One of the most valuable aspects of college is the common ground that your experience will provide is to form bonds. For the rest of your life, if you see someone wearing your school’s logo at an airport or see the name on a car passing you on the highway, you will feel an intrinsic link to that person. Later in life, these relationships with fellow students can assist you in your job search, but you do not have to wait until after graduation to take advantage of your school’s alumni network. In fact, you don’t even have to wait until you enter school. Often, alumni are one of the best resources to consider when applying to a school.

Think of it this way: if you were going to buy a car, would you rather hear about it from the seller or someone who bought the same car? Nine times out of ten, you’d choose the latter, because the seller has the clear end goal of getting you in the car. Not that colleges and car salesmen are a direct comparison, but there are similarities in that both are trying to put their “product” in the best light possible. That being said, those who have actually made the jump to commit to the product will most likely provide a better, more complete view of the college experience, even though all viewpoints are important to consider.

Alumni have walked in your footsteps, starting out as outsiders, working their way through college and gaining a breadth of knowledge along the way that they no longer have everyday use for. They will be more than happy to share their experiences with you, whether it is regarding academics, student life, the weather, or even which water fountains to use. There are plenty of ways to find alumni that will be willing to answer your questions, with many schools providing online directories or referring students upon request, immediately giving proactive students a way to contact those in the know.

There are multiple benefits to contacting and speaking with alumni when applying to a college, in addition to asking of their personal experience. A major key to any college search is getting a general idea of what you will do upon your graduation, and getting a feel as to how your alumni network can help in this process is always a plus. You can ask how a person felt the existing alumni network helped them in their own search as well as building relationships with people in a field you’re interested in. Many schools provide students with a list of alumni to contact during their senior year job search, and having a preexisting contact in this area can be invaluable.

Another bonus is the commitment that taking the time to speak with alumni shows to the school you’re interested in. Colleges tend to lean towards students that demonstrate considerable interest in their school, even if they may rank a bit lower academically than others. Your school of choice is aware that their graduates are busy and would not take the time to speak with someone who was only tangentially interested in enrolling. It can also be a great interview tactic if you choose to speak face to face with a college representative; comparing and elaborating on facts about the school is a great way to show your interest in a school.

Ultimately, alumni networks exist for the express purpose of students helping out those who have the same alma mater. One of the first ways to do this is by reaching out yourself to a graduate, demonstrating both your interest in the school and your willingness to be proactive. Both these traits are vital to all colleges you’ll apply to.

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