There were some things I was determined to leave behind after college: All-nighters, pre-exam jitters, on-campus parking wars, and my ramen-and-frozen-veggies budget, to name a few. I was so ready to ditch university life, in fact, that before graduating, I began mapping out my travels to the farthest-away places I could think of — Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea.
After I narrowed down how to travel abroad without going into debt (hello, teaching abroad), I chose to move to South Korea. It was hard not to pack my bags and pretend college was a different lifetime. I loved my university, but I was ready for an adventure.
As much as I was prepared to leave my college life behind, one of my professor’s words rang in my head: Keep. Your. Connections.
Post-college and post-Korea, I’m glad I took his advice. My college connections — professors, counselors, internship managers, and friends — have been stellar references and linked me to potential employers. More importantly, I have a few connections I consider mentors that I can (and have) turned to for career and personal advice.
Even if you’re determined to leave your thesis and dorm room in the past, here are three reasons your college connections are worth putting in the “keep” pile.
1. College connections are first-rate references
You don’t want to use your freshman “Intro to Literature” course professor to try and land a job in finance. But — especially if you’re fresh out of college without an extensive employment history — there’s nothing better than when a college connection and potential job align.
For example, my boyfriend and I recently moved back to the U.S. after living abroad. He just landed his dream gig with a media company, and I’m willing to bet his reference — his old journalism professor, an award-winning journalist and now the director of the mass communications department at the university — didn’t hurt.
The best people to use as references are professors you’ve grown close to and who can speak to your work ethic and personality. Keep an eye out for these types of connection opportunities in college, and be sure to keep in touch by sending an email every now and then or by connecting with them on LinkedIn. You don’t want a potential employer to call your professor about you, only for them to say, “Who’s that?”
2. More connections equals more opportunities
During my senior year of college, I landed a freelance, remote editing opportunity solely because of a connection. I applied to the position through a job website (unaware that my old writing professor was now the hiring boss for the position). Once my old professor recognized my name on the application, she reached out to me and asked if I wanted the job because she knew and trusted my editing work.
While professors, again, can be important assets, so can other types of connections — like club members and leaders. To this day, my best friends from college are the people I met in my advertising classes and through a local advertising club; in fact, I’m having an “Advertising Girls Get-Together” at my house this month.
One of the girls and I, not so happy with the jobs in our area, even made our own weekly meet-up at my place to talk about creating our own business together. (I’ll let you know when we’re rich.)
Another option was joining Greek Life. My roommate loved her sorority, and her sorority sisters helped her with everything from homework to breakup advice. Post-college, I’m sure she has an index of connections to help her find the perfect position. In fact, I’ve read that being in Greek Life can grow your network by 9 million people.
Additionally, your connections have connections. It’s like a connection amoeba!
3. Mentors are indispensable
Another important reason to keep your college connects is to maintain a bevy of mentors.
Although my major was magazine journalism, during college, I flirted with advertising. I made a ton of contacts through elective advertising classes, internships, friends of friends, and that local advertising club I mentioned earlier.
After teaching abroad for two years, I’ve been yearning for a more creative position. The area I’ve moved back to isn’t bubbling with the junior copywriting jobs I’m looking for, so I had to make a decision — take a position outside of advertising or continue freelance writing full-time while I keep an eye out for that golden opportunity. The decision was tough, but I was able to turn to three mentors in executive advertising positions to help me make the decision.
As it turns out, they all had differing opinions.
What a wash, right? But even though my mentors didn’t agree on a single pathway, I feel comfortable knowing that, whichever decision I make, there will be someone in the advertising world who agrees with it.
The bonus reason
The closest connections I’ve fostered in my career and my personal life have proved to be oh-so-important. The simple act of building and maintaining those connections has contributed to the person I’ve become and the goals for the person I want to be — caring, thoughtful, and a good listener.
As I embark on new career path, in a new apartment, in a new city, it’s difficult to recognize my own reflection. I’ve had so many new experiences in such a short time post-college that life as of late feels a bit like a whirlwind.
Sometimes, an old college connection is a powerful reference or is able to point me in the direction of a new career opportunity. But perhaps what’s even better is when I reconnect with an old friend or mentor, and I unexpectedly rediscover an old part of myself, too.