7 Things to Consider Before Moving Across the Country for a Student Affairs Job

To move or not to move; that is the question.

Perhaps you’ve received a job offer or learned of an opening that seems like your absolute dream role — well, except for that pesky thousand-mile distance.

I’ve been there. I’ve decided to make a move three times, packing up my car (and my cat) for a total of nearly 4,000 miles — far away from the campuses, the students, and the coworkers I treasured.

Each move was terrifying, but they’ve given me a unique skill set: A system for evaluating whether or not to relocate for a job, and thus, adjust to a new campus and city as “home”.

Whether you’re new to the move-or-not conundrum or you’re agonizing over the decision yet again, I’d like to offer my perspective. I won’t be leading you to an absolute “yes” or “no”, but hopefully these considerations will steer you in one direction away from the agonizing “maybe.”

7 Things to Consider

1. The team and the institution’s resources

Just as institutions seek to ease new students into campus life, the best offices help new hires acclimate — not only to their roles but also to the new locale.

Before accepting a position, ask what resources are available for relocators. And no, “resources” isn’t code solely for full or partial reimbursement of moving experiences. Your (potentially) future coworkers can also support your move by offering advice on local housing, moving companies, banks, restaurants, doctors, child care services, gyms, volunteer opportunities, and more.

If you’re moving to a new state, your new coworkers might provide advice for getting a state driver’s license and changing your vehicle registration. Ditto voter registration and figuring out partial-year state taxes.

They might formalize the advice (like Presence did) by crafting a “relocation guide” document. Here’s an excellent example from The University of North Florida.

Knowing whether or not you’re entering uncharted territory can also be helpful. In other words, would you be the first member of the team to relocate for the gig? Ask where others moved from. Did they merely cross a county line or did they venture across time zones?

Knowing that some teammates made a big move can bring you comfort, insomuch that they’ll “get” the challenges out-of-towners face. They can also offer practical moving advice and share their perspectives on everyday life in the area.

2. The cost of moving and living

A dollar in Wichita is not the same as a dollar in Manhattan.

It’s vital to grasp how far your salary and savings will go in your new zip code — not only so you can make smart financial decisions, but so that you can decide if it’s worth moving in the first place.

Here’s a tool to help you compare the costs. But, don’t just consider the overall drop or increase in a penny’s worth; focus on your spending habits. If you’ll walk or bike to work, for example, transportation costs may not matter. Or, if you plan to live alone for the first time, housing prices will be a major factor.

Research the price tags on entertainment, food, and childcare (if applicable), too. Be sure to chat about all this with your future coworkers and any nearby friends, as online research may not be accurate for the neighborhood you like or your food preferences.

3. The weather

Before I moved from sunny Florida to snowy rural New York for my first post-masters role, everyone warned me that Ithaca was cold.

No, not just a wee bit you’ll-need-to-invest-in-a-good-sweater cold; they predicted that I’d want to hole up indoors with hot cocoa and an electric blanket for seven months of the year.

That didn’t worry me. After all, I like the indoors and was craving a change.

But what I hadn’t foreseen was how the cold climate would affect my mental health.

I’m not referring to Seasonal Affective Disorder (which may not be as rampant as commonly believed) but to more practical implications.

I couldn’t enjoy long outdoor walks — my favorite activity for stress relief. I also struggled to maintain any semblance of a social life, with the low temperatures exacerbating my poor work-life balance. And the snow made it near impossible to travel anywhere beyond the bus route.

So, thoroughly consider the weather of your potential new home. Don’t be lured in by the simple thrill of a new habitat; you need to imagine day-to-day life.

Perhaps, unlike me, you’d adore the winter sports opportunities of a cold place and detest the heat. Maybe a city with higher than average rainfall would leave you feeling down…or not bother you much at all.

And don’t forget about extreme weather. Although hurricanes, tornados, wildfires, floods, or earthquakes aren’t a daily occurrence anywhere, consider if you’ll have the support (financial, social, and otherwise) to cope if one strikes.

With the exemption of a sharknado, these events don’t need to scare you away completely. (Believe me; as a Floridian, I’ve lived through plenty of hurricanes.) But they should be factored in, especially as a financial component.

