4 Ways to Make the Most of Your College Experience: After You've Graduated
Did you finish college?
Did you finish college? Feeling overwhelmed? Don't know what your next step is? Not a problem, your college is here to help.
This article is for those who graduated college. Everyone is welcome here but college students and graduates will be most familiar with the terms I'll be using and will be able to put these ideas into action immediately. Also, this isn't age specific. Whether you're 20 or 90, you'll learn something.
Also, I went to Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Because it's the only school I went to, I'll use it as an example. But this isn't about me, this is about you. This is your life. Live it! Take what's yours! Yeah!
Congratulations! You are now an alum
This is quite an accomplishment. At the same time let's not forget that, according to Wikipedia, 30.44% of Americans above the age of 25 also have their BA. That's a lot of competition career-wise and your career is how you pay the bills. Don't forget that there are other parts of your life to figure out. Now don't worry, your college is here to help. It offers resources not only to current students but alumni as well. Hey, that's you!
But wait, you've had enough of school. It wasn't easy. They've gouged you with high tuition fees, high textbook prices and high-interest student loans you'll be paying for the next 20 years! Every email you get from them, they're asking you to donate money or they're telling you about some other alum who got rich in the bio-nano-pharmo-techno-yadda-yadda field. You've had enough of that. You've been at the starting line for too long and the last thing you want to do is look back.
Not cool. What you don't understand is that what you paid for did not stop at your education. In fact, your degree is only the beginning. As an alum, you are a member of an elite club. No matter the prestige or the size of your school, this club is very exclusive and only a very few will ever be in it. You are among them and you're in forever. But the longer you hang on to that bitter, "my college was a rip off" attitude the harder it will be to appreciate the perks of your club.
So, keep reading. We'll go through just a few of the benefits your club has for you.
Your alumni association
There is a very important reason that your college wants to keep in touch with you: to ask you for money. Your college days are over, you’ve paid your tuition but you can relive some of that school spirit with as big a donation as possible. Give ’til it hurts.
Fine, but now there’s a very important reason you want to keep in touch with them: so you can get all the benefits of your alumni association. Let them give ’til it hurts. Enjoy because your club is there for you!
If “alumni association” sounds unfamiliar, then your school probably calls it something else. It will be “something alumni” or “alumni something.” At my college, it's called the Rutgers Alumni Association. Your college will be large enough to have an alumni association department; it might even have its own building. Either way, you start there.
Again, the mission of the alumni association is to keep in touch with you. They want you to remember them when it’s time to donate to charity or write your will. In the meantime, they’ll send you a calendar or pen or maybe name a building after you. It’s all relative.
As soon as you finish reading this article go to your college’s website and find the alumni section. A link should be on the homepage but it won’t be screaming out at you.
Once there, wander around and see what benefits you get automatically just for being an alumnus. If some aren’t clear or you want to make sure you’re not dreaming then find the phone number to the department and call them. Anyone who picks up is your new friend!
If you live far from school don’t worry because your club hasn’t let you down. You have your own benefits so keep reading.
Your professors: they still work there.
You remember your professors, right? Every one of them made their mark and you'll carry that with you forever. Guess what? They still work there! Their hours are weird but they haven't gone anywhere. Their office hours aren't always jam-packed busy.
So call them, the ones you were closest to. Email might be better if you're shy. If it's been more than a semester, remind them who you are. Give them an update on what's going on. Ask them how they're doing. If you don't have any contact information, call your university and ask for the department number. Call the department and ask for the professor's number or email address and his/her office hours.
But why? This is creepy. It's clingy. Part of it is networking. They might know a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy, who needs a part-time writer or researcher. It won't pay a lot but it will keep you busy for a few months and you'll get a lot of experience. It's not guaranteed but you'd be surprised with what you come up with. Also, if they can spare a few minutes to talk on the phone or by email, there's no reason why they can't spare a few minutes to put together a letter of recommendation for you.
If you're already working, another part is just to take a break from everyday life. Talking about the things you were interested in while in college might wake you up. You might feel refreshed thinking about something outside the routine. One really cool surprise for me was when one of them gave me a book he started using in a class he taught. It was very good and I never would have heard about it without him. I've included the link below if you're interested.
