under-qualified." 

Please feel free to email if you have additional questions.