Connect with Alumni to Create Your First Professional Network

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Are you a recent graduate, or planning to finish school soon? Lucky for you, it's never been easier to keep in touch with your college contacts, even those who weren't your best friends. As you're preparing to move forward with your professional lives and potentially wind up in far flung parts of the country, don't miss the opportunity to solidify your student network -- it's an important base on which you'll want to build that can last the rest of your professional life.

Why should you make a point to keep in touch with people, even if you only shared one or two classes?

You never know where your classmates will go from here and how you may be able to help each other in the future. It is possible that you won't reap the best rewards of your college networking for five or ten years. Alternatively, if someone you met in school has contacts at a place where you'd love to network now, your networking can pay off immediately. Regardless, consider your college classmates idea contacts and do whatever necessary to keep in touch with them if you don't want to squander opportunities down the road.

Keep these tips in mind to create a solid base network as you leave college:

1. Use LinkedIn.

This is a "no brainer," and if you have yet to set up your LinkedIn profile, consider yourself behind. As soon as you've read this article, go directly to LinkedIn and create a profile. Click here to find tips to help you make the most of your LinkedIn profile and here to learn what you need to know about privacy on LinkedIn.

Once you have a profile you're proud to share, including a great headline, complete descriptions of your experience and a terrific summary section, think of everyone you know and start to connect.

Luckily, LinkedIn makes this pretty easy, as you can search for people who graduated or attended your school at the same time as you. Follow the toolbar in LinkedIn from Interests: click on Education, select your school. Choose "Students and Alumni" and search based on overlapping years that you attended. If your classmates have been active on LinkedIn, it should be easy to reach out and connect to people who shared classes with you, even if you weren't great friends.

Be sure to click on their profiles and ask to connect from their profile pages directly. This allows you to personalize your message. For example, you may say, "We only shared one or two classes at U of XYZ, but it would be great to stay in touch. I hope you'll want to connect here."

2. Groups on LinkedIn.

If you're lucky, your university already has an active LinkedIn group. You can evaluate who participates in it by clicking into the group and selecting the "i" that appears at the top of the page. When you click the "i," you'll be able to access all kinds of information about the group, including how active the group is and the seniority level of the participants.

3. Get involved.

Most alumni associations offer special programs or discounts for new graduates. Get involved by joining right away and you'll be sure to make the most of your college connections. Not only will you be able to extend existing relationships, but you'll tap directly into the strong camaraderie new grads share with other, very involved leaders in the alumni association. Even if you don't live near your college or university, many schools have local chapters in cities around the country, or around the world, and you can get involved from afar using social media. Seek out these groups and attend their events and meetings.

Don't miss the window of opportunity to get involved in your alumni network as soon as you graduate. You may not know how helpful your fellow alumni may be to your professional career until years from now, but you'll never regret connecting right from the start.
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