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Network Your Way Into Grad School

The value of a strong social and professional network is hard to overestimate, especially in the nonprofit sector. Making connections and building relationships are also key as you pursue graduate school. You’ll want to tap your network for everything from:

  • Identifying programs and schools that might be a good fit for you
  • Writing letters of recommendation
  • Facilitating alumni connections
  • Looking out for scholarship opportunities
  • Navigating professional options after graduate school
  • A sounding board to help you find what program is the right next step for you

As you think about these potential supports and how you may want to build your network as you set your sights to graduate school, consider the people who are likely already in your network:

  • Classmates
  • Colleagues and supervisors
  • Professors and teaching assistants
  • Campus staff: career center, service-learning, student life, and others
  • Alumni of your undergraduate institution
  • Family and friends

Use your existing network to help build your network further. As you share your intentions about grad school, ask about thoughts or resources they might have. You never know, your aunt might know a prominent alumni at your graduate school of choice and your undergraduate professor may have colleagues in your program of interest.

In a lot of ways, networking is just a fancy way of referring to building relationships, and communication is critical. To help you build existing relationships and create new connections, here are a couple strategies to keep in mind:

  • Be punctual and responsive. Especially when making new connections, make it as easy for the person you’re connecting with as possible. If you’re meeting in person or chatting on the phone, take being on time seriously. Additionally, be sure to reply promptly to all emails. If you’re looking for some additional support for networking through email, be sure to take a look at this post from Idealist Careers.
  • Take time to cultivate a genuine relationship. Ask questions to learn as much as you can about the work, interests, and experience of the person you’re meeting with.
  • Serve as a resource for others. Networking isn’t often a one way street. Be sure to let your network know about projects, job openings, and other opportunities that may be of interest to them.
  • Be clear about your interests and how you’re hoping to connect. Others will be most able to support you if they know what you need. They will also be better able to potentially direct you to other people or resources if they are not able to help you directly.
  • Respect other’s time. As you meet with people, be thoughtful about the time you’re taking out of their day and allow ample time to complete any requests you might have of them like writing recommendation letters.
  • Express Gratitude. Make sure to thank your network and those who help you as you prepare for graduate school. A simple email or card after a meeting or connection can go a long way.

We wish you all the best as you continue to build your network and leverage it to help with your graduate school pursuits!