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It is not uncommon to think that the day you receive your diploma is the last day your college or university would help you in your career. This is far from the truth, however. Most colleges and universities across the nation have alumni associations that offer a range of benefits, perks, discounts, and most importantly, networking opportunities and events to help graduates make the most of their hard-earned degree after college. But alumni associations are a two-way street–in order to reap the benefits, graduates must also give back to their alma mater through gifts, membership fees, and volunteering. The following guide takes an in-depth look at alumni associations and their benefits and also helps students and graduates understand how to effectively leverage these networks and give back to future generations.
11 Reasons to Join Your Alumni Association
Alumni associations are groups of former students that have the goal of fostering a lasting connection with one’s alma mater as well as promote the welfare of the college’s alumni. These associations offer a number of opportunities for graduates to stay in touch with their school and fellow alumni while also expanding their networks to enhance their professional opportunities. Take a look at some of the reasons why an alumni association is worth joining.
Wider Professional Network
Alumni associations are rife with opportunities for expanding a graduate’s professional network. Graduates have the opportunity to network with recent grads as well as graduates several years their senior and these connections can lead to internships, jobs, clients, partnerships and other valuable career opportunities. In addition, having an alma mater in common and being able to network via regular in-person events or online platforms makes it easier to form and maintain these valuable connections.
Exclusive Online Job Listings
Many alumni associations host job boards on their website and/or post job listings in their recurring newsletters or magazines. Other alumni may offer these jobs or it could simply be jobs that alumni heard about. In some cases these opportunities may not be widely published elsewhere, giving graduates first dibs.
Targeted Career Services
Alumni associations often provide a wealth of career services to help former students find job opportunities and improve their chances of landing a job offer. Career fairs, for example, bring together employers from around the area, and sometimes further, so that graduates can meet company representatives face-to-face. Career counseling, seminars, webinars, and networking events may provide helpful information about the job market. Similarly, an association may offer resume and cover letter assistance to help graduates put their best foot forward.
Access to College Resources Post Graduation
In addition to career services, alumni associations may provide various resources to help former students post graduation. This might include access to library materials, extensive journal and periodical databases, and even educational amenities on campus, such as certain labs and equipment.
Contact with Classmates
Being able to connect with former classmates can be another benefit to belonging to an alumni association. Whether this leads to a career opportunity or is simply a chance to catch up with old friends and acquaintances, graduates will benefit from alumni directories and online social media groups that keep the lines of communication open well after the caps and gowns have been removed.
Up-to-Date Information About School Happenings
Alumni associations send out current information about the school to former students via newsletters, e-newsletters or college magazines. From a new campus building slated for construction to updates on the college’s athletic teams to news about the latest research developments, graduates can stay in the know about their alma mater. This also includes events and fundraisers as well as career opportunities, such as certification testing dates, new degree programs, or continuing education opportunities, all of which may offer graduates a competitive edge in the job market.
Exclusive Perks & Benefits
In addition to education and career opportunities, alumni associations can offer a range of exclusive perks. Some associations offer financial benefits, such as banking or credit union services, credit cards, or discounted rates on different types of insurance, such as home, auto, and travel. Benefits might also include travel perks, such as special alumni travel destination programs or discounts or free entry for places or events in the area or on campus. Some associations also offer discounts on continuing education and even gym membership through the school.
Connect with Professors
Connecting fellow alumni is one way to find career and social opportunities, but reconnecting with past professors can offer a wealth of opportunities as well. This is particularly true for research, as many professors at colleges and universities are engaged in some type of academic research. Graduates could connect with professors in their field to gain worthwhile experience or guidance with a particular research topic.
Connect with the Community
Many associations partner with their local community so that alumni can provide assistance to the area while also having the opportunity to build relationships with community members and leaders.
Alumni associations aren’t always all business. They offer several chances to partake in social events, such as mixers, happy hours, and galas as well as homecoming events, football tailgates, alumni award ceremonies, and class reunions. Graduates can take a break from work and post-college life and reconnect with former classmates as well as other alumni, while making social connections that could lead to lasting friendships.
Graduates often want to stay connected to their alma mater and help future generations of alumni have the same opportunities and positive experiences they did. Alumni associations offer a number of ways to give back, including gifts, endowments, membership fees, and volunteer opportunities. Giving back to an alumni association is a great way to keep the school’s legacy going and ensure that future generations of students have the opportunity to pursue quality higher education.
