Believe it or not, getting into graduate school is not totally composed of your academic records and accomplishments. Though graduate school applicants may focus on the personal statement, resume or transcripts, it is important to note that the value of a solid network is priceless.
Networking sometimes gets a bad reputation –– people confuse making connections with “cheating,” when really, networking is all about building relationships. Many don’t realize they’ve been networking their whole lives, from connecting with professors to peers to roommates.
Here are some tips to help you learn the ins and outs of networking, and how to build up the skill that can carry you through the graduate school application process.
Networking is of crucial importance to your professional career. Whether you choose to acknowledge this or not, a large percentage of professional success can come from connections and knowing the right people, and Virginia Tech is known for its solid networking.
Networking can lead to a plethora of opportunities and open doors, so it pays off to know the right people –– whether it’s a professor in a your targeted graduate program or your mom’s best friend’s cousin, who is an executive in your targeted career field.
Networking with faculty is crucial if you plan on submitting solid letters of recommendation. Most graduate school programs require you to submit more than one letter, with at least one being academic. Is there a professor who teaches a class in your field that you truly enjoy? Here’s a tip: stop by their office hours a few times, get to know the professor and ask any questions you have about a career path in the field you’re interested in. If you get to know the professor well enough, you may earn an awesome letter of recommendation. Creating a strong connection with faculty in your chosen field can truly increase the quality of your letters of recommendation.
If you plan on using your campus resources to network, there are a few do’s and don’ts of networking you need to keep in mind. Remember, shyness and nerves are your enemy –– going out of your way to make a strong connection with someone takes confidence and guts. Leave your nerves at home, and just go for it. The worst the person can do is turn you away.
If you plan to meet someone you have a connection with, don’t just drop in unannounced and ask for a letter of recommendation. Send an email, call, do at least something before you show up in their office and ask for a huge favor.
Do not abuse the connection, don’t name drop to better yourself (you’re not really helping yourself out) and don’t over-contact your connection. The do’s and don’ts of building a strong network are simple: just be respectful.
There’s a chance that you are seeking a more isolated graduate degree program and you don’t have many local experts in the field to speak with. This is an opportunity for you to broaden your social media network.
LinkedIn is a great resource for graduate students. Not only can you connect with peers and potential employers, but you can use LinkedIn as resource to research graduate school programs.
The next time you find yourself on LinkedIn, try searching your priority graduate school and follow the page. If the page allows you to see any mutual friends who are currently enrolled or have graduated from the program, you’ve hit the “grad school advice” jackpot. Is an older high school friend of yours a graduate of your targeted grad school program? Shoot them a message, say hello, ask your questions! Having a connection who understands the struggle of applying to grad school may lessen your nerves –– plus, you have the relief of receiving answers to all of your pressing questions.
Networking doesn’t happen overnight, and building relationships takes time. An excessive amount of forwardness can make anyone feel uncomfortable. As you are working on your graduate school applications, now is the perfect time to craft relationships with those that can help you in the future.
At the end of the day, networking isn't that difficult –– it’s making the best situation possible out of who you already know. If you enhance your networking skills, you have the ability to build a strong connection with a total stranger.
Take advantage of Virginia Tech’s abundance of faculty, students and alumni, and craft some worthwhile connections while you can. Hopefully, by the time you’ve been accepted to your dream graduate school program, you have a slew of connections with people who genuinely want you to succeed.