Whether you are preparing a competitive application to grad school, looking to carry out informational interviews about a new interest, or looking to make friends in a new (or even old city), you might consider getting into contact with someone from your alumni network.
The first step is to identify and approach alumni. The first method is the offline, or, old-fashioned way. Basically, don´t be shy about telling people about your desire to meet alumni and ask them about their experience. These "weak ties," as they are known in sociology, are some of the best sources of novel information, and through your friends and acquaintances, you´ll receive useful phone numbers, email addresses, and introductions. Most people will be flattered that you value their opinion and won´t hesitate to tell you everything you need to know. Plus, it's great practice when it comes to networking. Whether you love to network or hate it, it pays to be good at schmoozing.
The second method puts social media to work for you. Sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are invaluable for online social networking, and give you the opportunity to search for particular program alumni, faculty, and students and have the results filter back to you ordered by weak tie connections you might already have with a particular person. But beyond these types of connections, Facebook and LinkedIn also give you the ability to find and message strangers who have the same interests or similar profile to you via their messaging systems. Don´t be afraid to message complete strangers to ask them about their experience. It's likely that they´ll be proud and eager to share. Or they could be really busy with work and family obligations and might not be able to get back to you. Better email at least three to five strangers, and don´t take any failure to answer personally. Introduce yourself briefly and ask nicely if they would have time to get together.
Apart from online social networking sites, another online way of finding alumni is to browse the website of the school you are interested in, particularly their faculty profiles. When you find professors whose work you like, why not send them a brief email asking for introductions to some of their alumni. Remember, some professors are also very busy, especially the very popular ones (they did build their foundation on producing quality work), so keep your email concise and to the point, and don´t be hurt if they don't write back. Furthermore, most large colleges have active alumni networks with mailing lists about alumni get togethers in large cities around the United States. Show up! As a bonus, some have free food!
Using these three tips, you are guaranteed to find a pool of potential contacts, alumni who can give you insider info about grad school programs, career advice, or life in a new town. Making quality contacts is a numbers game. While you and fellow alumni may already have your alma mater in common, meeting a lot of people means that you will be able to find people who you have many more points in common. Good luck!