Written by Marlo Wyant

A professional conference may sound like it is out of reach for undergraduate students, due to expense, distance, or registration costs. However, conferences can present both valuable networking opportunities and offer insight into the needs of a particular industry to all levels of education, be it undergraduate or post-doctoral.

Conferences are not as costly for students as you may think. Most professional organizations have special student or collegiate registration prices that are far lower than the professional rate. For example the Society of Women Engineers National Conference registration for student is discounted by 81% in comparison with the professional registration fee. The American Psychological Association Convention also offers a 76% discount to collegiate members. There are dozens of other professional organizations that also offer similar discounts to their student members. Additionally, campus organizations may also provide subsidies for their students to attend conferences.

If you are interested or curious in finding organizations and conferences related to your field of study, you can check out http://www.allconferences.com/.

Another benefit of these national conferences is that they often have career fairs of grand proportions. For example, the Society of Women Engineers National conference hosts a career fair of 240 companies and organizations focused on the field of engineering. Other conferences may also have such specialized career fairs. Career fairs provide excellent opportunities for job seekers to learn about new companies in a face-to-face setting, ultimately increasing the chances of finding a good fit for employment.

Some conferences focus primarily on the technical aspects of a particular industry, rather than pure career development. If this is the case, there are still numerous benefits for even inexperienced attendees. There are opportunities to network with professionals in the industry. Often times there are trade shows associated with the convention where different companies will showcase their products. The 2011 American Wind Energy Association Conference recently had over 1,200 booths. Although these events do not directly advertise available jobs, it allows prospective candidates to meet employees of those companies.

The second benefit of attending the conventions include the seminars and workshops. These sessions often provide insight into new trends in the industry. Learning about emerging technologies or methods in a specific field can help young professionals to find their career path and located where new opportunities may lie.

I encourage you—be you Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, Grad Student, or Young Professional—to attend any professional conference related to your field. You just might happen upon opportunities that you would not expect.