Colleges With the Best Alumni Networks

August 30, 2022

Every May, swarms of freshly minted college graduates experience the smack of job search-related anxiety before the Gothic font on their diploma even has a chance to dry. Many proceed to blindly send out an entire Redwood’s worth of resumes, obsessively update their LinkedIn profile, and in true moments of desperation, actually start to wonder if maybe that pyramid scheme energy drink business their high school friend won’t shut up about is actually legit (he swears MLM is nothing like a pyramid!). This brings us to an underrated tool in the search for your first professional job – colleges with the best alumni networks.

Landing the job of your dreams, or even just “a job” is often determined, in part, by the old cliché of “who you know.” Outside of those lucky enough to have helpful family connections, most unemployed 22-year-olds only know other unemployed 22-year-olds, which makes networking within your current social circle a rather incestuous and maddeningly futile exercise. This leaves you with two choices: hope that your American Girl doll collection will fetch enough on eBay to pay the rent or begin tapping into your college’s alumni network.

How alumni networks can (and cannot) help

Rid yourself of any “Skull and Bones” fantasies—the notion that attending a certain college will automatically open doors to a life of luxury and privilege is not realistic. While sharing an alma mater with a potential employer or networking contact can be helpful in the job search/career development process, simply showing up to an interview with a fellow Michigan alumnus, sporting a Wolverine lapel pin is not going to cause the boss to say, “A fellow Wolverine!!?? Scrap this interview. Here’s a cigar. Let me show you to your corner office.” Similarly, a desperate cold call to a random member of your school’s alumni database is not likely to land you a job (or a polite reply).

To effectively take advantage of alumni networks, work on cultivating meaningful relationships with alumni in your potential field throughout your college experience. Attend alumni events. Contact alums in your field and ask if you could speak with them about their career path. Most people will be happy to speak with you and offer advice. Approximately 80% of all jobs are found through some form of networking. While there are no statistics revealing the exact percentage of college grads who find employment specifically through alumni connections, it is safe to assume that the number is sizable. It is also a logical bet that schools with stronger alumni organizations will offer better networking opportunities than schools with less established and enthusiastic alumni communities.

Identifying a strong alumni network

Two primary indicators of institutions with strong alumni networks are sheer size and alumni generosity. Penn State has the largest dues-paying alumni network in the country with almost 173,000 members. Other large universities with massive numbers of graduates and notably strong networks include:

  • University of Illinois
  • NYU
  • Purdue
  • University of Indiana
  • University of Michigan
  • Ohio State
  • UCLA
  • University of Wisconsin
  • University of Alabama
  • Georgia Tech
  • UT Austin
  • UVA
  • Virginia Tech

However, judging how connected they are to their alma maters (and therefore to you, a potential networker) requires additional data. Identifying institutions with impressive percentages of alumni choosing to donate to their school is one way to gauge a sense of connectedness and “strength” of a network. In this arena, smaller liberal arts schools such as Bates, Colgate, Williams, Middlebury, Claremont McKenna, Wabash, and Carleton lead the way. This can be a more helpful metric than the overall endowment an institution boasts. For example, University of Hawaii alumnus Jay Shidler, a real estate mogul, just donated 69 million dollars to his alma mater. While this undoubtedly has a positive impact on the school’s endowment, it is not necessarily indicative of a strong alumni network (good luck getting Hawaii’s wealthiest resident on the phone to dispense career advice).

Career services can be connective

It can also be helpful to explore a prospective college’s career services website for how they assist current students in connecting with alumni. You should see evidence of upcoming events such as career fairs, mock interviews, and speaking engagements involving alumni. Schools recognized as having highly rated career services departments include Rice, Harvey Mudd, Babson, Dartmouth, Duke, and the aforementioned Penn State. Another question worth asking is whether a given institution’s network has regional, national, or international reach? If you have a goal to work in a particular field or even for a specific company within that field, such considerations can be of critical importance.

Which alumni network will be able to help in your field/region?

One might assume that the colleges recruited at most heavily by premier tech companies such as Microsoft or Apple would be the usual suspects: Stanford, MIT, Berkeley, Harvard, etc. Yet in reality, Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft plucks the majority of their employees from places such as nearby University of Washington, Washington State, and Western Washington University. Apple, located in the heart of Silicon Valley draws a large portion of its workforce from nearby San Jose State and the University of Texas at Austin. Visit our Dataverse for a complete list of Tech Feeder Schools.

The world of Wall Street finance is similarly surprising. Rutgers University is right up there with the Ivies and a host of more-selective liberal arts schools in terms of career outcomes in the finance industry. With a large alumni base and close proximity to New York City, aspiring financial workers may be better served at Rutgers than a more prestigious school in a different region of the country. Visit our Dataverse for a complete list of Wall Street Feeder Schools.

CT’s Bottom Line

During the college selection process, give careful consideration to the strength of an alumni network in your future career field and geographic region. No matter where you attend school, connecting with alumni in your area of career interest is a solid investment of your time and energy that can pay dividends upon graduation.