As busy collegiettes, sometimes the stress of networking, endlessly searching for jobs and internships, and learning about how to succeed in a chosen career path can be enough to make our heads spin. One way to make the process easier? Joining a professional association. In almost every field, there are at least one or two (or sometimes several!) different professional associations that unite people working or pursuing careers in that industry. The catch? Many also charge yearly membership fees, which can be especially intimidating to your average college student on a budget. Do the benefits outweigh the cost? We talked to several collegiettes on their experiences as members of professional associations, and got them to weigh in on whether or not it’s worth it.
What benefits do professional associations offer?
Practical career experience outside your major
Especially if your major doesn’t necessarily correspond to the field you’re looking to have a career in, joining a professional organization is a great way to meet other students that you might not meet in your classes and get involved in your industry outside of class.
Danielle Jackson, a senior at the University of Georgia, says her experience as a member of her campus’s chapter of PRSSA has allowed her to learn about pursuing a career in public relations in ways her English major might not have allowed her to.
“I'm a member of PRSSA at the University of Georgia and I think it's definitely worth it,” Danielle says. “I'm an English major, which means I obviously don't take the same classes as the PR students, so I try and learn as much as I can from my experience in PRSSA.”
Lesley Mitler, founder of Priority Candidates, a career coaching service for college students, agrees that professional associations are a great way to explore career fields that you might not have direct exposure to through your major.
“Depending on your major and how committed you are to pursuing a certain field, professional associations can be helpful,” Mitler says. “They can also add to your knowledge and understanding of fields that you have had little exposure to but might be interested in learning about.”
Obviously the classes you’re taking for your major are important, but joining a professional association allows you to tailor what you’re learning in class to your specific career field.
Workshops and conferences
Most professional organizations offer yearly national conferences and workshops that bring in exciting guest speakers and allow local chapters to come together and network. While you don’t always have to be a member to attend, organizations like the American Business Women’s Association offer discounted registration fees to members who pay the $90 annual membership fee.
Even if you don’t make it to the national conferences, many local professional association chapters bring guest speakers to campus meetings.
“At my school we have meetings twice a month, and we've had informational panels featuring people from top PR firms as well as professionals who have done PR for some really popular companies,” Danielle says.
The best people to give you advice about how to succeed in your chosen career field are those who have been there, done that—and the guest speaker opportunities that professional associations can provide are a great way to make connections with people who may be helpful later on down the road!
Every collegiette knows that one of the scariest parts of the career search process is networking—and for collegiettes who are easily intimidated by making new connections, joining a professional organization can make a world of difference. Organizations like New York Women in Communications offer frequent networking events and a members-only online directory—kind of like the association’s own private LinkedIn! What’s more, as you develop a bond with the other students in your organization, you will not only have great friendships, but also an amazing network of contacts in your industry.
With all these networking opportunities, it’s likely you’ll be able to have access to potential jobs and internships that you might not have through your school’s career center.
“It's a really great experience for people looking to network and get exclusive information about job and internship opportunities that they won't always find at their school's career center,” Danielle says.
As the saying goes, it’s often not what you know, but who you know, and professional associations can be a great tool for the networking-nervous!
Meet people with similar career interests
Even with all the other obvious perks of joining a professional association, one of the best reasons to join is simply to get involved with other students who have similar career interests! Collegiette Brianna Susnak, a freshman at Indiana University, says one of the best parts of being involved with a professional association is being able to meet other students interested in pursuing a career in her chosen industry.
“I'm part of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, which is a professional association at my school that promotes diversity in the media,” Brianna says. “I have found being a part of a professional association is a great way to get involved because it allows you to meet other people who share similar career interests and goals as you.”
In other words, professional organizations can really help you connect with like-minded students on campus—and off.
Is it worth the money?
While professional associations are packed with exciting benefits, the cost of joining—which can often approach $100 a year—can be intimidating to potential members.
If you’re unsure about whether joining a professional association is right for you, many campus chapters offer a membership to just the local chapter, so you don’t have to pay to be a member of the national organization, which typically costs more. Rachel DeFeis, a University of Delaware junior, feels that being a member of just her school’s chapter was beneficial; and it was also affordable.
“Not being a dues member has a lot of perks as well,” Rachel explains. “I learned a lot from the general meetings by their guest speakers and workshops.”
Being just a local member has also allowed Rachel to test out the association and ultimately realize that being a national member would be worth it too.
“I think the dues would've been worth doing,” Rachel says. “You get trips and the internship database, and it has its perks.”
Perks like exclusive conferences, members-only networking events and access to internship and job databases are often enough for some collegiettes, like Rachel, to realize that paying the dues in order to become a member of the nation organization is worth the cost.
Brianna agrees; ultimately, she says she feels that her experience as a member of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists has been worth the membership fee.
“For a small membership fee I have been able to meet and interact with so many cool people while gaining professional experience in the field,” Brianna says. “I would definitely encourage other collegiettes to reach out and join a professional association regardless of their career interests, because they will definitely reap the benefits of it!”
Should you join?
While it’s not the only way to network successfully, meet other students interested in your career path, and find jobs and internships, professional associations can be a great place to start for collegiettes who want a little extra career help.
Mitler believes that when deciding whether to join a professional association or not, it’s best to consider your own personal circumstances and how you personally would benefit from being a member.
“You should do your research, understand your choices and make sure you can justify the benefits of membership,” Mitler says.
Ann Marie Adams, a strategic communications professor at Ithaca College, agrees that ultimately, doing your research and examining the way a specific organization could help further your career goals is the best way to determine if a professional organization is right for you.
“Much like our investment in higher education, retirement savings or a home warranty, we are banking that the experience will net some return should we ever need to net some benefit from it,” Adams says. “I always encourage young people to look at what they are passionate about, to project what their career goals are and to factor those aspects into what an organization has to offer short or long term.”
If you’re interested in joining a specific organization, it can be helpful to ask around to see if other members on your campus have had a good experience, and if they feel it’s worth the money. Ultimately, every organization is different, so be sure to do your research and ask around to make sure you make the right choice!