Many of us associate networking with a formal setting where accomplished business people from different industries exchange contacts and know-how. However, few of us realise that graduate school networking can be just as important. The truth is that meeting new peers can be very interesting and insightful for students and it is not at all limited to conference rooms and business meetings. It’s time to discover these lesser known facts about socialising at university and networking outside of it.

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Good networking can help you get into university

You read it right! It’s always a good idea to start meeting people from different occupations and fields of study even before graduate school. In fact, if you are already researching your Masters options, attending some educational and networking events would be a great way to find what you are looking for. The school fairs designed for Bachelor’s students and graduates to help them meet university representatives provide a favourable environment for networking and socialising. Although this might be your chance to impress and give your application a promising start, remember that it will not protect you from competition nor make your admission certain.

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But what is the essential factor that can transform an ordinary networking experience into a memorable interaction? Show school representatives that you are taking the opportunity seriously. Masters admissions directors can always tell the difference between someone who has done their research about the school and someone who shows up unprepared. For example, if you are planning to talk to school representatives or meet Masters alumni, try to think of relevant questions to ask them. Your genuine interest in the programme and the field of study should shine through clearly. Coupled with a polite and professional attitude, your awareness of the topic can make the right first impression.

Networking should be selfless

Not many people realise that one of the main rules of networking is to be willing to help people out without expecting anything in return. Once you see how a small gesture can make a lasting impression, your networking game will reach a whole new level. But what can you do to practise? Let’s say you know about an internship opportunity that a classmate might be interested in – then, go ahead and let them know.

Ashley DiFranza, Content Marketing Producer for the Northeastern University Enrollment Management team, agrees: “A fundamental way to [sustain the relationships you make while in grad school] is to be known as a resource to others. Whether you’re organising a study group for an upcoming exam or sending a few relevant industry-related articles to a classmate, by sharing your time and knowledge, you’ll establish stronger relationships with those in your programme and demonstrate that you value their connection.

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Of course, this is great advice even beyond the topic of networking because it promotes kindness and generosity. However, it can be a positive strategy for your long-term career and personal development as a student. Helping people out will make it that much easier for your connections to return the favour.

You can network anywhere

Whether you call it socialising, a useful conversation, or networking, it can take place in a variety of situations or places. Don’t limit your opportunities to meet different people and make lasting connections. Of course, attending specialised career events where you can talk to experienced professionals from the field that interests you is a great option which you shouldn’t pass up. However, students may benefit from the realisation that it is just as inspiring to create meaningful professional connections with university professors, fellow students, or experts from completely different fields. With today’s online resources and social networks such as LinkedIn, this is easier than ever.

In fact, even Masters students enrolled in online or distance learning programmes can benefit from networking. Although these types of studies usually offer some classes on campus or face-to-face networking events, you can also come up with additional opportunities. As Ms DiFranza from Northeastern University (US) explains, proactive students have plenty of options if they are open to creativity: “If you are not local to the university at which you are pursuing your degree, look for online communities to become a part of. […] You may also consider starting your own online group that includes a weekly video call or an email exchange with other students in your programme in which you discuss industry trends, a topic covered in class, and more.

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As you can see, networking can be a lot more interesting and unconventional than many people realise. Getting a head start in this process while attending university is one of the smartest long-term investments you can make for your future.