An education at University of Maryland University College is not just about learning new concepts; it's also about preparing you for a successful future. One of the ways UMUC can help you to achieve your goals is by connecting you with professional associations. Also called professional organizations or professional societies, professional associations are typically non-profit organizations committed to supporting people who work in a specific field or industry.

UMUC Career Services recently hosted a webinar to discuss why students and alumni should consider joining professional associations. The webinar featured the following panel of experts:

Although these panelists represent different professions, the organizations they discussed all offer similar member benefits, such as

  • Networking opportunities: Whether you're attending a local mixer or a large annual conference, expanding your network is a great way to further your career and a primary reason to consider joining a professional association. For students, there may be a significant discount to attend these events. For example, to attend the FPA's Annual Conference this year in Nashville, Tennessee, students can receive a waiver for their $2,500 conference fee if they volunteer at the event. But large events aren't the only way to network. Local chapters also provide events and networking opportunities.
  • Training materials for certifications: Many career fields have industry certifications that can be important for one's professional development. ISACA offers several well known industry certifications for information security professionals including CISM and CISA. To help its members prepare for these certification exams, ISACA offers seminars, webinars, courses, and other training materials and events.
  • Scholarship opportunities: Looking for financial assistance to help offset the cost of your tuition? A professional association may be able to help. Many provide scholarships to their student members, and some may even have special scholarships for students who meet certain criteria. For example, ACHE has scholarship programs for minority students and graduate students.
  • Jobs and internships: Internships and job experience can be vitally important to help make students and recent graduates competitive in the job market. All of the above organizations offer access to an industry-specific job and internship board. FPA even has a program through which students can get pro bono work experience toward their Certified Financial Planner certification. ACHE offers a particularly robust array of career services, including résumé services specific to the healthcare industry.
  • Mentorship: All of the organizations featured in the webinar offer their members a chance to connect with a mentor. In addition to one-on-one mentorship connections, FPA has a "Knowledge Circle" in which members can share best practices and ask each other questions over the phone or online. This helps members stay current in their field and learn from others experiencing similar professional challenges at their organizations.
  • Discount memberships for students: Current students often receive sizeable discounts when joining professional organizations. Student members of ACHE receive a 50 percent discount, paying only $75 per year. FPA student fees are $119, but joining the UMUC student chapter may allow you access to funding to subsidize that fee. And for ISACA, the annual fee for students is only $25. For students interested in human resources, SHRM offers a student rate of only $40 compared to its professional fee of $199.

If you are looking for ways to expand your network, obtain an industry certification, or find additional job or internship opportunities, consider joining a professional association. But if you do join, don't be a passive member. Instead, if you want to enhance your professional development, you should engage by going to the meetings, reading the newsletters, and taking on leadership roles. You never know who you might meet. As panelist Teresa Skehan said, "Careers are jungle gyms, but joining professional organizations can help you figure it all out."

Watch the video to hear the entire discussion from the webinar.

About the Author

Kristin Schrader is the associate director of InternPLUS and military career programs at UMUC. She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities. Most recently, she was the lead trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop, where she taught transitioning servicemembers about the civilian job search. Kristin is a proud military spouse, and she is passionate about helping others achieve their goals.