Education is essential for the ambitious professional — not only because it provides an attractive credential and not just because it enhances a job candidate’s knowledge and skill, but also because it places a professional in an environment ripe for network-building. As the saying goes, your network is your net worth; throughout your career, you will draw support from your personal and professional connections, so you need to invest early and often in the people you know, especially those who are directly connected to your career field.
However, networking is much more difficult when you are attending a degree program online. Online master’s programs are advantageous for many reasons: They are more flexible and convenient, and they are often more affordable. Therefore, if you are interested in engaging with an exclusively online degree program, you need to know the following tips and tricks for network-building in a virtual space:
Take Advantage of “Office Hours”
Even in virtual programs, professors tend to block out time in their schedules to help students from their classes. Called “office hours,” this time is most often used to address confusion or concerns about course materials, but you might consider using some office hours to develop a stronger relationship with your instructors. Your professors have been involved in your field of study for years, potentially decades, and they likely know have many prominent professionals in their networks. Therefore, by becoming closer with your professors, you potentially gain access to their networks, increasing your career potential exponentially.
Connect With Classmates on Social Media
Though your degree program likely has an online platform through which you can engage in discussions with classmates, you should strive to connect with your peers outside of the strictly academic environment. You might form a Facebook Group for your degree program or courses and invite your peers to join. Then, you can get to know one another in a more casual and friendly space, in which deeper and more lasting relationships might form. Social media is also a useful tool for networking because few users delete friends they no longer talk to; as a result, you can reach back out to old acquaintances at a later point in your career, when you might need greater support from that part of your network.
Form Online Study Groups
There are dozens of benefits to study groups, from the support in learning course materials to the opportunity to practice your communication skills, but the ability to build strong relationships with key members of your student peer group cannot be ignored. You should try to handpick the most hardworking and insightful members of your classes to participate in your study groups, and you should schedule study group meetings about once per week, so everyone has time to get to know each other and review materials beforehand. You should be a generous and supportive member of your study group to maximize your peers’ good feelings about you and ensure that your networking efforts are successful.
Join School Organizations
Many people associate clubs and other university groups with living and attending classes on campus, but there are plenty of school organizations that are welcoming of online students. You might seek out academic clubs and honor societies related to your field of study; social and hobby groups, like photography, esports, creative writing or wellness; career development associations, which will have many like-minded networkers; diversity and cultural organizations, to connect with students who have similar backgrounds to yours; and even community service clubs, in which you can share ideas and experiences related to service or activism.
Use Career Services
Most universities have career services offices to help students prepare for employment after graduation. Career services workers can hep you with many different career-related tasks, from identifying valuable skills to drafting resumes, but they are especially good with connecting students with networking opportunities. Throughout your degree program, you should look to career services for help reaching out to alumni in your field or finding prestigious internships. As the date of your graduation draws closer, you might use career services to launch your job search.
Though networking during an online graduate program might seem like a daunting task, there are in fact many resources available to help you make valuable connections. Professors, peers, alumni and more can make your graduate studies even more lucrative, if only you reach out and ask.
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