How to Leverage Your Alumni Network
Once a graduate understands the benefits of his or her alumni association, the next step is to figure out the best way to make the most of the available resources and members. Here are a few tips on how you can effectively leverage your alumni association.
Become a member
Most alumni associations are open to anyone, meaning you don’t have to be an actual alumnus to join the association and enjoy membership benefits and perks. Some colleges and universities offer a variety of plans from discounted rates for graduating seniors or recent grads to parents of current students to senior citizens. Annual rates and installment payment plans vary by school and individuals can become members by contacting the alumni office directly or submitting an application and payment via mail, in-person or fax.
Get on the association’s email list
Email is the fastest, easiest, and most convenient way to communicate with large groups of people, so email has become a mainstay of communication for alumni associations. A graduate who still uses his or her college-affiliated email address will likely be added to that mailing list automatically when he or she graduates. But if the graduate uses a different email address, they should contact the alumni association to update records. This may mean sending an email to someone at the association or using an online portal on the school’s website.
Take advantage of networking events
When people think of alumni associations, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the networking events, and there’s good reason for that. These networking events are one of the most crucial aspects of joining an alumni association as they provide exclusive opportunities to meet people and industry leaders who can become employers, colleagues, friends, or personal or professional references. Networking events are different from school to school, but graduates should try to fit them into their schedule and take advantage of one of the best perks of their alumni association.
Join the association’s social media networks
Social media is a leading method of communication today and alumni associations are no exception. When graduates can’t attend in-person events, communication can instead take place on the association’s social media networks, such as LinkedIn. Social media provides a fast and easy way to get in touch with anyone in the association about a career opportunity. Graduates, however, shouldn’t just join; they should participate as well. Much like in-person networking events, graduates should be active participants. This could mean posting insightful comments, sharing interesting news articles, or reaching out to fellow alumni via personal online messages or discussion boards.
Talk to alumni
There is bound to be at least one alumnus who is in the industry, at the company, or in the role you are interested in. Utilize your common connection and reach out. This person can give you firsthand insight on what the industry, company or role is like and may even be able to put you in touch with a hiring manager or fill you in on upcoming job openings.
Check the association’s job listings regularly
The alumni association’s job listings board will be another valuable resource for grads who are job hunting. The job board may contain exclusive posts, and if so, that could mean slightly less competition.
Utilize career services
Many career services come free with alumni association membership for graduating seniors and recent grads. Whether they’re looking for specific career counseling or are in need of resume and cover letter assistance, members can turn to their alumni association for help. Career services vary by school and may be dependent on an individual’s membership status so be sure to contact your association for more information on what’s available.
Alumni Club President
Jimmy Wallin is the president of Tulane Alumni Club of Las Vegas. He offers the following advice about alumni associations and how present and past graduates can leverage their networks to create prosperous careers.
How would you describe what an alumni association is and does?
Alumni associations have really evolved over the last decade. Alumni associations were more about people connecting with the university, but over time–especially with the economy the way it is–they’re taking on another aspect as far as networking, involvement in the community, and the events that a local chapter will put on to set the reputation of the university.
In the description of our club, the purpose of the Las Vegas Chapter of the Tulane Alumni Association is to promote fellowship and social activity among alumni while enhancing the reputation of Tulane University and offering voluntary services in support of the Las Vegas community. We want to promote loyalty to the university and enhance the lifelong Tulane experience so you stay connected to the university.
What are some ways an alumni association can help graduates?
At Tulane, we have a service called Tulane Connect, which is an alumni network. It had a board with job listings on it, and that was pretty much it. Now it’s totally different–it’s all computerized with accounts linked up where you can look for jobs or post jobs. If you’re open to being a mentor, you can help someone looking for advice on his or her career path. Students and alums can look for jobs. It’s showing you how the whole concept of an alumni association is evolving.
How does networking work with an alumni association?
When we have our events, people bring business contacts and professional contacts, and lots of contacts are made at our events. It’s very fulfilling for me to see that these events impact someone else’s life.
The contacts made can run the gamut, from somebody looking for a house and meeting a realtor to people looking for jobs or looking to do business, or even somebody referring people to doctors, attorneys, and many other occasions.
It’s great how these schools are really stepping up to the plate to help out their alums.
What advice do you have for students interested in joining their alumni association?
First, before they become alums, they should network with their fellow classmates while they’re in school. You never know, you could be sitting next to somebody whose parents could offer you a job opportunity. Be social while you’re in school. That doesn’t mean be a party animal, but more along the lines of keeping in touch with the people you meet over time. Also start being active in your alumni association when you can, for example, in a senior program so that by the time you graduate, you’re already in the loop.
