One thing you will never learn about from a campus visit is the relationship that a college or university has with its alumni. You should ask about this.
While the schools provide alumni giving rates to U.S. News and other media, that is only one picture of how they stay in touch with their graduates. Top-performing schools consider their alumni their most important asset and look to them for more than just financial contributions. They see them as a network for each other as well as for current students. Some schools, most notably Rutgers-New Brunswick and the University of Mary Washington (VA), relate to their alumni by asking them to maintain ties to the activities and organizations that they took part in as students. Class reunions have become a less important outreach than those past ties.
All of the school profiles on Educated Quest feature information about alumni relations including online services, special activities and long-standing traditions that bond an alumni community. It obviously helps when a school has a strong athletic identity as schools like Penn State, UConn and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. The ties come through sports events. Other schools such as St. Mary’s College of Maryland and the University of Mary Washington do not field teams that play on national TV, yet these schools have higher alumni giving rates than many flagship state schools. They can bring alumni who live close by to campus for special events.
Students and parents should make it a point to meet with the alumni relations office as a means to whittle down a short list of schools where they have received acceptance letters. Here are a few questions to ask during the meeting on each campus visit:
- How many living alumni does your school have?
- Where do the most recent graduates live and work?
- Do alumni network with each other through a school Web site or through social media such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter?
- Are all alumni members of the alumni association, or only those who pay dues?
- What services are provided to all alumni online?
- Are there opportunities for students to interact with alumni when they are seeking an internship or full-time job?
- Do alumni come back to campus for events?
- Do they interact with students at those events?
- What traditions bond all alumni, regardless of when they received their degree?
- Are there local alumni clubs where our family lives, and how helpful are they to students?
- Do these local alumni clubs run “send-off” events for incoming freshmen?
- Do they provide scholarships?
- Does the alumni relations office help to promote the school to employers?
Alumni are not only a school’s most important asset, they are also its most unique asset. The more active an association is at providing social activities and maintaining connections to alumni, the better the school is likely to be. The alumni relations office will have this information available when you take a campus visit. All you need to do is ask, though it is helpful to ask nicely in advance.