Last weekend, I spent time with about 60 professional women while mentoring nearly 100 teen girls with Step Up Women’s Network. In one session, mentors opened up about their own college experiences and the advice they’d give to young women who were still in high school thinking about their college experience. When it comes to college life, television and movies tend to provide an idealistic view of what it’s like to be a college student in America. What I heard from these women, though, was largely the opposite. While some of the women loved their college experience and spoke highly of it, others felt very negatively about their college experience.
I am one of those people. Looking back on my college experience, it wasn’t good. Mostly because I wasn’t good. I grew incredibly in college and learned a lot about myself, but sometimes at the expense of my family and friends. I didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, and I convinced myself of things that I thought would make me better or stronger, when in fact they made me worse. Looking back, it’s difficult for me to have any positive memories connected to those years.
The question I’m asking lately, though, is the title here: alumni or alum-no? If I really didn’t love my college experience, should I be an involved member of my university’s alumni?
Ultimately, I’m dipping my toe in the water of alumni involvement, and I’m writing this here to encourage others who have the same college experience to think about this as well. Consider the following:
- You’re not in college anymore. I can’t speak for others, but for myself, a huge part of the reason I didn’t like college was because I wasn’t grown up. Realizing that now, I need to trust that everyone I went to college with has also grown up since then and give myself the opportunity to reengage.
- Alumni is bigger than your four years of college. A huge hang-up for me is that I don’t necessarily want to network with the people I went to college with. I don’t like the person I was when I was in college and have a lot of anxiety around what people from college think of me. I know, I know, that’s crazy. But here’s what I’ve learned: My college’s alumni exists far beyond the four years I spent there. And some of the best alumni connections have no crossover in the years we spent on campus.
- Satellite alumni chapters tend to be more like you. I went to a small school where most people end up staying close in proximity to the school. Now, I’m farther away, and my city is building a stronger alumni chapter. What I’m finding with these individuals is that they’re more like me and the fit is better.
I hope for those of you who look back on your college experience with some level of regret, you’ll start to think about reconnecting with your alumni base. Perhaps they didn’t work for you when you were 20, but they’ll work for you now. You never know. But with the kinds of money we all paid to go to college, it’s worth a shot to keep the relationships going.