Professional organizations help colleagues and leaders connect. These associations often provide networking opportunities, offer continuing education options, and advocate for legislation. Members can often access resources including job boards and scholarly journals. Many professional organizations accept student members.
This guide highlights common membership benefits for professionals and students, along with noteworthy professional organizations in various industries.
When determining the value of membership with a professional organization, read through the association's membership page. Most organizations list information about benefits and fees.
Students and professionals can list professional organization memberships in a section near the bottom of their resume. Some individuals also list awards in this section.
Most professional organizations charge a membership fee, which helps fund conferences, publications, and lobbying efforts. Students and entry-level professionals may pay discounted membership fees.
Businesses can join professional organizations to find new talent. Local chapter meetings and national conferences provide opportunities to network with managers.
For example, the National Association for Female Executives supports women in leadership positions and provides resources for working mothers. Many groups, such as the National Association of Black Accountants, aim to amplify underrepresented voices in an industry.
Professional associations advocate for members and work to advance their industry. These groups uphold ethical and professional standards for their field. The following list highlights five professional organizations in common industries.
American Nurses AssociationANA connects more than 4 million nurses across America. This organization helps nurses navigate complex moral issues, stay current on industry advancements, and voice opinions to policy makers. Members receive discounts on long-term care insurance and travel expenses.
National Council of Teachers of MathematicsNCTM provides professional development resources, grants, and publications for mathematics educators. Members can network at the local and national levels through chapter meetings and national conventions. Student members receive free attendance to NCTM regional conferences.
Institute of Electrical and Electronics EngineersAccording to IEEE, the institute is the world's largest technical professional organization. Membership benefits vary by experience level, but most members receive access to award-winning industry publications, travel grants, and continuing education. Currently, more than 419,000 members in more than 60 countries maintain IEEE membership.
American Bar AssociationThe ABA is the largest voluntary association of lawyers in the world. This organization connects legal professionals throughout the U.S. and provides professional growth opportunities. Membership fees vary based on experience level. Judges can also join this organization.
National Association of Social WorkersNASW helps social workers connect with peers, advocate for social justice, and learn about recent advancements in the practice. The organization also maintains an online career center to connect employers with qualified candidates. NASW offers a student membership tier.
Professional associations offer benefits for students and current professionals. Members can connect with peers and mentors, and many professional organizations offer discounts on products and services, such as liability insurance. Additionally, leaders in the field can submit papers to professional associations' scholarly journals.
Some professionals must earn continuing education credits to maintain professional licensure. Professional organizations often provide webinars and in-person training options to help members fulfill renewal requirements.
Student members of professional organizations may receive access to exclusive scholarships, scholarly journals, and networking opportunities with potential employers. Joining a professional association can also help learners decide whether the field is right for them.
Student members often acquire field experience, make lifelong connections, and enhance their resume. The section below covers four common benefits of joining professional associations as a student.
How Organizations Work with Students
Many professional organizations serve both current and future professionals in an industry. Professional associations often work to influence the future workforce through student outreach initiatives. The list below explores the benefits of joining professional organizations for students.
Many professional organizations connect students with internship opportunities. Organization-sponsored mentorship programs may lead to internships, and student members can often learn about internship opportunities through their association's job board. Students can also network with potential internship supervisors at chapter meetings.
Typically, professional organizations provide scholarships and grants for student members. Associations typically reserve grants for graduate students completing research that could advance the industry. Applicants to scholarships must usually submit an essay and recommendation letters. Students may also qualify for funding to cover conference fees.
Student membership with professional organizations usually includes invitations to conferences. Most professional associations host at least one national conference and one regional conference per year. These conferences generally include breakout speaker sessions and scheduled networking. Professional organizations typically host conferences in person, but some may be virtual.
Students in professional associations typically receive access to scholarly journals, which they can use when working on research papers for college courses. Student membership with many professional organizations includes free or discounted access to scholarly journals that require a fee or subscription.
Researching Career Field Organizations
Individuals can usually find professional associations in their field with a simple internet search. However, students in niche industries may need to conduct extra research to identify relevant organizations.
University professors and academic advisors can typically provide information about professional associations, and they may help learners form student chapters of professional organizations. For example, the Public Relations Society of America encourages students to form college chapters.
Some professions feature unions, so individuals should consider inquiring about this type of organization. For example, many teachers join the National Education Association.
Students can contact professionals in their field for recommendations on professional associations. Learners can also find organizations through government and library websites.
How To Contact Organizations in Your Degree Field
After identifying a professional organization to join, students should contact a representative of the organization. Most professional associations list preferred contact methods online. Some organizations provide a form or an online application, while others list an email address or phone number.
Associations often appoint membership coordinators who may answer questions for prospective members and assist with the application process. Occasionally, membership coordinators set up booths at conferences and career fairs.
If the organization requires prospective members to inquire by email or phone, candidates should communicate professionally. A formal email should comprise complete, concise sentences. Begin with a short greeting and introduction, and include a call to action. Clear communication helps the recipient understand the email's purpose.
Students should strive for a friendly and polished tone. Avoid overusing exclamation points, and select formal words over slang. For example, a professional email should use "hello" rather than "hey." Individuals should also research which benefits are available at various membership tiers.
