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Gregory LloydJoining Your College Alumni Association

Several Advantages are Available to Students Still in College

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."

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