How To Network In College: Making Connections Before You Graduate

This article was originally written by Meghan Gallagher and published on Forbes Advisor.

The connections you make in college can be just as valuable as the skills you learn and the knowledge you acquire. Knowing how to network in college can mean the difference between finding a full-time job after graduation and scrambling to find one on your own. You never know who can be instrumental in connecting you to your ideal employer or mentor.

Networking skills aren’t often taught in the classroom alongside your labs and lectures. However, there are ways to form a network in college to benefit you in the future.

Why You Should Network in College

Between classes, clubs and social activities, a college student’s time is precious. Networking isn’t top of mind for many learners, but it can be essential to the post-graduation job hunt.

Students who learn how to network in college can graduate with a wealth of connections—both “strong ties” and “weak ties”—to boost their professional careers. Think about networking as setting yourself up for future success. A larger network provides more contacts who can help you find your ideal job after graduation.

The benefits of networking may not be immediately obvious. Over time, however, your network of both strong and weak ties can be a critical resource as you consider which entry-level position to pursue or if you are curious about what it’s like to work at any particular organization.

Benefits of College Networking

Generally speaking, your connections want to help you succeed. Your network can provide valuable insight into careers within your field of study, along with application tips and leads for jobs that aren’t yet publicly listed. A connection might even become a mentor who can support you throughout your career.

Networking also creates a support system. Remember that your network extends beyond the job search. This community of people encourages each other and shares information.

Consider what you can learn from your network, along with what you can offer. Even as a college student, you have strengths and insights to share.

Networking also allows you to hone your soft skills. The more you practice networking, the more you can refine your communication, relationship-building and critical thinking skills to stand out to future employers.

How to Network in College

Let’s jump into some practical advice to help you start building your professional network while still in college.

Introduce Yourself at Events

Colleges seem to put on an abundance of events each week for students, faculty and alumni. Go online and find a copy of your school’s events calendar, and keep an eye out for opportunities to meet alumni, guest speakers and campus recruiters.

At an event—whether it’s a career fair or a roundtable discussion—consider approaching someone you have an interest in developing a professional connection with and introducing yourself. This might be intimidating, but it’s an essential part of networking. The more you practice introducing yourself at events, the more confidence you build.

Join a Club

Universities typically feature lengthy lists of clubs and activities for learners to join. Choose one that is enjoyable for you and allows you to connect with other students, club alumni and advisors (often professors). On-campus groups allow you to make new connections with your peers from a variety of majors and practice team-building and other networking skills.

Reach Out to Your Career Center

Your university’s career center exists to help you improve your resume, practice interviewing, form connections and find the right job for you. Make an appointment to stop by and chat with someone at your college’s career center to gain insight into your future career and, of course, network.

Career centers often keep tabs on alumni and can help students make key introductions. It’s best to connect with your career center early before you need to start applying to jobs.

Update Your Online Networking Profiles

What does your online presence say about you? Your online profiles are essential to effective networking. LinkedIn provides ample opportunities to connect and stay in touch with people you’ve met in person. Through LinkedIn, you can also reach out and make new connections of your own.

Make sure your profile has a professional, updated photo and lists your current interests, career goals and relevant qualifications. This information helps your connections better understand who you are and the types of positions you’re hoping to find. Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, too.

Remember to Stay in Touch

After you meet a new connection at an event or through an introduction from career services, make a note to follow up. Networking is not a one-and-done effort. As with any relationship, once you meet a new connection, you must put in the effort to maintain it.

Send a thank-you email after your first introduction. Later on, follow up with questions or ask to meet for coffee over video chat or in person. You can also pass along the insights you gain from classes and research to create a two-way flow of information. Maintaining connections takes time, but the benefits far outweigh any temporary costs.

Tips for Networking as a Distance Learner

Online learning increases accessibility and affordability for many college students. And though it can make connecting with your peers and professors a challenge, there are ways to effectively network and build professional relationships while still enrolled in an online program.

Participate in Video Chats

It can be tempting to sit back and mute yourself for an entire course or lecture but don’t be afraid to speak up and engage. Asking questions of a guest speaker or professor is a great way to stand out and start building connections.

You can also initiate video chats and one-on-one conversations with your peers and former program alumni. Video conferencing is becoming more and more common and can expand your network far beyond a college campus.

Meet Your Peers in Person

Some colleges and college programs don’t have physical classrooms, but you can still make connections in person. Use your career services office or LinkedIn search to find alumni or current students in your local area.

Your peers also extend to professionals and students who don’t attend your college but share your interests or career aspirations. Consider setting up group meetings to talk about how you can support each other in your studies and job searches. You might even ask local alumni to help mentor your group.

Establish a Presence Online

For online students, establishing an online presence is a critical networking tool. Online profiles provide an easy way for others in your network to get to know you. Try posting regularly on LinkedIn or sharing insights from your studies or personal research.

You can also use online social networks to learn about the latest advances in your field and to follow key influencers and industry experts. LinkedIn has a plethora of built-in professional groups you can request to join based on your interests and career goals.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Networking in College

Is networking important in college?

Yes, building a network in college can help you find a job before or after graduation and excel in your career of choice.

How do I network in online college?

Networking online can be just as beneficial as networking on campus. Prioritize interacting in class, connecting with your peers both online and in person and building a strong professional online presence.

How do you network as a first-year?

As a first-year student, you’re still a few years away from full-time employment. Focus on building relationships with your peers and professors during your first few years in college. Join clubs and activities, and get to know other students in your major.

By Alice Song
Alice Song Career Advisor