I know, I know. You already have enough to think about when looking for the right college. Which school has the best reputation? Which school has a great physics department, offers exciting scholarships, or has really active sororities?
But, have you considered the school’s alumni association? After all, you only attend college for four years, but alumni associations allow you to stay connected to your school long after you leave the campus. They can help you to get your foot in the door when you’re looking for your first job, get you a great deal on tickets to the big game, and even give you the opportunity to make an impact on students embarking on their college career.
The alumni associations mentioned in this article influence the schools they support in a big way, year in and year out. Their general mission is to strengthen the university they represent. Not to discount smaller alumni associations (who can be just as passionate about their alma mater), but the strength of influential associations often comes in the sheer number of members. Large, powerful alumni associations assist their schools in recruiting new students, offer potential students scholarships, develop mentoring relationships with the student body, and often support research or expansion through philanthropic gifts. Alumni associations are critical to the schools they support.
The Perks of Membership
When you volunteer with an alumni association, you have an opportunity to nurture relationships with incoming students, often those who come from low-income families, under-represented groups, or those who are first-generation degree-seekers. These are the types of young people who need the support of mentors and truly benefit from the scholarships powerful alumni associations can offer. Fulfilling opportunities like this—the kind that keep you connected to your university well after graduation—are truly what make joining an alumni association worth it.
Another major perk of joining an alumni association is networking. Statistics show that members of influential alumni associations enjoy the highest employment rates and are some of the highest paid individuals. These powerful networking tools are invaluable to a new graduate or to someone looking to advance in or explore a new career.
The alumni association may be one of the most important tools in your career search belt, perhaps second only to earning a stellar degree. For the new graduate, alumni networks often host career fairs, offer access to career search databases, and may even pair you with a mentor working in the field of your interest. Some associations even offer these perks before you graduate. Some alumni are so committed to their school that they first seek job candidates from their alma mater before considering other candidates. One call from the right alumnus to someone in their network could be just what you need to get your foot in the door.
If your goal is career advancement, you can hone your skills or learn new ones through live or video training or through lifelong learning classes (often for free, or at greatly reduced rates). Powerful alumni associations usually offer career development support as well through resources such as professional development events and career coaching. Your involvement in an alumni association could also give you access to résumé-writing and interview tips.
The value of career help alone makes the cost of membership worth it, but a great alumni association can offer many other perks. Benefits include discounts on tickets to sporting events, university merchandise and apparel, special art exhibits or concerts, and even invitations to speaking events by prominent visiting scholars. Some of the schools in our list are Big 10 schools and they take sporting events seriously. Membership in the alumni association at some schools is a requirement for an alumnus to even be eligible to purchase tickets for certain big games.
Some alumni association members enjoy perks such as once-in-a-lifetime vacations. Most influential alumni associations have robust travel programs, allowing members to travel together to the exotic, the historic, and the luxurious. The list of places you could explore with your alumni association basically spans the globe, including off-the-beaten path destinations such as Morocco, the Antarctic, Tanzania, and the Swiss Alps.
Another oft-overlooked benefits of belonging to a powerful alumni association is accessing the magazines, blogs, and newsletters published by the network itself. These publications provide insights that highlight members’ stories or accomplishments, significant news and happenings at the university, and even information that could be pertinent to your career advancement.
Yes, the list of perks certainly does impress. Many of the alumni associations in this list boast nearly a half million members and are a vital part of the university they support. The most influential association on our list has given over $15 million in philanthropic gifts to its university since 1988. The impact an alumni association has on its university is compelling, but the impact that membership can have on you, the alumni, is the most compelling reason to get involved.
Founded in 1870, Penn State University’s alumni association is the cream of the crop. Its numbers alone are impressive—with 673,845 total alumni. At Penn State, one out of every eight Penn State students belongs to the Blue & White Society, the alumni association’s student membership group.
The Lions are committed to helping young and old alums alike blaze a career path, working towards career advancement, or career change. They host numerous networking events (even one pegged specifically for introverts)!
Alumni get the chance to participate in some incredible mentoring opportunities. FastStart is a program that guides students from African American, Latino, Asian, and Asian/Pacific American backgrounds as they embark on their college career. The valuable relationships formed with these students help to ensure that they get the right start and can receive guidance during their first crucial year of college, when they need it most.
Members of the alumni association may also partake of a long list of perks, including priority access to many Penn State events, discounts on Penn State merchandise, travel, and insurance.
In 1854, a fire devastated IU and a group of alumni worked together to help rebuild the school. As a result, the Indiana University Alumni Association (IUAA) was founded during the rebuilding. Today, that association numbers 650,000+.
The IUAA touts that it offers hundreds of opportunities to get involved each year. No matter where an IU alumnus lives, there is likely a chapter or group to join. With 160 chapters and groups that span the globe, the choices are extensive.
Another valuable benefit for members are IUAA career services. The alumni association hosts live career coaching sessions near IU and at several cities around the US. It also offers webcasts scheduled throughout the year focused on various topics. Members can also take advantage of discounted career coaching.