Once you’re in the association, connect with different alums in your school, stay in touch with fellow graduates and see what they’ve been up to, leverage your professional network to include people you should know. There’s ways to connect directly to companies as well. Companies may come to the university saying, “This is what we have,” then they use the association and events to recruit alums for those specific opportunities. So you can go through the network to get those types of positions as well.
Alumni Associations for Online Learners
One drawback for some online students is that they sometimes don’t have access to the same resources as on-campus students, such as computer or science labs, libraries and archives, face-time with a professor and other students, and so forth. However, having an alumni association to join when they graduate is not something online students necessarily have to go without.
Access to alumni associations for online students primarily depends on the institution itself. In many cases, an online degree program is offered by a college or university that already has an established alumni association for its students and does not necessarily distinguish between whether an alumnus earned his or her degree on-campus or online. Some schools may even offer alumni associations specifically for online students only.
If the school is solely hosted online with no physical campus, that school may not offer an alumni association at all. Some schools with physical campuses will also offer online degree programs, but they may not extend the alumni association to those online students. In these cases, online students will need to look elsewhere for networking and career support following graduation. Some colleges allow anyone to join their alumni associations. Online students who are at a college that doesn’t have an association or who live far away from campus may want to consider joining a local college’s alumni association to take full advantage of membership benefits and services.
While there may not be an official alumni association tied to an online degree program or school, students can still find a group of their peers online in a self-created “association” on social networks such as LinkedIn or even Facebook. Distance learners can then network and find other grads from the same online programs and grow their own alumni association from there. The larger the network, the more opportunities that are likely to arise, regardless if the school itself created the association or not.
Another option for online students is to forgo an alumni association and head straight for professional associations in their particular fields. Some require a paid membership, but some are free, and generally all professional associations offer some sort of networking opportunities. Many of these opportunities can be found online, so distance learners can have full access to resources and services.
Even with a common connection like an alma mater, networking can sometimes be intimidating and like most other social situations, certain behaviors are acceptable while others might not be. Whether the networking opportunity is casual coffee or a formal event, it is always a good idea to keep it professional and put your best foot forward. Below are some basic do’s and don’ts when it comes to networking via one’s alumni association.
Ask mutual contacts for introductions rather than cold call.
Cold calls have always been a mainstay of the job world, whether finding employers, customers, partners, etc., so they have a track record of working to an extent. What’s better for a graduate than a cold call, however, is a formal introduction from a mutual acquaintance who can vouch for that graduate. Graduates can research their alumni associations to see if any former students already work for or know the employer they are pursuing to get that invaluable first introduction.
Mention your alma mater on the way out of an interview or meeting rather than start with it.
Instead of leading an interview by name-dropping, proceed with the interview as if it was an interview conducted by anyone and then at the end share the alma mater with the interviewer. This makes it appear less like you are trying to depend on your alma mater connection and instead shows that you are confident in your own skills, knowledge, and abilities to fulfill the role. Also, mentioning your alma mater at the end of the interview can leave the interviewer with a positive, lasting impression.
Be a helpful resource to your fellow alumni whenever you can.
Alumni associations are there to help graduates make connections and find career opportunities, but they aren’t the only ones turning to the association for assistance. Each graduate can share his or her knowledge and experiences with other alumni to help others get a leg up elsewhere. Also, on alumni associations’ social media networks, graduates can share helpful links and resources with their fellow alumni that could be school, career, or even lifestyle-oriented–anything that might be helpful to the alumni community.
Offer to make connections and introductions.
Every graduate has a network, big or small, and it’s impossible to know when any one person in a graduate’s network could be integral to the career of another. Graduates should not just join alumni associations in search of other people’s networks; they should also offer their own networks and connections to the group, as many or as few as they might have. When a graduate hears about another alum who could benefit from someone in his or her own network, the graduate should offer to help through an introduction or connection.
Offer ideas for opportunities and events.
Graduates from various colleges and universities live all across the world, so not all alumni may be in the right city or region to participate in more localized alumni events. If a graduate knows of any other alumni in their cities or others nearby, they can offer up ideas for opportunities and events in their own regions and potentially even start a dedicated chapter of the alumni association for that area. If the graduate is still a local, he or she can also offer suggestions for events and opportunities other alumni can attend or take advantage of or volunteer to host and organize an event for the alumni community.
