by Gregory Lloyd
To most students, an alumni association is something you join after you graduate college. But did you know that you can participate even while you’re still working towards a degree?
This wasn’t always the case. But, in the last few years, student alumni associations have become popular with colleges and universities as a way to get students more out of their college experience and to establish a link that keeps them connected to the school during and after graduation.
So what’s in it for you? Several advantages, including the opportunity to network, get mentored by successful graduates, apply for scholarships available only to student alumni, enjoy discounts on products and services, and participate in fun campus and community activities.
Networking and mentorship
Perhaps the best advantage of joining your alumni association is the opportunity to network with current and former students and to get helpful and specific guidance from people already working the field you’re interested in. It’s an excellent way to get an early start on your new career.
Although the chief purpose of a college degree is often to attain career advancement, your diploma rarely is enough to guarantee you a great job. You may work hard to obtain your degree, but still may have difficulty competing with all of the other college graduates who want the same type of job you want. Despite the wide use of help-wanted ads and the Internet in job searching, networking is still by far the best way to obtain a job that fits your needs and goals. And who better to help you than your brothers and sisters at the college?
Most schools offer some sort of mentorship program. You just need to do a little digging. For example, the William Mitchell College of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota, offers an Alumni Association Mentor Program, which matches first-year students with alumni and legal professionals who share their interests. Students and alumni arrange to connect at least three times per semester. The feedback has been great. One student said, “My mentor was very supportive-he gave me not only professional and moral support, but also material help.” Another said, “The relationship was comfortable and open. I received candid answers to my questions; it was an informative friendship.”
The University of Michigan offers a career mentoring service called Alumni Networks, which helps current students gain information and networking contacts. Participants can contact alumni mentors who have volunteered to provide career coaching on specific occupations and to give pointers on how to enter a field, industry, or firm locally or in another city. Some even offer opportunities to work for their firms as interns, and can provide additional networking contacts.
Similarly, at Stanford Business School, current students are paired with alumni with comparable interests to explore different industries, functional areas, career paths, and goals. There are three planned events for meeting, beginning with a brunch in the fall. Of course, students and mentors can meet anytime. One mentor in the program had this to say about the experience. “The program is worthwhile if students are ready to invest energy in it. The student I had really did invest in it and got a lot in return. I invited him to conferences, to sit in on meetings, and to submit his business plan for critiquing.”
Sometimes you can go directly to the college to inquire about internship programs. The University of Virginia Alumni Association offers more than 100 internships that help students earn experience in marketing, accounting, even event planning. No wonder more than a third of all University of Virginia students are members.
At North Carolina State University, students can join the Student Ambassador Program, which allows them to serve as liaisons between alumni, administrators, and the student body. This is sort of mentorship in reverse, where the students get to inform the graduates about the school’s activities.
Networking and mentorship programs will take very little of your time, so you’ll still have plenty of time to devote to your family, friends, and other interests.
Need financial assistance with your degree program? Your alumni association can help with that too.
Thousands of college alumni associations offer scholarships to students, and you don’t have to be a member to apply. Generally, the larger the school, the greater the number of scholarships. For example, the University of Virginia Alumni Association offers current students more than 100 scholarships, most of them named after the alumni who created them.
Scholarships are either merit- or need-based, so you will need to meet the specific guidelines offered by each scholarship you’re seeking. To apply for a scholarship offered by your school’s alumni association, go to the school’s website to download an application for the scholarship you want or call the school’s financial aid office to find out what’s available. to prospective and current BGSU students
One of the most helpful benefits of alumni associations is that they allow you to get steep discounts on products and services. Here’s just a sampling of the variety of discounts and free stuff that some schools offer only to their alumni association members.
– At the University of Florida, members can get discounts on school merchandise and auto insurance, participate in national and international travel opportunities, get special invitations to University events, get game ticket purchasing priority, and get a free annual subscription to the alumni magazine.
– The University of Virginia offers discounts on moving fees, car rentals, the school’s art museum, insurance, hotels, KAPLAN Test Preparation, and local shopping.
– At the University of California, San Diego, students can get discounts on books, free admittance to the senior barbecue, buy-one-get-one-free tickets to university events, and savings on southern California attractions, hotels, and restaurants.
– In addition to many of these discounts, the University of Georgia offers an Alumni Student Loan Consolidation Program, which allows members to take advantage of low loan interest rates.
As an adult student, you might be especially interested in some of the more adult discounts some schools offer, including lower-cost AAA memberships, mortgage rebates, gym memberships, and golf green fees.
Campus and community activities
One of the greatest benefits of joining an alumni association while you’re still a student is the opportunity to make a difference and have fun at the same time. Many alumni associations meet frequently to plan school activities and to take part in community events. The time commitment is generally minimal, which is a plus for busy adult students who may also work full-time.
The Boise State Alumni Association promotes school spirit by participating on both school and community service projects. At Kansas State University, student alumni members can help plan fun events throughout the year, including coffee breaks and snacks during finals, pre-game events, Watch Parties, and other fun opportunities.
Best of all, while working special events, you can make great contacts that will be of both personal and professional benefit to you in the future.
How to join your student alumni association
For a nominal fee of about $15 to $25 a year – some schools even offer membership to students for free -you can make your college experience so much more rewarding, and get a head start on your career path after college.
Of course, not all colleges and universities offer alumni association membership to current students. Some require you to be elected by someone else. For example, at the University of Evansville (Indiana), freshmen, sophomores, and juniors must be nominated by faculty, administrators, or current alumni association members to join the alumni association. But, if your school offers the opportunity, look into it.
To find out if your school offers this service, contact your school’s office of alumni relations.
Gregory Lloyd is a financial writer who has completed three college degrees while working full-time. He can be reached at [email protected].