The IUAA values scholarships for incoming students. Students can apply for scholarships if they are children of IUAA members. There are also scholarships for attending a specific campus, living within a specific region, working towards a degree within a specific school, or claiming an interest or connection to a specific group.
3University of Michigan
The University of Michigan Alumni Association, founded in 1892 and claiming 575,000 members today, personally tailors career development events, resources, and services to their members. In addition, they maintain a job board and can assist with interview preparation.
Globe-trotting travel opportunities are plentiful to Wolverine alumni, but sometimes, staying close to home is appealing. Camp Michigania Walloon on Lake Michigan and Camp Michigania East in the Adirondacks, purchased by the Alumni Association in 1961 and 1973 respectively, are beautiful family vacation destinations reserved just for alumni and their families.
Of course, the University of Michigan is a Big 10 school, and attending a Wolverines sporting event is one you’ll likely never forget. The alumni association organizes away games and Bowl Tours for its members. They offer travel and game packages (including chartered flights, hotel reservations, and a specially reserved stadium section for alumni).
Members also receive perks such as discounts on all types of insurance, U of M apparel, and an exclusive program that allows members to purchase Ford or Lincoln vehicles at discounted prices.
Founded in 1925, UCLA’s alumni association offers a unique tiered approach to participation for its 530,000 members. The list of benefits is appealing at the most basic level of membership but becomes even more generous with each increasing level. Some of the perks include access to a university-owned family resort, career counseling, discounts on all types of insurance, and up to a fifty percent discount off sports season tickets.
The alumni association also offers a considerable array of career resources. UCLA One, an online career support site, launched in 2016, and gained 1,600 volunteer mentors in its first ten days. The site contains a job-search database, career advice, networking, and mentorship opportunities. In the first year, more than 650 mentor-mentee matches were made on the site.
Speaking of networking, the alumni association boasts more than 900 opportunities to connect to other Bruins each year through its regional networks. Another type of networking, watching the Bruins play football and basketball, also happens at more than forty-five designated locations across the United States.
According to Alumni President and CEO Jim Smith, the Buckeyes alumni are “risk-takers and innovators. Dreamers and doers.” Indeed, with 550,000 total alumni, the Ohio State Alumni are a force to be reckoned with.
More than 200 Ohio State Alumni Clubs and 50 alumni societies organize hundreds of events each year focusing on community service, continuing education, or networking.
Alumni Career Management at Ohio State offers career consultants, a career management blog, career-related events, and Alumnifire, an online networking tool alumni can use for mentoring and career advice.
Ohio State Alumni may choose to become Buckeye Advocates, a group of individuals who work to change legislation and public policy regarding education challenges in Ohio.
The Cal Alumni Association (CAA) at UC–Berkeley brings a force of close to 500,000 alumni, and more than 90 chapters and communities around the country.
The Berkeley Network, the career management leg of the CAA, provides opportunities to connect with current students through career-specific networking events and externship programs.
Career advancement networking events, training webinars, and corporate partnerships with select companies highlight the career resources benefits that come with membership.
The CAA awards over 750 students with scholarships totaling over $2 million each year.
In addition to many travel destinations offered through Cal Discoveries, alumni can vacation at a unique family camp called Lair of the Golden Bear, located in the beautiful Sierra Nevada Mountains.
The eighth oldest university in the United States, Rutgers celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. That’s a claim few schools can make.
With such a long and celebrated past, the Rutgers Alumni Association takes great pride in its school, demonstrated best through its robust membership—at roughly 486,000— and its considerable philanthropic giving. One great example of the latter is Rutgers Giving Day, the last of which was held in November 2016. The goal during this one day of giving was 5,000 donors, but they surpassed their goal and reached 6,143 donors, raising a total of $1,272,082. Wow! The third-annual Rutgers Giving Day is scheduled for March 2018.
Another example of philanthropic giving just occurred this past November, when Nancy Ruyle donated the largest single gift ever made to Rutgers. It was a collection of historic artwork valued at $44 million.
Through the alumni association, there are numerous opportunities to perform community service around New Jersey, to recruit students for Rutgers, or to serve as a mentor for current students.
Rutgers alumni also have a variety of online career resources available.
8University of Texas at Austin
The “Texas Exes,” the official name lovingly used for the University of Texas at Austin’s Alumni Association members, number more than 500,000. The association was founded June 18, 1885, and has exuded Texas spirit ever since.
For the 2017–18 academic year, the association will award 650 students $3.9 million in scholarships. That is a powerful alumni association!
One of the unique strengths of the Exes is their commitment to advocacy. The UT Advocates are staunch supporters of the university’s agenda. During the 2017 Texas Legislative session, the Exes successfully advocated against a decline in general funding and for allocations to be restored for critical items.
The Longhorns’ reach is impressive as well. More than 150 Texas Exes chapters and networks span the globe, and more than 1,200 chapter and network events are scheduled worldwide each year.
Founded in 1878 by J.B. Harper, Purdue’s first graduate, the Boilermaker’s pride shows in their alumni association, which numbers more than 479,000 members.