The advantage here is that it doesn't matter where you live. If you're thousands of miles overseas, you can still call or email them. One disadvantage is that it has a shelf-life. If you're still contacting your undergraduate college professors twice a week, ten years after you've graduated, it might be time to move on. Another one is that you have to respect their space. Just because they teach a few classes a semester doesn't mean they aren't busy with research in their fields, wearing a fedora hat and armed with a bull whip.
For me, I wasn't able to do this as much because I joined the Army a few months after I graduated. Once I got out 4 years later, they barely remembered me. They were friendly but after we caught up with each other there was nothing to talk about. One plus was that they told me how much I've changed since I've graduated. Well, at least they didn't pummel me with what they really thought of the latest war.
Your campus facilities: you paid for them!
Remember when you first visited your school? Remember that first campus tour? You probably went with your parents. Everyone was impressed by the stadium, the student center, the ivy-covered buildings and so on. Oh, don't forget that huge gym with Olympic-sized swimming pool or the massive library. Some universities even have museums.
Hey, guess what? You still have access to all that! So walk into any one of them, shoulders back and head high because you're now an alum.
The gym is specifically for students and faculty. However, as an alum, you might be able to use it for free as well. If not, you will have to pay for gym membership but these fees won't be as expensive as those for-profit places. Also these fees will benefit you school. Remember: all alumni have access to the gym in one way or another, hardly any of them know about it and even fewer use it.
If you're like me, you don't need to go to a gym to stay in shape. Or you don't want to embarrass the youngsters with your awesome tether ball skills. If so, then swing by the library. As an alum, you should have all the borrowing privileges of the students. You'll need an alumni library card and a librarian should be able to help you with that.
Unlike your local library the main purpose of your university library is to help undergrads and grad students excel in their fields of study. This means the university library has rare books that are hundreds of years old, specialized research journals that show you what's going on in any particular science and many other resources. This is stuff you can't find in any other library and now it's at your fingertips.
I haven't been able take full advantage of university facilities lately because I'm expat living in Japan. My alma mater is thousands of miles away.
Career resources and career fairs
Like many of us, you probably went for that undergraduate degree to improve your chances of getting a decent job. After all, investing in yourself is the best investment you can make.
When it came to planning my future, I went for internships and letters of recommendation. I avoided those "student career fairs." A cynical side of me always thought they were pointless.
A few dozen companies in different industries gather at the student center. Then hundreds of freshly scrubbed students line up with resumes that all look the same. The students turn in their resumes. People shake hands, engage in small talk and then it's all over. The students go back to the dorms expecting a call from the companies. The companies go back to their offices and skim through the resumes.
Once they have a good idea of what today's soon-to-be college graduates are made of, they toss everything into the circular file. They go to another school: wash, rinse, repeat. A fine Saturday afternoon down the drain.*
No matter how you feel about career fairs for students, it's totally different for alumni. The reason is that every alum is different. Some have had further education, some have job experience in certain fields. Companies who attend these career fairs will see what you are made of and what you have to show for it. Your resume is more interesting to look at for these reasons. Also, there will be fewer people at alumni career fairs for two reasons: many are already employed and most don't even know about them.
All of this means that your resume will get more attention. Companies are serious about hiring experienced workers and are not shy about offering you a job if you have what they want. Whether you have graduated six months ago or ten years ago, if you college is having a career fair for alumni then swing by if you are looking for a new job.
Your school should also have free career counseling. This includes resources in planning your job search, changing your current job or even weighing your options in going back to school. One thing that amazed me is that my school offers private counseling for alumni who want to start their own businesses. If you're interested in starting your own business, one thing you should do is call your alumni association. If they can't help you directly, they'll be happy to recommend someone who can.
Remember, all of this is free!
* I was wrong. I later discovered that there were at least two companies in two different fields that would have been interested in me for my GPA alone. Had I not decided to enlist in the Army so soon after graduation, I'd still be kicking myself for missing those opportunities.
But I don't live near my college!
There's no need to worry. If you're ever in town, you still have access to the campus facilities. Just be sure to contact your alumni association before your visit so they can make the proper arrangements for you.
If there are any alumni events on campus they'll be sure to fill you in as well. If you're anywhere else in the world, you'll find that all the other resources are online or one phone call away.
Don't forget: you've been part of the club since you graduated. You paid your dues up front and now it's time to enjoy the benefits. For more information contact your alumni association. Tell us how it goes in the comment section!