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Lorie WitkopThe Promise of Professional Organizations

by Lorie Witkop

Maybe you've already learned about the importance of joining associations and attending conferences in your current or previous line of work. If you haven't, then certainly there's a world of connections and learning opportunities just waiting to be discovered. If you have, then consider your student status a great chance to join new professional organizations and attend conferences at special rates.

Student Membership
There are two slightly different forms of student membership. In some cases, you simply join as a member of the larger organization, such as the American Library Association. Watch out for stipulations about full-time status or starting a new, not renewal, membership to qualify for the student rates. For other organizations, you join a separate student branch of the parent group, such as the Public Relations Student Society of America sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America. There are national, state, and in some cases, even regional groups for almost every profession you might pursue.

To give you an idea of how much money a student member can save on membership, here are a few examples of actual dues costs. A new professional member of the Society of Women Engineers must pay $120.00 for her first year's dues; a new student member pays only $20.00. A first year member of the American Psychological Association pays $62.00, while an undergraduate student member pays $27.00. Dues for new professional members of the Association for Computing Machinery are $99.00, and student dues are $42.00.

More Reasons to Join
Even at cheaper rates, when you're already paying for tuition and books, you might think it's not worth adding membership dues to your expenses. So why should you? An often-stated reason is that it will look good on a resume, but there's so much more that you can gain from joining a professional organization.

- Scholarships
Your membership dues could be returned and then some if your organization has its own members-only scholarship program. The Council for Exceptional Children offers several scholarship awards to junior, senior and graduate
members. Kappa Delta Pi, an honor society for future educators, also offers scholarships for all levels of college education. Scholarship information is usually available in organizational publications and Web sites.

- Publications
Some memberships include free publications while others offer discounted rates on their magazines, journals or books. These publications will help you stay abreast of the latest developments in your field, and they might even help you with class assignments. Why go to the library or search online when you have the journal delivered right to your home? Certainly, there's little time for leisure reading when you're immersed in schoolwork, but think of how great it will sound in a future interview when you can reference the leading publication in your field.

- Online Benefits
Almost if not every professional organization has a presence on the Web, and many of these Web sites have special members-only areas that increase their value. For instance, there might be a members-only job board or members-only access to a magazine. List-servs and Web site message boards create a sense of community among current and future professionals in a field. For instance, the National Council of Teachers of English has a list-serv that creates dialogue focusing on everything from concrete teaching ideas to theoretical discussions of reading and writing instruction. List-servs and message boards can be a valuable part of any student's professional development. While you want to make sure you're following any posted rules like replying directly to an individual member rather than the entire group when appropriate, don't be afraid of joining the conversation. Online communities are typically welcoming and you will find colleagues who value your fresh perspective.


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