How to Give Back to Your Alma Mater Without a Paycheck

It’s inevitable. The school you once called home will call you up after you’ve hung your cap and gown, and ask for donations. For those postgraduates who feel financially stable enough to give, it is a warm call to action. But for the growing number of postgraduates who feel the burden of student loans and tough job markets, it is a guilt-ridden reminder that the comforts of college are over. You are now an alumna, however aimless or surefooted, and you have a responsibility to guide younger classes through the same transition. But without a hefty paycheck, how can you give back?

Here are some concrete ways to reach out to your college and help students who are now walking in your footsteps.

1. Mentor current students

Sharing your undergrad experiences and giving advice one-on-one or within a student group is a powerful way to stay connected to your alma mater. Being a mentor keeps you grounded and in tune with the student culture on campus, which is important for helping anyone navigate through it. Rachel Cisto, a 2015 graduate of the University of Hartford, was drafted for a mentorship event as part of her college's School of Communication Featured Speaker Series. There, she was able to speak to students in her program and connect with them in person. Beyond a group setting, you can always make deeper connections by mentoring current students one-on-one. Being able to openly discuss experiences, concerns and questions face-to-face helps build a strong support system.

2. Volunteer to speak at events

Similar to mentoring, speaking in front of students at your university is a great way to reach a wider audience and share lessons learned. Alaina Leary, a graduate student at Emerson College, had the opportunity to connect with current students this way for her school’s annual Spring Gathering. She says, “I was happy to come and talk to current students and faculty. Coming back for a college gathering like this is one way to give back because it not only shows your dedication to the college, but you can also serve as a reference point for current students.” As a recent undergraduate student, you know all the questions you wish were answered when you were in school. Now, on the other side of graduation, you can turn around and give back just by sharing those answers. “After my talk,” Alaina says, “several students approached with questions about the work I've done since graduating, as well as about graduate school, and I was happy to help.”

3. Write about your experiences

There are many outlets for writers and creatives to share their words of wisdom online (like HerCampus.com!). Magazines, blogs, social media, email newsletters and other online content are at our fingertips. Alaina regularly writes articles about her life in college. She says, “I've mentioned my alma mater in a few of these, and several have been shared by campus faculty and staff.” That means reflections of your time on campus is directly benefiting current students. If you have a way with words, let your voice be heard! Your stories can reach far more readers online than you could ever meet in person. If your college has an alumni magazine, you could apply to share your experiences through writing for that as well. It’ll keep you in the loop about new developments on campus, and you’ll be helping other alumni and potential donors stay informed about why they should support the college. Plus, it’s usually a paid gig. Win-win!

Related: Why You Should Stay Active in Your Sorority After College

4. Engage in social media

Possibly one of the most accessible ways to give back to your school is by connecting on social media. Almost every college has social media accounts. Find them, follow them and engage with comments and likes. Rachel interacts with her college’s social media to offer help to friends and current students. It’s a quick way to share pros and cons for every part of the undergraduate experience.

5. Fill out those alumni surveys

You’ll notice every few months, an alumni survey pops into your email inbox. Fill it out! Taking just a few minutes to fill in the bubbles can make a big impact on the school’s awareness of your experiences. Alaina says, “I tell the school where I work, where I'm getting my graduate degree, and how the program helped me in undergrad. I provide as much valuable feedback as possible for improving!” Your own words and thoughts are invaluable to the success of future students. Change implemented from a survey may be small, but it’s an easy way to communicate your hopes for the next batch of graduates.

6. Keep in touch with your college organizations

The communities you participate in through college create lasting friendships and memories. Stay connected even after you’ve walked across the stage and received your diploma. Those social connections can provide strong support for all involved. Shira Kipnees, a 2015 graduate of Franklin and Marshall College, says, “I was very involved in my local Chabad (a Jewish group) when I was in college, and I’ve gone back to visit once, but I often stay in touch with students through Facebook to see how things are going.” Both the organization and social media keep Shira engaged with her connections, which is a great way to nurture close relationships after graduation.

7. Join your alumni organization

Most colleges have a specific alumni organization that helps alumni from every department stay connected through activities and events. If you live nearby, consider joining to help plan and attend them. While some of these events do cost money, you’ll usually get food and a fun time out of it. You’re not only giving back by providing an inviting space to reconnect, you’re giving back part of your ticket price as a portion of the proceeds usually goes back to your college.

8. Talk to prospective students

What’s one of the most persuasive elements in any college search? A good review from alumni. If those who have been there and done that give the school two thumbs up, it certainly influences the decision-making process. Shira creates opportunities to talk with prospective students to share pros and cons of her college experience. For the incoming students, it’s like receiving a personalized guidebook. If those incoming students see themselves represented as successful graduates, there’s no telling where that inspiration will take them as they navigate their futures. Be the inspiration you wish you had.

Katy is a Denver-based writer and film creative. After graduating from Loyola Marymount University's School of Film & Television in LA, she relocated to the Rockies for an adventurous backdrop. Today, she owns her own business reviving brands by crafting custom copy and casting fresh faces. Tweet her your favorite Gilmore girls moments because new friends are always fun.

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