Purdue’s alumni association is the ninth largest dues-paying alumni association in the nation, so the Boilermakers take their giving seriously. Aside from dues, alumni gifts support student programs, homecoming events, career resources, and the school’s vaunted basketball program. The more than seventy-five Purdue Alumni Clubs support their own scholarship funds. In fact, $350,000 in scholarships are awarded to more than 250 students each year.
Purdue’s Center for Career Opportunities (CCO) is one of the most powerful reasons for joining the alumni association. The CCO offers in-person access to its consultants, full access to any workshops they offer, and an open invitation to any job fairs they host.
10New York University
NYU’s alumni association boasts some clever and effective giving campaigns. NYU was founded in 1831, so the alumni association asks that each of its 470,000 members donate at least $18.31. In 2017, this campaign raised a total of over $45,000— all of it going to scholarships. Similarly, the 2010 fund (to benefit students at NYU–Abu Dhabi) and the 2013 fund (to benefit students at NYU–Shanghai), ask for $20.10 and $20.13 respectively.
Not to discount these campaigns, but the Momentum Scholarship campaign aims to raise an amazing $1 billion to allow the university to admit more students who otherwise couldn’t afford to attend NYU. Twenty-two percent of their students receive Pell Grants, a high percentage compared to their endowment amount per student.
Career resources for members are numerous. The NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development provides thirty-minute and drop-in career coaching appointments, access to NYU CareerNet (online job search and career-resources portal), and alumni-centric career seminars for their members.
The Association of Former Students—the Aggie’s Alumni Association—was founded in 1879. The association, 436,000 members strong, enjoys a large base of donor support. 53,879 members gave $12,528,787 in 2016. The funds cover things like student activities, faculty enrichment, scholarships, and former student services.
The alumni association also boasts an worthy array of career services benefits, which include career consultations, résumé help, and a career-help website called HireAggies.
Members of The Association of Former Students can also participate in a program called the Texas A&M Advocacy Network. This group advocates on policies and issues that impact Texas A&M directly and higher education in the state of Texas generally.
12University of Wisconsin–Madison
The University of Wisconsin’s alumni association, the WAA, was founded in 1861 and has more than 435,000 members. Their influence is best evidenced by alumni chapters in more than seventy-five cities.
The WAA has organized a Red Shirt campaign since 2008. These shirts sport a new design every year and are sold prior to homecoming. Proceeds from sales go to the Great People Scholarship, a fund to help deserving students. To date, 51,000 Red Shirts have been sold, raising $280,000 and assisting 159 students through scholarships, each averaging just over $4,400.
The alumni network’s career resources include networking events, mentoring opportunities, job boards, and a networking tool called Badger Bridge, which is open for members to connect with other alumni, ask for career advice, or help with making a career change.
As a student body, UW also takes volunteering seriously. In fact, the school ranks second in sending volunteers to the Peace Corps, just behind UC–Berkeley. That passion is shared by the school’s alumni, who have opportunities to mentor, participate in fundraising for scholarships and events, or volunteer with a specific department or college.
The WAA also gifted Alumni Park to the University, which officially opened Oct. 6, 2017. This green space is located at the lake entryway of the campus.
13University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign
The community surrounding the University of Illinois has a lot of pride in its Fighting Illini. This much is evident on the university’s alumni association website, where alumni and campus stories feature prominently. The association, founded in 1873, proudly claims 425,000 members in its network.
The Illinois Connection Advocacy Network, whose aim is to positively affect state, national, and world legislation relating to higher education, hopes to reach 100,000 members by 2018. The Illinois Connection Fund was established by the alumni association to help support and promote the University’s legislative agenda.
The Explorers Alumni Travel Program has sent members on incredible vacations for fifty years.
The University of Florida Alumni Association (UFAA), founded in 1906, is a force to be reckoned with. With more than 413,000 members, the association maintains close to 100 Gator Clubs in more than 150 countries around the world. The clubs assist with student recruiting and provide over $400,000 in scholarships to more than 300 students each year.
The UFAA’s career resources tool, called the Mentor Match program, is exclusive to UFAA members. It matches mentors and mentees through a four-step matching profile process, allowing them to share experiences and career advice.
Members also enjoy an array of perks and discounts on everything from free art museum memberships to thirty percent off Dell computers to discounted dental plans. The buying power of 400,000+ members shows.
According to the ASU Alumni website, three principles guide everything that the association does: “honoring traditions, advancing the university, and enhancing the alumni experience.” Founded in 1894 and boasting more than 400,000 members, the Sun Devils network certainly cultivates pride in this innovative educational institution.
All alumni can take advantage of a wide number of career resources including interviewing tips, cover letter and résumé resources, career fairs, webinars, and access to a career-search database called Handshake.
The ASU Alumni Association will play a crucial role in a critical fundraising campaign called Campaign ASU 2020. The goal of this campaign is to raise $1.5 billion. The donations will fund scholarships, faculty research, labs, arts initiatives, ventures in the community, and projects to ensure that students succeed in graduating.
This is our first installment highlighting the contributions and achievements of excellent and influential alumni associations. If you believe your alumni association deserves consideration, we’d love to hear from you. Tell us some of the exciting things your alumni association is doing so we can shine the light on your important work!