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How to network as a college student

Published April 3, 2024| minute read
Dhara Singh

Senior Associate, JPMorgan Chase

    You may have heard your peers, professors, and mentors emphasize the importance of networking in college. Networking, in its essence, is about cultivating and building professional and social connections to help when it comes to advancing your career and for personal development. It may involve exchanging information, ideas, and resources to build mutually beneficial relationships.

    Sounds great, right? However, how do you make these connections, especially when you’re in college, and the idea of networking may be new to you?

    The good news is that there’s not one golden way to network. From attending events to connecting with your professors outside the classroom, there are many ways to meet helpful contacts as a college student that can aid you in a future job search and beyond.

    In this article, we’ll delve into why networking may be beneficial in college and some strategies for networking in this stage in your life.

    Why is networking important in college?

    Even if you’re a star student, sometimes grades may not be enough to appeal to potential employers after you graduate. There’s often a different set of skills needed to get a job than what it takes to perform well in school.

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers found in its 2023 survey that 12% of employers trimmed their entry-level positions for the Class of 2023. This meant fewer candidate openings and increased competition.

    Put all of this together — that the job market may be challenging for new college graduates and that doing well in school may not be enough to land a job — and you may want to consider taking extra steps to succeed in the job market post-graduation.

    Prioritizing networking in college can help you meet mentors, hiring managers, or other helpful professional contacts to prepare to land a job and start building a list of helpful contacts. But the benefits of networking in college won’t end there.

    Some of the benefits of networking in college may include:

    • Career opportunities: Networking with peers, alumni, and professionals can open doors to internships, job offers, and mentorship opportunities. Many people find jobs through networking contacts.
    • Professional development: Engaging with professionals and alumni in your field of interest can provide insights into the industry you’re interested in joining after college. This can enhance your skills and knowledge, potentially making you more competitive in the job market.
    • Mentorship: Building relationships with mentors can be valuable as they can offer guidance, support, and advice on navigating both academic challenges and career decisions. Mentors can also introduce you to their professional networks.
    • Social skills: Networking encourages the development of social skills, such as communication, active listening, and empathy. These skills are essential for building strong, meaningful relationships and are highly valued in the professional world.
    • Confidence building: Regularly interacting with new people and professionals can boost your confidence in social situations, presentations, and interviews. This self-assurance can be beneficial both personally and professionally.
    • Access to resources: Networking can provide access to resources such as books, online courses, workshops, and seminars recommended by peers or professionals, which might not have been discovered otherwise.
    • Support system: Building a network can help to create a support system of individuals who can offer advice, share experiences, and provide encouragement through the college journey and beyond.

    Networking tips for college students

    There’s no one set way to network while you’re a college student. There’s also likely more than one route to expand your professional and social circles. Here are several networking tips for college students like you.

    1. Consider establishing a professional social media presence

    The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that in 2023, social media was among the top three resources the class of 2023 graduates used to conduct a job search.

    By establishing a presence on professional social media sites, you can start to open yourself up to networking opportunities by showcasing your skills, achievements, and professional interests to an audience. Think of it as a digital footprint that makes you discoverable to potential employers, mentors, and peers.

    Many professional social media sites allow you to send messages directly to hiring managers, prospective mentors, and other professionals. This provides you with the opportunity to start reaching out to contacts for informational interviews or more informal coffee chats to start learning more about the industries and jobs you may be interested in pursuing post-college.

    By starting conversations, you may be able to begin increasing your network.

    2. Be prepared with your contact information at all times

    One way to expand and maintain a network is to ensure that the contacts you make know how to contact you.

    This may sound obvious, but you may want to consider having either physical or digital business cards ready. You may only have a fleeting moment to make a contact, and being prepared to help facilitate a follow-up conversation may be helpful.  

    3. Attend college career fairs and events

     A 2023 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that 49% of graduating seniors who attended an in-person career fair got an interview, and 31% received a job offer.

    These events can be valuable to college students looking to network with recruiters and employers to explore industries, discover internship opportunities, or lay the foundation to apply for full-time jobs after college.

    To learn about career fairs and professional networking events at your college or university, you may consider contacting your school’s career center. 

    4. Make connections with professors

    Another way of expanding your network in college is to build relationships with faculty and professors. Though not always, some professors have work experience or are actively working in the industry they teach about. Because of that, they can alert you to open positions or professional contacts that can aid in your job search. 

    Even if that isn’t the case, faculty and professors can act as professional references. Say you’re applying for an entry-level job, and the hiring manager asks you to list three references. In a scenario where you may only have one or two internships under your belt, you may be able to list a relevant professor or faculty member as a reference who can attest to your aptitude.

    Lastly, faculty and professors can be valuable mentors whether they can actively aid you in your job search or not.

    5. Join affinity groups and clubs

    Another avenue for expanding your network while in college and making connections valuable for a job hunt is joining professional clubs and associations. Depending on what career field you wish to join, you may look for clubs or organizations in that niche on campus. Many clubs host networking events and professional development workshops and bring in outside speakers. Often, these organizations bring in alums to speak who may have connections in the industry you’re eyeing, too. 

    What clubs does your school offer? Consider visiting your college’s student center, dean’s office, or school website to gather information.

    6. Nurture your existing connections

    You may already have a professional network as a college student and don’t even know it! This network may include a family friend who works in the industry you want to enter after college, or a cousin who completed an internship program that you’re interested in.

    You may consider contacting these connections, updating them on your current career aspirations and academic goals, and just generally nurturing these helpful connections that could prove beneficial later.

    7. Apply for internships

    One of the ways to expand your network while in college is to pursue internships. Internships are short-term work experiences offered to people at the beginning of their careers (often college students) that can be paid or unpaid.  

    Internships let you sample what a real-life work-life experience looks like in your industry of choice and meet helpful contacts in the process. 

    Nurturing the connections that you make in an internship can be helpful in securing full-time work, finding job openings to apply for, and even securing job recommendations, among many other reasons.

    8. Consider applying to a co-op program

    Besides pursuing internships, you may want to explore co-op programs in college. A co-op, short for cooperative education, is an experience where college students like you can alternate between academic classes and full-time employment. Rather than waiting for popular internship periods such as summer or winter, you work a full-time job for a set number of months alongside your class schedule. 

    These programs may be interesting to you because they often provide an extended time window you can use to make pivotal connections in your field of choice.

    Of note, not all colleges offer these programs, and you may have to apply to participate if your college does offer one.

    9. Build a relationship with your college’s career office

    Your college’s career office may have connections with prospective employers and offer a suite of career preparation resources. By building a relationship with your college's career office and alerting them of your career interests, the more they can advise you on everything from your resume to job interview prep. They may also be able to personally give you a heads-up when a certain company is planning to visit campus or lists a job opening, among other benefits.

    10. Don’t forget to network with your peers

    Networking is going to be important well beyond your college years. During your career, one of your most valuable networks may end up being your college peers. Don’t forget that while you’re in college, it’s important to build relationships with peers who have similar interests and career ambitions to you. These contacts may come in handy after college.

    Final thoughts

    Networking may be an unfamiliar experience for some college students. Taking small steps, such as attending events or building a relationship with your favorite professor, may boost your networking confidence to give you a kick-start.