Rely entirely on your alma mater to get you a job.
Alumni associations can guide graduates to their first internship, job, or other career opportunity, but nothing is a guarantee. Graduates shouldn’t apply for jobs they’re not qualified for just because they “know someone” and should not expect their connection to get them a job offer. A graduate’s educational background is important to any job, but what is more important to an employer is the knowledge and skills obtained at that school rather than the school’s name itself.
Pester people in your network for work or an introduction.
Graduates can find innumerable contacts within alumni associations, some of whom may be able to help them get started on their career path. However, alumni, just like anyone else, are busy people with their own lives and careers to take care of. If an alumnus is willing to help you with a career opportunity, you should take the lead and make the overall process effortless, rather than pestering the alumnus to do everything for you. Graduates should also be mindful of follow-up emails, social media messages, or phone calls to keep the ball moving without crossing the line and pestering the alumnus.
Focus on your alma mater as your only connection with a potential boss or network.
It can certainly be in your better interest if the interviewer or hiring manager at a company that you’re interesting in went to the same alma mater. However, graduates should not slack off on interview preparation just because they think they can namedrop their alma mater. Instead, candidates should focus on their own skills and background, clearly illustrating how they can help the company achieve their goals.
Promote yourself all over your alumni association’s social media networks.
Alumni associations’ social networking profiles are a great place to connect and reconnect with other students, keep up with school happenings, and, of course, network. But while a graduate’s own social network profile may be a place where he or she feels comfortable to toot their own horn, shameless self-promotion within the context of an alumni association is not going to make a good impression on others. Instead, graduates should be professional and contribute to the alumni community as a whole rather than just using the association for their own gain.
Act unprofessionally just because you are at a social gathering.
Mixers, happy hours, sports games–alumni associations offer a wide range of fun social gatherings for former students to network and enjoy each other’s company. However, just because everyone is having a good time, it doesn’t mean it’s time to completely let loose and party like those Friday nights back in college. These events are still hosted by a professional network, so they command a certain professionalism from attendees as well. Plus, it’s never wise for a graduate to make a bad impression in front of a group of people who could be integral to his or her career.
Tulane University Grad
Success stories from graduates who took advantage of their alumni associations pop up all the time. Here is one story from Sydnee Logan, graduate of Tulane University, who was able to obtain her current job at FDA through her alumni association.
What opportunity came about thanks to your alumni association? What’s the story behind that?
I got my current job through the alumni association, though not the main one. I got it through the Black Alumni Network of Tulane, BANTU. I went to a meeting, a sponsored happy hour in summer 2013, and met my future supervisor. She was working somewhere that I was interested in, and we kept in touch. Then after another internship that I had, I started working with her at the FDA. It was the first paid job that I had in my field.
What do you do now, and how did this opportunity lead you to do something in your field?
I am a digital communication fellow in the Office of Minority Health at FDA. I focused in heath communication for awhile. I’ve been interested in it since undergrad, and I took some public health communication classes. Then I decided I wanted to focus in minority health and I wanted to do campaigns. My masters is in health and digital communication. Before I worked here, I worked at the American Diabetes Association, so it was similar. As for what I do now, I do web outreach around health communication and minority health issues.
What did you learn about alumni associations and how to utilize them for career opportunities?
They can be pretty helpful. It’s the same kind of networking as anything else, but you usually have some sort of initial connection, which makes it a little easier.
Do you have any tips for students and/or graduates about how they might make the most of their alumni associations?
Just ask people about what they do. Ask people about their stories, what they like about what they do. Most people are really happy to talk about their job or what they like about their job or how they got their job, their success story. They usually want to share it and help the next person into a job. Just ask them about what they’re doing, what they’re working on, what they like about their job, and they’ll probably go on for hours. All of this should give you a good idea whether you’ll like it or not.
Do you have any tips as to the types of alumni events students and graduates should attend to find the best opportunities?
I’m African-American, so those events were usually more helpful. I guess it’s the initial connection. If you’re to go to an alumni association event, you’re more likely to find someone to help you because you went to the same school. It’s the same kind of thing. They’re usually more outgoing, and they try to pull you in a lot more. The same with gender associations–those have been helpful for me as well. They’ve had way better and more useful outreach for me. Everything that they’ve done is helpful, the people are friendly, and the talks are more focused on the issues I’m interested in. I would also say go for something that’s more specialized and more relatable to you, because you’ll probably find people to connect with a little bit easier.