What Is an Alumni Association?
From Ivy League universities to state-run colleges to smaller, lesser-known schools, almost all colleges have alumni associations. Sometimes even a department or program within a university has its own association. For example, the University of California Los Angeles school-wide alumni association boasts approximately 535,000 members, but its MBA program has its own association with more than 41,000 members. These groups serve a variety of purposes that benefit the school, the group members, and current and future students.
One of the primary goals of alumni engagement is fundraising. The money collected from alumni often supports important projects, such as research or new structures on campus, and funds scholarships for current students. Associations also contribute to a school's reputation by highlighting the achievements of notable alumni, especially the leaders and innovators.
These groups also provide valuable networking opportunities for members and current students. Most associations hold annual reunions on campus each year, but many of the larger associations form smaller subgroups that meet more frequently. These groups are often organized by location, profession, or other interests.
Members of the PennState Alumni Association, for example, can join local alumni chapters across the U.S. as well as special interest groups for baseball fans, active and veteran military members, and many more. Between meetings, smaller groups often stay in touch through social media.
How Alumni Can Help You Get Into College
If you're just getting started on your college search, you may want to include alumni associations on your list of criteria to research. Alums often get involved in the recruitment process by conducting interviews with applicants and guiding prospective students on campus tours.
If you get — or can create — an opportunity to connect with an alumnus who is actively participating in the selection process, you'll be able to let that person know just how much you'd like to attend their alma mater. If all goes well, the alumnus will put in a good word for you with the admissions committee.
How Alumni Can Help Your College Career
While in school, there are many steps you can take to start positioning yourself for employment after graduation, and alumni can be tremendously helpful here, too. The following actions may contribute to your success:
Ask one or more alumni for an externship. This is an opportunity to follow someone who holds the job or works in the industry you're interested in to see firsthand what their occupation is really like. Externships are ideal for making key decisions about your career path.
Request help in landing an internship. The larger your school's alumni network, the more likely you are to find someone who works for an organization where you'd like to intern. Alumni may be able to identify opportunities and speak to the hiring managers on your behalf.
Invite an alumnus to be your mentor. Through your school's association, you may be able to identify someone who can help you identify your strengths and interests, advise you on decisions about your education, and assist you in launching your career.
How Alumni Can Help You Advance In Your Career
Perhaps the biggest benefit to getting involved with your alumni community is the professional connections you'll make that can lead to jobs — not just your first job out of college but higher positions as you advance in your career, too. Your fellow alumni may be able to introduce you to the right people, and they can attest to the quality of your education. The Harvard Law School Association is just one of many examples of alumni associations known for its members assisting each other with job placement and advancement.
Why You Should Join Your University Alumni Association
Of course, once you graduate and become a new alum, you're eligible to join your school's graduate network. Membership in alumni associations, which may or may not require an annual fee, often entitles associates to special discounts on insurance, travel, and other services. Members may also be able to take advantage of services provided by the school — perhaps at alumni centers — such as career resources and job placement assistance, networking and other alumni events, and professional development activities.
Beyond these benefits, you may find you enjoy giving back to your alma mater through the alumni association. In addition to donating money, you may decide to give of your time by someday helping prospective students just like you.