The Importance of College Alumni Networks

Connecting with alumni is a solid investment
Shutterstock 658847998
Photo by fotoinfot/

Each May, hordes of freshly-minted college graduates experience the smack of job search-related anxiety before the Gothic font on their diploma even has a chance to dry. Many proceed to blindly send out an entire forest’s worth of resumes, obsessively update their LinkedIn profile, and — in moments of true desperation — start opening spam emails that invite them to join pyramid schemes. (“Maybe I can make $1,000 a day working from home!”)

Graduates landing the job of their dreams, or even just “a job,” is often determined, in part, by the old cliché of “whom you know.” Outside of those lucky enough to have helpful family connections, most unemployed 22-year-olds only know other unemployed 22-year-olds, which makes networking within their current social circle a rather incestuous and futile exercise. This is why suggesting that students turn to their college’s alumni network is often the best job-hunting maneuver in their limited arsenal.

How Alumni Networks Can Help

To effectively take advantage of alumni networks, your student should work on cultivating meaningful relationships with alumni in his or her potential field throughout his or her college experience. Your student should attend alumni events, contact alums in his or her field, and ask to speak with them about their career paths. Most people will be happy to offer advice to your student.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70-80 percent of all jobs are found through some form of networking. While there are no statistics revealing the exact percentage of college graduates who find employment specifically through alumni connections, it’s safe to assume that the number is sizable. It’s also a logical bet that schools with stronger alumni organizations will offer better networking opportunities than schools with less established or enthusiastic alumni communities.

Identifying a “Strong” Alumni Network

Two primary indicators of institutions with strong alumni networks are sheer size and alumni generosity. Penn State University has the largest dues-paying alumni network in the country, with 172,000 members. Other large universities, such as the University of Illinois, New York University, Purdue University, Indiana University, University of Michigan, Ohio State University and the University of California at Los Angeles have massive numbers of graduates, but judging how connected they are to their alma maters (and therefore to your student, a potential networker) requires additional data.

Identifying institutions with impressive percentages of alumni donors is one way to gauge a sense of connectedness, as well as the network’s “strength.” In this arena, smaller liberal arts schools such as Bates College, Colgate University, Williams College, Middlebury College, Claremont McKenna College, Wabash College and Carleton College lead the way. This can be a more helpful metric than the overall endowment an institution boasts, since that is often determined by a small number of extremely wealthy individuals making multimillion-dollar donations.

Career Services Plays a Huge Role

It can also be helpful for your student to explore a prospective college’s career services webpage for how the school assists current students in connecting with alumni. There should be evidence of upcoming events such as career fairs, mock interviews and speaking engagements involving alumni. Schools recognized as having highly-rated career services departments include Rice University, Harvey Mudd College, Babson College, Dartmouth College, Duke University and the aforementioned Penn State University.

Another question worth asking is whether a given institution’s network has regional, national or international reach. If your student hopes to work in a particular field, or even for a specific company within that field, such considerations can be of critical importance.

During the college selection process, advise your student to give careful consideration to the strength of an alumni network in his or her future career field and geographic region. No matter where your student attends school, connecting with alumni in his or her area of career interest is a solid investment of his or her time and energy that can pay dividends upon graduation.

Dave Bergman, Ed.D., is a co-founder of College Transitions, a team of college planning experts committed to guiding families through the college admissions process. He is also co-author of “The Enlightened College Applicant: A New Approach to the Search and Admissions Process.” Learn more at