What do you think of when someone says the word “college”?
Often the first picture that comes to mind is a college lecture hall. Add a professor, 2 students that actually care, and a whole lot of others that are only there because their parents paid for the class.
That’s one picture of what college is.
But many people who look back on college remember the social life. The image that comes to mind is the one including football games, frat parties, sororities, and dorms full of cool people to hang out with.
So, one of the biggest arguments young people receive in favor of college is, “At least go so you can build your network.” or “Even if you don’t think college is the right option for you, you’ll miss out on the social experience!”
There is a misconception that college is somehow the greatest place to meet people. Even if all other arguments in favor of college are debunked, many hold on to this one.
Sure, college can be a great place to meet friends and gain opportunities, but it’s certainly not the only way.
Reality Check #1: College is not the best place to build your network.
OK, if you want a frat party, you’re probably not going to get it outside college. But if you’re looking to build a network that you can rely on as you grow your career, you need to think outside the frat party.
1. There’s a difference between a horizontal and a vertical network.
A horizontal network is one where everyone is (mostly) similar to you demographically. College is a great example of this. Your best networking potential happens with people your age, in the same class, who live in the same area, like the same football team, have the same friends, and the like. (source)
A vertical network is one that doesn’t face the limitations of age, location, or other common demographics. Often a vertical network consists of people that you are very different from, except for one or two common interests that bind you together.
This kind of network is the one that will benefit you the most in the long run professionally. You have to expand your borders beyond college to build a vertical network.
2.Age is not the best default for grouping people together.
Making the argument that college is a great place to network assumes that age is the best default to grouping people together.
This assumption is simply inaccurate. While you can find much common ground with people your age, your biggest growth potential comes from associating with people much older and younger than you.
3. You can get it all for free!
I love the story of the kid that snuck into the top universities in the country practically for free. He spent several hundred dollars a month and got all the social benefits of college. Considering the fact that full tuition for one year at Yale is $63,250, I don’t think he did too bad.
If you’re not so adventurous, there are plenty of other ways to build your network. You’ll still have to put grit into the game, but that’s worth not spending a fortune just for social life.
Reality Check #2: There are many other ways to build a strong professional network
College is definitely an avenue for building a network. However, it’s definitely not worth the thousands of dollars it costs. Here are alternative ways that you can expand your network today, for a much better price!
There are conferences for every interest you could possibly have.
These events are concentrated times where you can focus on learning as much as possible about a specific interest in a short time.
Besides, you’ll meet a bunch of cool people that are sure to share a common interest as you. They’ll be all ages and from all backgrounds, a great place to build your vertical network!
Engage in social networks related to your interests.
Facebook and Linkedin Groups. GitHub. Twitter Chats.
Have a musical leaning? Join creative groups and have them critique your work.
Love philosophy? Social networks are buzzing with people that love discussing big ideas.
In short, there are hundreds of networking opportunities available on networks you already use every day!
Find things to do in your city.
Willing to do a little work? Volunteer at a central location, like a library. Chances are, you’ll strike up a good conversation with plenty of intellectual individuals who love talking to a motivated, curious young person!
Actually, volunteer for anything that you’re passionate about. You’ll make dozens of connections and establish yourself by doing free work.
Check out local festivals and art galleries. Attend musical events you enjoy.
Become a tour guide for your city. This will help you meet people you’d otherwise never interact with. Additionally, you’ll get to know your city better as you answer the questions of people who have never seen it.
Help people out.
You have plenty of people that you already know. You may be surprised where an opportunity may come from later on! For now, be the guy that is always ready to help out.
Think of little things that make people’s day and do them. Again, free work will bring you many opportunities if you’re willing to hustle!
Send thank you notes.
After every call, every meeting, every coffee date, be the person to say thank you.
It can be a quick text or email. Or a postcard out of the blue.
Showing you appreciate the little things will set you apart from other people when it comes time for a professional recommendation.
Do cool stuff.
You can put lots of energy into building a strong network, but in the end, your opportunities will come if you’re consistently, constantly creating.
Bonus: You can access this all by working at a startup.
Did you know there is an avenue where you can access all this networking potential?
Startup culture is one of constant creation. No matter what stage you are at in your career, you can learn something new every day at a startup.
Startups are also on the front lines of the newest, coolest advancements in technology. Some of the greatest thinkers and innovators of today are heavily immersed in startup culture today- what better avenue for networking?
At a startup, you’ll attend conferences for work and build your vertical network. Chances are, your coworkers are going to be some of your strongest connections as you advance in your career. Why not start early and begin building those relationships?
Besides, at a startup you’ll build your network while getting paid. That’s much better than paying thousands in tuition to access a network.
So what are you waiting for? If you want to land a cool job at a startup today, apply to Praxis! We’ll put you through a professional boot camp and land you an apprentice at a tech startup, where you can experience the massive networking potential there for yourself!