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No, I’m not talking about high school conferences where your teacher updates your parents on your academic progress. I’m referring to conferences held for college students to come together and learn more about a specific topic. Not all learning has to take place in a classroom setting. Whether you’re interested in science, art, or public service, there’s a conference related to your interests.

Here are three reasons why you should attend conferences:

Expand Your Network

Meeting new people can be a valuable part of your college experience. You might learn about other conferences and academic related opportunities such as scholarships just by talking to other attendees of the conference. Everyone at the conference will have at least one thing in common based on the purpose of the event so don’t be shy to introduce yourself and start a conversation. After the conference, stay connected to the students you met through Facebook or LinkedIn. Next time you travel to the city they’re from, you must just have a place to stay and your own personal tour guide.

Learn New Skills

Whether it’s learning how to write a grant or be more confident, most conferences offer some type of workshop or panel. Find out ahead of time if you have multiple workshop options and need to preselect the ones you want to attend. Remember to bring a notebook and a list of questions you have on the subject.

Explore A Different Environment

If you’re arriving at the conference early or leaving late on the last day, take some time to explore the town. Being in a new city can feel like a learning experience itself. If you’re from a small Midwestern town and travel to the West Coast for the first time or vice versa, take the opportunity to try out different restaurants or stores that aren’t located in your hometown. Find time to visit the main tourist attractions such as museums or parks.

Here are three conferences held annually worth checking out:

Harvard Kennedy School Public Policy and Leadership Conference

Participants attending the conference learn about public service careers and obtaining a graduate school education in public policy or international affairs. There is also the opportunity to learn about financial assistance for grad school such as fellowship programs related to public service.

First-year and second-year college students with at least a cumulative GPA of 3.0 and an interest in public service are eligible to apply. The application requires an essay, resume, one letter of recommendation, and an academic transcript. Costs such as travel, accommodations, and meals are covered for all participants. Applications are due in November, and the conference is held for four days (Thursday through Sunday) in February.

PPIA Moving the World Forward: Exploring A Career In Public Service Conference

This conference is for students from diverse backgrounds interested in public service careers and related graduate school options. Students attend workshops related to various policy areas, learn how to apply to grad school, and hear from current and former students of the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. There is also time for social and cultural activities such as attending the opera. I have personally attended this conference and encourage anyone even slightly interested in public service to apply. It is a great opportunity to learn of all the different public service career paths available and meet other student leaders from all over the country.

Applicants must have completed at least one year of college, and preference is given to rising sophomores and juniors. The application requires two essays related to public service and an academic transcript. Costs such as travel, accommodations, and meals are covered for all participants. The priority deadline in May and the final deadline is in June. The conference in held in October for four days (Thursday through Sunday) at Indiana University.

Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U)

College students, experts, university representatives and celebrities gather at this conference to find solutions to today’s global challenges. As part of the application, students are required to make “their own Commitments to Action: new, specific, and measurable initiatives that address pressing challenges on campus, in local communities, or around the world.” The commitment must be related to one of the five focus areas of CGI U: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health. Students attend plenary sessions, working sessions, a service project, and other special events.

Travel assistance is potentially available to participants if they apply by the early decision deadline. Applications are due in October for the early decision and travel assistance deadline is in October, and the final deadline is in December. The conference is held in March or April for three days (Friday through Sunday) at a different university each year.

There are numerous conferences held each year, so if you aren’t accepted to the ones you apply for or can’t find one to fit your interests, don’t give up! A simple Google search of “your area of study” + “conference for college students” could be all it takes. Another option is to look locally. Your own college might be holding a conference. If you attend a small school, check the event listings of the main university in your state. . Some conferences have a registration fee, but there are also options available that are no cost to students. If you’re accepted to a conference but can’t afford the expenses associated with it, contact the organization in charge of the conference first to see if they know of any funding resources. Ask an advisor at your school too, because they may know of funding opportunities offered by your college. Conferences will expand your network and your mind. Remember to have fun, too!

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the author

Cara Claflin is a senior who attends a public school in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Even though she plans to stay in Minnesota, attending college in a state that doesn’t have snowstorms in May is starting to sound appealing. She hopes to double major in journalism and marketing. Cara loves helping high school students make the most of all the resources available to them. At school, she is an editor for her school’s newspaper and takes part in a leadership group. When she has some free time, she enjoys dancing, listening to music, reading, and watching music and dance competition reality shows.

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