Making the Most of an Opportunity With an Organization
Students often attend recruiting or mentorship meetings with representatives from professional organizations. Learners can use these meetings to practice professional communication skills.
Learners can prepare for professional meetings by creating a list of questions. Students should conduct preliminary research and obtain any answers available on the organization's website.
Students should dress professionally for in-person meetings and video conferences. Learners should also ensure they find an appropriate background for video calls. After the meeting, individuals should thank the representative with an email or handwritten letter.
During conferences, hundreds of professionals gather in person or virtually. Attendees often listen to keynote speakers and have conversations with peers. Conferences help advance the industry by delivering the latest information. Individuals can read conference itineraries to decide whether the information aligns with their career goals and interests.
Professional organizations often host regional and national conferences. Members may need to pay a conference admission fee, but many organizations award scholarships that cover admission and travel costs. Additionally, some employers cover conference-related costs.
Student members of professional organizations often make connections with local professionals that lead to internships. Additionally, many professional associations list internship opportunities on their job boards.
Learners typically receive college credit for internships, and internships can lead to full-time jobs after graduation. Graduates can also list internship supervisors as professional references when applying for positions.
For these reasons, students should treat internships as seriously as paid jobs. Interns should arrive on time, complete work to the best of their ability, and apply feedback from supervisors.
After participating in an internship, students should remain connected with their internship supervisor to access future opportunities. Learners can converse with former supervisors at chapter meetings and connect on LinkedIn.
Professional organizations may allow students to assist with projects, which can help learners develop their portfolio. Students may join an event planning committee, present at a local chapter meeting, or speak on a panel. Learners can also request a portfolio review or feedback on school projects.
Some professional organizations connect students with local businesses. Completing projects for real businesses can help students strengthen their portfolio and resume.
Interview with an Organization Representative
Belle DeChene is the owner of Belle DuChene Media + Management, a communications and branding agency. She is also a virtual adjunct instructor of communications at the University of Iowa, the University of Northern Iowa, and Simpson College.
She attended the University of Northern Iowa, where she graduated with a dual degree in textile apparel and French, later returning to graduate school for communication studies with an emphasis in public relations and journalism. Her early career in the fashion industry took her to New York City, Chicago, and London before she relocated back to Iowa. There she worked as an editorial project manager at Meredith Corporation and senior editor of dsm magazine, eventually launching her own agency in 2016.
She currently sits on the board of the Public Relations Society of America's Iowa chapter, serves on the marketing committee for the Des Moines Downtown Chamber, and is a member of the American Marketing Association and the Des Moines Social Media Club.
Preferred Pronouns: She/her/hers
During graduate school, I was on the board of the Public Relations Student Society of America (PRSSA), the student arm of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA). It was my graduate advisor, Dr. Gayle Pohl, who urged me to join the organization. I found it to be a great investment of time and effort, even during the busiest times, when time and energy felt hard to come by.
After I traveled with the group to the national conference in Florida, I was hooked. In just one short week, I had heard from some of the industry's best leaders, had gotten my resume into many important people's hands, and had filled my briefcase with business cards. One person had even invited me to an interview at a major international automobile company after graduation.
I realize right then and there that membership in PRSA was invaluable to my professional development and career path.
The biggest benefit of membership in PRSA is gaining the opportunity to network with local public relations professionals, and that alone is an immeasurable value proposition. It's also the benefit I appreciate the most!
Other exclusive benefits include tailored daily and monthly publications, professional development training, and various professional discounts, which come in hand pretty often. The organization also offers the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR) credential, which once attained, sets professionals apart from their peers and positions them as leaders and mentors in the field. It's worth mentioning that this credential is only available through the organization.
The organization has a standard membership application. In it, applicants answer basic questions about their demographic information, professional experience, education, and area of expertise. Membership dues apply.
PRSSA is the collegiate arm of the organization, and it is not just for public relations students! It's for anyone who wants to develop their communication skills, especially students majoring in advertising, business, graphic design, journalism, marketing, or political science. To see if their school has a chapter, students can search the online PRSSA directory.
If your school does not have a chapter yet, I would suggest reaching out to a professor. Together, you can learn about the requirements and steps to start a chapter from scratch. What a resume builder it would be to have taken that level of initiative!
With more than 9,000 students and a huge roster of alumni, the society has networking opportunities in droves. Student members can network at PRSSA events like the International Conference, the Leadership Assembly, and district conferences. Maybe you'll even find yourself on the National Committee, a group of 14 students who are the best of the best.
Now that my graduate school days are far behind me, I am involved with the organization at the state level as a board member. But I still connect with students daily, since I teach communications and public relations classes at three state schools: University of Iowa, University of Northern Iowa, and Simpson College.
I am always urging students to take advantage of membership, because knowing how to network (and mastering the soft skills that go along with it) is the most beneficial tool a young professional can add to their arsenal. That's especially true now, when potential employers have limited time and high demands.
Even more often today, to get a foot in the door and have a conversation with a potential contact, students must either already know someone or have a keyword to fight their way through a cluttered inbox. And the use of a keyword that relates to a professional organization, like PRSSA, may be the subject line that gets their email seen. If they doubt me, I tell them to take a look at LinkedIn and search for a communication professional's page. They may be surprised to see just how many former PRSSA and current PRSA folks are out there.