Alumni networks are vital for prospective and current students at U.S. higher education institutions.
Alumni networks are a long-standing tradition of educational institutions in the United States. They instill a sense of pride and belonging in the members and others associated with universities, often playing the role of extended families. They also have an enabling impact on the professional trajectory of students and other stakeholders.
While alumni networks have a wide-reaching effect, they create a lasting impact on three primary stakeholders: current and prospective students, the institution and the alumni themselves.
Current and prospective students
Create opportunities for engagement: Alumni networks provide opportunities for student engagement through mentoring programs, networking events and information sessions on U.S. higher education. Anirudh Suri, president of the Harvard Club of India in New Delhi, says, “We are very active as a club. We organize one Young Harvard event each year, where prospective students, current students, faculty and alumni of Harvard University come together to spend time with each other.” Suri adds that they are active on social media platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn. “Current and prospective students often reach out to us with queries. We also typically host a Q&A session for all admitted students in April or May to help them make their decisions.”
Enhance career prospects: Many graduates rely on their alumni groups to direct them to new career opportunities and for advice, subject matter expertise and insights on various aspects of professional opportunities. A strong network can help these students make the right connections and decisions.
Build cultural ethos: Alumni associations foster a sense of belonging to a community of students with shared experiences. Suri says, “The club [Harvard Club of India] ensures that our alumni build strong formal as well as informal bonds with each other, so that the camaraderie we all shared with each other at the university continues here in India as well.”
Be brand ambassadors and key influencers: Alumni have a strong connection with their universities. Therefore, they are likely to be champions for their universities’ offerings, philosophy, culture and values.
Assist in recruitment efforts: Alumni aid in the universities’ recruitment efforts by accompanying representatives at events, conducting student interviews and meeting students at admission receptions. For example, the Alumni Association of Princeton University conducts interviews for student applicants and organizes a send-off party for their admitted students. Nisha Berlia, president of the MIT Club of New Delhi, says, “For the last two years, we have been having a summer send-off. Many of our alumni are mentors whom prospective students can reach out to through an official MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] program.”
Raise funds: Alumni have the potential to be benefactors by helping institutions with endowments. Many specialized centers of learning at universities are named after alumni who have made significant contributions to their establishment and enhancement. Additionally, alumni associations can support their universities as influencers in raising funds for scholarships and grants.
Create opportunities for continued learning: Some well-established alumni networks provide learning opportunities for professional development of their members through university-organized programs and workshops. Suri provides an apt example of this: “The club [Harvard Club of India] serves as a platform for faculty members visiting India to meet and share their research and work with alumni as well as other relevant bodies. We also serve as a platform for alumni to contribute to Indian society more actively. We do this by engaging with the executive, judicial and legislative arms of the Government of India. We hold events with speakers from these institutions as well as provide policy inputs where appropriate.”
Increase social and professional involvement: Alumni networks provide ample opportunities for social and professional engagement. They organize events and engage in administrative and policy-building committees, as well as alumni boards.
Best practices from EducationUSA India
EducationUSA, the U.S. Department of State’s network of international student advising centers, has a unique opportunity to work closely with alumni and alumni networks. Here are some of the best practices from its collaborations.
• Alumni fairs with diplomats from the U.S. Mission in India.
• Mentoring sessions with current students and alumni.
• Panel discussions at pre-departure orientations.
• Special sessions with alumni who have settled in India.
• Meets with U.S. university alumni chapters.
These platforms provide opportunities for alumni associations to spread awareness about their role, promote their universities, engage with students, discuss their challenges and share best practices.
Best practices from alumni chapters in India
• Regular newsletters or emails.
• Events and talks by speakers.
• Connections via social media platforms.
• Alumni-led sessions for Indian students.
• Inclusion of spouses in activities.
• Scheduled events on weekends.
Although alumni face time and geographical constraints, owing to the demands of their professional and personal lives, they are committed to seeking innovative ways to engage with other members and students. As Suri sums it up: “These associations can play an integral role in keeping the alumni engaged with their university, current and prospective students, as well as fellow alumni. Alumni associations, in that sense, play a nodal role of connecting various parts of the university with each other.”
Aastha Virk Singh is an EducationUSA Adviser at U.S.-India Educational Foundation (USIEF).