To Put This in Context:
Making time to prepare for your life post-graduation by developing a professional network can have a positive impact on your studies and career goals. With an estimated 20.5 million students attending U.S. colleges in 2016, the hours you spend networking could be the difference between just finding a job and finding one you’re passionate about.  We’ve put together three networking tips to help you start creating relationships that can position you for future success.
1. Establish your online identity.
Building relationships with your peers and instructors at school can play an early role in creating a healthy network, but developing a strong online presence can greatly expand your circle. Social media can be an essential tool during your educational journey, helping with important tasks such as selecting your school, as well as networking.
Did you know?
According to a recent report, there are 106 million active users on LinkedIn. This extensive user base makes it an ideal tool for researching and building your network’s foundations. 
Creating new Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram profiles dedicated to your public-facing persona can go a long way in establishing a healthy professional identity on social media. You can also use your existing social accounts, but it is important to carefully curate what content you allow to be public.
Did you know?
According to U.S. News & World Report, 37% of employers feel that a candidate’s social media activity foreshadows his or her professional communication style. 
Be selective as you upload material to any of your profiles, and consider any posts, comments, or photos that might send the wrong message. Remember, this is often the first impression many people will have of you. The idea isn’t to scrub all traces of your personality, interests, or quirks, but rather to establish your personal and professional reputation in a way that makes an engaging impression with new people in your field. Keeping this in mind as a student will also help encourage healthy social habits to carry with you throughout your career.
2. Become research savvy.
As you start to use social media to build your brand and grow your contacts, it’s good to take a deep dive into the companies and people who are leading success and innovation. You can begin by searching for industry influencers or local businesses in your area. Review their profiles and get to know their areas of expertise. Do they have blogs or personal websites? What organizations are they part of? What’s the last article they shared?
Did you know?
Forbes’ list of 25 Marketing Influencers to Watch In 2017 features some of the brightest minds in business with a strong social media presence. 
Develop a list of questions pertaining to their work, and then engage with them online from a student perspective, asking for advice on books or websites to read, interviewing tips, and any specific questions you have related to your interests.  These people are likely busy, so focusing your networking efforts with short, engaging dialogue that speaks to their expertise can help begin a meaningful conversation. Building these relationships online can help you create concrete connections with leaders and potential employers in your community.
3. Get social, in person.
Engaging in face-to-face interactions with online contacts and other resources in your area can help you solidify the work you’ve done. Each industry and city will have its own functions, including conventions, career fairs, and workshops. You also can get involved with local chapters of organizations that offer student memberships. The Wall Street Journal estimates that 80% of all available jobs aren’t listed publicly.  This makes it crucial for you to attend public events, because that’s where many conversations about unlisted job opportunities can happen.
Engaging with companies as a student also puts you in a unique position that you won’t often find post-graduation. They are likely to be more open to offering you guidance because you’re coming to them from an educational perspective, not just inquiring about a job.  This makes you more approachable for recruiters, executives, and other professionals than someone on a job hunt would be. Going a step further, you can also ask for an informational interview or to spend a day in the office shadowing the person who has your dream job. A day or a week can often be easier for a company to accommodate than a semester-long internship.
Always be prepared.
You won’t be a student forever, and even in these early stages you can start making your presence known in broader public circles. You’ll be working on the craft of aligning yourself with those from whom you can learn or receive advice, and whose connections may be able to help you achieve your career goals. Developing good networking habits will help arm you with the tools to acclimate better to the job search process, and eventually the workplace.
Want to know more?
We’ve explored additional tips for networking online in our Social Media 101 for Students guide.