A list of famous college dropouts would be a long list. Some of the best and brightest in the business, technology, and entertainment worlds have succeeded through hard work and all the right connections. Bill Gates, for example, dropped out of Harvard, and his Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen dropped out of Washington State. For that matter, Steve Jobs was only at Reed College for six months. Ralph Lauren decided he’d rather design ties for Beau Brummel than finish his education at the City College of New York and Don Imus has said he left college after only a week (too many nappy headed-hos for his liking). President George W. Bush did graduate from Harvard (with a C-average), but his former adviser, Carl Rove, left the University of Utah after two years. For those who are truly innovative or driven—or those whose father’s are well-connected in politics and business—a college degree is may not be necessary to achieve fame or fortune.
So is socializing more important than studying? Everyone has heard that it’s “not what you know, but who know” or that 7 out of every 10 jobs are landed through networking. But don’t get too excited. Recent studies show that college graduates, on average, earn almost double what those with only a high school diploma earn, so it’s still smart to get that degree.
Unfortunately, too many college students think that once they graduate they’re set. You wrote that senior thesis, graduated with honors, and got a 3.8 GPA. What more could you need? Besides, all it takes is a good resume, right? Post it on CareerBuilder.com, Monster.com, apply to some jobs on Craigslist, and you’ll be making $75K+ a year in no time. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Because both halves of the saying are true: landing a good job after college is as much about whom you know as what you know. Networking is the key, and that means more than just putting your resume out there or making a couple phone calls and waiting around for the job offers to pour in.
Lucky for you that college is one of the best places to network. The Alumni Relations and Student Services Offices can get you started, as many colleges and universities already have partnerships in place with local business and corporations looking to hire the best and brightest. Everyone you meet in your four years of college is a potential business contact, which is why campus involvement is so important. Internships, volunteering, student groups, on-campus jobs, and membership in fraternities/sororities not only show potential employers that you’re motivated and capable of successfully juggling various responsibilities (academic and extracurricular), but also offer you a wealth of opportunities for networking.
Fraternities and sororities in particular offer a good place to toss around some ideas and help you get started with a business venture. As Nichole Tores from Entrepreneur Magazine writes, it’s like "having a pre-made focus group that can judge your ideas… a good entrepreneurial petri dish."
According to a 2003 report by Forbes Magazine, about 25% of all CEOs of Forbes Fortune 500 companies were part of a college fraternity, including William B. Harrison, Jr., formerly of JP Morgan Chase, A.G. Lafley, formerly of Proctor & Gamble and author of The Game Changer, and Robert Nardelli of Chrysler. Forbes quoted former Wachovia CEO, G. Kennedy Thompson, who was a member of Beta Theta Pi while an undergrad at the University of North Carolina, as saying that his involvement in a fraternity offered him "the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and places, [making] connections that have continued beyond my university years to my business life." Back in 2003, Beta Theta Pi led other fraternities in current Forbes Fortune 500 CEOs, a distinction they still hold in 2008.
Beta Theta Pi, as well as other business fraternities like Delta Sigma Pi, Pi Sigma Epsilon, and Alpha Kappa Psi frequently hold national business conferences where you can meet other fraternity members and prominent alumni. These events can be particularly important to students who attend colleges without a business school or a major that fits their particular business interests. Since they were founded, the three fraternities have initiated more than 700,000 members, with Alpha Kappa Psi (the largest) operating out of more than 300 chapters. That’s a lot of potential business contacts in a lot of places. These fraternities also give out substantial scholarships and grants that could be used to build your fledgling company (or at least pay your tuition and college expenses). Delta Sigma Pi, for example, awards more than $40,000 a year through its Leadership Foundation, with awards ranging from $500 to more than $5,000. Such awards can supplement financial aid and university scholarships; they also look really good on a resume.
When you do start considering your job options or promoting your business venture, keep in mind the following tips: clearly define your goals and strategies (know what you’re looking for); know your network and keep in touch with those who could prove most helpful to you; ask about additional people who could help you move forward; think about the questions that other people may ask about your personal or professional life and have your answers ready. Most importantly, remember that your professional networking is different from your social networking. Meeting someone for a business meeting is not the same as talking to someone on FaceBook or MySpace. As Priscilla March for Boston.com writes, "Every professional networking contact, electronic or face-to-face, needs to be carefully crafted, planned, or practiced. One misspelled word, one uncapitalized pronoun, one lapse of over-familiarity or unprofessionalism, and your best chance of making a positive impression may have been wasted." Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be off to a great start.