We all love bragging about our universities. But, as current students, what many of us don’t realize is that this pride and the concept of “My school is the best in the UNIVERSE” stays with us for life. Think about your parents. Your dad might be in his 50s or 60s, but aren’t you always bombarded with his “When I was in college…” stories? It’s almost like he never left.
One thing we often overlook as collegiettes is how helpful it can be to connect with our alumni network. Alumni love to give back to the university that helped them succeed. These people can give us advice and—most importantly—help us find jobs, internships and other opportunities that we otherwise wouldn’t have without our university affiliation.
If you haven’t started connecting with your school’s alumni, don’t worry—many students haven’t. But in the meantime, HC has some helpful tips for connecting with these proud graduates both during and after your college years so you can begin building those professional relationships today.
As a student…
Sign up for your university’s mentorship program
Many schools have mentorship programs set up to connect students with alumni who work in their field of interest. For example, Cornell University has a well-established program called the Cornell Alumni-Student Mentoring Program (CASMP) that asks students and alumni mentors to speak to each other once or twice a month and meet in person at least once a semester.
These types of programs are also common at other universities. “Last year, I signed up for a mentorship program at my school. My mentor taught me so much, not only about her industry, but about the struggles and perks of having a full-time job right after college,” said Laura Escobar-Vallecillo, a senior at the University of Southern California.
Many times, schools will send out emails to students informing them that they can sign up for these programs. However, if you haven’t heard of any mentorship programs at your school, the best place to start looking would be by stopping by your university’s career center or asking your academic advisor.
Apply for alumni association scholarships
One of the biggest sources for scholarships is your university’s various alumni groups and associations. Many schools separate the scholarship categories based on geographic location, ethnicity, major and campus affiliations.
But the best perk of winning an alumni scholarship is that there is almost always an awards banquet to attend, where you can meet and network with the alumni who granted you the scholarship. Western Illinois University, for example, distributes its alumni scholarships at the school’s annual Fall Scholarship Banquet.
Your school’s financial aid website should contain information and links to any school-related scholarships. If this search leads to a dead end, try contacting your alumni association office directly and ask about scholarships for current and continuing students.
Attend recruiting and networking events
Oftentimes—especially at large universities—the company representatives that come to speak during Career Week and related festivities are graduates of that school. Companies understand that students connect best with the employees who have similar backgrounds to them. Not to mention, they’re often biased in choosing entry-level employees from their alma mater.
“I’ve attended many recruiting events where successful UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles) alumni come to recruit students to work for their firm. At those events, it is not at all difficult to strike up a conversation about professors we’ve had in common, clubs we’ve both participated in and why we chose to major in economics,” said Cathleen Miclat, a junior at UCLA.
Not sure how to strike up a conversation with an alum? First, introduce yourself with confidence. If you’re giving off the “I’m really intimidated” vibe, this will send your conversation straight into the awkward zone. Next, ask them questions about themselves, such as:
- What year did you graduate?
- What was your major?
- What activities/organizations were you involved with at this school?
- Where do you work, what do you like about it, etc.?
If you approach people in this way, you’ll find that most love talking about themselves. Not to mention, you may find that you have things in common along the way! Exchange email addresses at the end of your conversation so that you can keep in touch.
Get involved with the Student Alumni Association
Find out if your school has an active student alumni association. This can help you connect with alumni to plan and promote events at your school. “At USD (University of San Diego), we have a program during finals week hosted by the Student Alumni Association called Feeding Frenzy,” said Bianca Bruno, a junior at USD. “The students and alumni work together to get food donated from Pizza Hut, Krispie Kreme and other places. The alumni come to serve the food and talk to students. People really look forward to it.”
As a senior or graduate…
Join the alumni association and get involved
It doesn’t matter how big or small your school is—there’s always some type of alumni association to join once you’ve graduated. These groups often host luncheons, career mixers and pre-athletic event tailgates. Even if you move to a different city or state after college, there’s a good chance that your school also has regional alumni clubs that operate out of various cities across the U.S.—and possibly the world. And if there aren’t alumni opportunities in your region, there are usually websites and/or Facebook groups to help you connect with your fellow graduates.
Worried that as a recent graduate you’ll be the youngest one there? Good news: many schools also have young alumni boards and associations for people who have graduated within the last ten or 15 years. For example, at the University of Utah, the Young Alumni Board operates as a division of the school’s alumni association and hosts some of their own events.
Use online alumni databases to look up people in your career field
One great thing about living 21st century-style is that schools can now stay in touch with their alumni using the Internet. Harvard’s online alumni directory, called Crimson Compass, has 17,000 users and is one of the school’s best networking tools. And you don’t have to be a graduate to start connecting with the Harvard alumni—current students can join too.
Harvard’s neighboring school, MIT, has a similar program. MIT’s Infinite Connection allows both alumni and current students to use the online alumni directory to find one another and to stay up-to-date on news and events happening at MIT. If you aren’t sure if your university has an online directory, call or stop by the career center. These databases are usually created and managed by the school’s career services.
Research job search programs offered by your alma mater
In addition to online directories, some schools even have job databases where alumni can post open positions within their companies or organizations. At USC, the “Trojans Hiring Trojans” initiative allows alumni access to connectSC, the school’s online job and internship database. This helps both the recent graduates who are searching for jobs and the company that is searching for intelligent and responsible employees.
Turning connections into jobs
Once you have reached out to your school’s alumni network, don’t forget to stay in touch with your new connections.
Claudia Huizar, a senior at San Diego State University, applied for a mentorship program through PRSSA (The Public Relations Student Society of America) in January. She was then matched with an alum who had also been a public relations major at San Diego State. Claudia frequently talked with her mentor and about seven months later, was offered an internship at her mentor’s agency.
“There are people out there that really do want to help you out,” said Claudia.
As her success story shows, by checking in frequently with your mentor, following up with people you meet at networking events and getting involved with the alumni association, opportunities might come to you when you least expect! It’s your job to lay the groundwork.
Laura Escobar-Vallecillo, University of Southern California, Class of 2012
Cathleen Miclat, University of California, Los Angeles, Class of 2013
Bianca Bruno, University of San Diego, Class of 2013
Claudia Huizar, San Diego State University, Class of 2012