Professional associations are for students, too!

 What exactly is a professional association and how can it benefit your career exploration and development?

In two words: networking and knowledge!

A professional association – also called a society or institute – is a group of people who work in a particular profession. Most industries, from accounting to zoology and everything in between have professional associations. Their primary role is to act as an information resource for the particular industry, as well as maintain professional standards and keep people informed about trends in the field.

Below are some questions you may be asking yourself.

How can a professional association help me?

  • Meet people in the field: One of the biggest reasons professional associations exist is to provide networking opportunities for people in the profession. A professional association can be a great avenue for finding people to meet for information interviews or job search/networking meetings.
  • Learn about the profession: What are the profession’s current trends? What laws and regulations are currently being considered that may impact the field? Answers to these questions increase your knowledge about the industry. You’ll be better prepared for job interviews and employment.
  • Find job and internship openings: Many associations maintain job and internship databases for members.
  • Keep up-to-date on continuing education, certificates and licenses: If your profession requires continuing education, professional associations provide information about exams or other avenues necessary to keep your qualifications current.

How do I participate in a professional association as a student?

  • Become a student member: Professional associations require memberships for access to all resources. Student memberships are often available for a fee that is significantly reduced. Check the association’s membership links for applications and information.
  • Attend meetings, conferences and events: In addition to yearly conferences, professional associations hold seminars, meetings and networking events throughout the year.
  • Look for local, regional or student chapters: A national association likely has a regional or local chapter that gives you the opportunity to meet with other professionals working in the same geographic region. Check campuses and departments for student chapter information.
  • Volunteer for committees: This is a great chance to work closely with others in the field on association-related projects. It’s a great resume builder, too!
  • Take advantage of student mentor programs or scholarships

Where can I find lists of professional associations?

  • Google: Use search terms such as “graphic design professional associations,” or “civil engineering associations or societies.”
  • Quintessential Careers: This comprehensive career information website maintains a list of professional association search sites.
  • Career Exploration sites: Check out industries and job titles in the Occupational Outlook Handbook which lists professional associations affiliated with each job (and the association’s website).
  • LinkedIn: Many professional associations now have LinkedIn groups. Some groups are open for anyone to join while others require you to submit a membership request. Do a search for established groups.
  • People: Ask faculty, advisors, friends and family connected to your professional area of interest. They may be able to recommend associations.

The biggest mistake students make is assuming a professional association can’t help them because they aren’t yet professionals in the field. Take advantage of the resources professional associations can offer you now as a student and you’ll be a better prepared professional later!