4. The stress of a move

Moving is stressful.

Nevermind establishing a new social life and adjusting to your new job, the process of picking up one’s life and dropping it into another spot can be grueling. There are boxes to pack, a new home to secure, movers to call, decor to buy, transport to plan — honestly, I’m getting stressed remembering it all.

In fact, in a 2015 UK study, 62% of the 2,000 respondents ranked moving as their most stressful life event.

For the right job and place, this ultimately shouldn’t matter. The stress may be intense, but moving will only take a few weeks. Then, you’ll get to reap the rewards for many months or years to come.

But, as much as I’d like to tell you that anything worthwhile involves hard work, the move may not actually be worth it — for some people. Perhaps you can find a similar role much closer to home. Or, if you’re already dealing with a lot of stressors beyond the job search, a big move might not be a wise idea.

Which bring me to the next consideration…

5. Coping with change

Do you deal well with change? If not, it’s a valuable skill to develop, and a big move may challenge you to gain it.

But, as much as you might crave personal growth, it’s also important to be realistic about how many changes you can take on at once. A new job is already a big adjustment in of and itself. Can you add on relocation, too? Consider how it’ll affect your work performance and personal well-being.

woman thinking gif

I’m not suggesting that moving is always the wrong decision for everyone; it can be triumphant, as it often has been for me.

Rather, I’m advising you to be realistic about your current mental health and to reflect upon on your prior experiences with change. Also, consider what resources you’d have available in your new home, along with whether you’d actually take advantage of them.

6. Social support and opportunities

To quote a great British quartet, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

A strong social network can help you overcome — or at least learn to live with — any of the aforementioned obstacles.

So, before making a move, think about two types of social networks: Those you can already rely upon and those you might be able to create.

In other words, you should assess whether or not a move will sever your ties with current friends. Will you be able to stay connected from afar? How so? If it’s only through texting, phone calls, or social media, is that enough for you?  

There’s nothing inherently bad about a “no” answer, nor a “yes” one, but you need to be realistic about your social needs. If you do decide to accept the role, discuss your hopes with your friends. Figure out how — precisely — to ensure that you’ll be leaving them behind only in physical distance, not in spirit.

You should also predict how easy or difficult it’ll be to establish friendships in your new zip code. Researching the area’s demographics — such as age distribution, political leanings, and religious makeup — is a good place to start. Also, ask your future coworkers (especially those who weren’t local prior to their roles) about their social lives.

Be sure to personalize your research, too. Are there opportunities related to your interests, hobbies, and goals? This can include shows, concerts, festivals, athletic competitions, hobby classes, religious communities, meetup groups, and more.

Knowing what’s available will not only help you foresee your social calendar, but it can also reveal a lot about your chances of finding folks with similar interests. (If you love glassblowing, beach activities, and art museums, you’ll love Presence HQ’s home in Saint Petersburg, Florida. We’re hiring!)

7. Career advancement

If, after examining all these factors,  you’re set to give up on a role you once had your eyes on, hang on. You need to consider a factor that could outshine all others: Career advancement.

Less-than-ideal weather, social opportunities, and moving expenses may be worth bearing for a dream job — especially if the position is only for a limited contract.

This isn’t to say that you should sacrifice your mental health and well-being; that’ll only backfire, seeping into your work performance. But, an incredible opportunity — in which you adore the day-to-day work — could make other factors not seem so bad.

The amazing programs you get to run, for example, can leave you energized despite poor weather. Or, a remarkable mentor might help you cope with stress. Ask yourself, does this job have any allures like that?

And honestly examine your priorities, regardless of the career journey that anyone else is on. Reflect upon how your hours both in and outside of work have historically played into your overall happiness.

No matter what, moving will always be an adventure — full of triumphs, challenges, and learning. I hope these tips will help you decide whether it’s an adventure worth embarking on.

Have you relocated for a job or turned down the opportunity to do so? How did you reach that decision? We’d love to hear from you on Twitter @HelloPresence.


Jodi Tandet

About the author: Jodi Tandet loves writing about the magic of campus life as the Lead Storyteller at Presence. She's also passionate about baking, mental health advocacy, all the Presence office dogs, and her ever-growing podcast collection. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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