Why You Need to Network in School as an Adult Student

The average 18-year-old may find it hard to imagine life beyond their college existence, but adult students know better. Older students often have experiences and priorities that their younger classmates simply don’t, including family, financial concerns, and pressing career obligations. No matter what they look like to you now (baby birds about to leave the nest?), these kids are getting the same degree experience you are—and there’s a good chance they’ll be your competition or even colleagues down the road. You'll have an edge if you start networking while you're in school.

School is the place where students often meet their professional soulmates. As a nontraditional student, it can seem like you’re on the outside when it comes to this, but keep in mind that your experience and input are more valuable because of your perspective—you just need to apply it wisely.

Here are five ways to network successfully as a nontraditional student:

of 05

Join Campus Groups

Friends enjoying book club
Hill Street Studios / Getty Images

Get involved on campus. Find resources that are directed specifically at nontraditional students. Yale University, for example, has the Eli Whitney Program designed to cater to older students. The program offers resources and ways for students with similar backgrounds to interact and create bonds. Most universities will have some resources for continuing education or nontraditional students. Look for the Office of Extended Learning for resources designed just for you. Remember: there’s strength in numbers.

of 05

Reach Out in a Way that Aligns with Your Experience

mature man helps younger students
urbancow / Getty Images

Joining a frat and being the guy who buys the beer is probably not the best use of your age and experience. However, there are plenty of clubs and associations on campus that you should join. Nontraditional learners are well-suited for many organizations, including those focused on career planning or diversity. Your age will certainly be a boon, and it will give you the gravitas necessary to get into a leadership role relatively easily. Remember, leadership is something that hiring managers look for post-graduation.

of 05

Be the Classroom Hero

group of students working
asiseeit / Getty Images

Another way to network is to be as proactive as possible in group projects. Particularly if you have a lot on your plate at home, encourage your peers to meet and work together in class. Set up (or join) convenient study groups and always do your part of a project diligently. Offer sage advice and even lead when appropriate, but don’t always try to take over a project, as that may be seen as overly aggressive.

of 05

Find the Time

Students in auditorium audience watching presentation
Hero Images / Getty Images

No time? That’s no excuse! Networking is imperative—as important as classes and grades—so make it a priority. If you don’t have much time for extra-curricular activities, focus on a scheduled event that has a finite commitment level and join in steering or organizing. Once the event is over, you will have bonded with classmates without the hassle of long-term meetings. Again, attempt to leverage your age into a leadership role.

of 05

Bond with Your Professors

adult education computer class
sturti / Getty Images

Your professors are the people who have the most pull when it comes to your professional life through recommendations and their s in your chosen field. Don’t forget to connect meaningfully with them. As an older student, it’s more likely that you will have commonalities with your prof—use these to your advantage and get on their good side. That way when handing out the choice internships, your professor may remember you first.

Ultimately, what you get from your college experience is predicated on how much you are committed to it, and that includes your commitment to the people who make up your classes. You may have to make more of an effort to find commonalities with younger students on campus, but it will definitely be worth it in the long run.