It is the opportunity to network with top educators and future leaders in their fields that should motivate high school students to enter highly-ranked universities. Unfortunately, since their three years of high school are focused on scoring high on one important test, students have been trained to focus more on chasing test scores than building meaningful relationships. They don’t understand that it is the friendships that they form with their classmates and professors that will be infinitely more useful as time passes.
There are many potential benefits a solid professional networks offers. Students can share information about new opportunities such as competitions to enter, chances to study abroad, scholarships they might qualify for, and extracurricular activities they can enjoy. Upperclassmen can provide advice about companies their juniors are applying to and the best way to interview for certain positions. Professors can write recommendation letters, introduce students to their future advisors, and provide encouragement during low periods. I have personally benefitted from my network by being introduced to new clients, acquiring opportunities to gain experience and promote my endeavors, and receiving suggestions for ways to improve myself and refine my professional goals.
It is especially important in a country like Korea, where parents invest so much time, energy, and financial support for their children’s education, that the value of networking is taught at home first. Imagine if Korean parents promoted network building to their children with the same fervor that they encouraged attaining high test scores. Students need to learn that admission to a top school is not a guarantee that they will have good employment opportunities. It takes more than listing your alma mater to stand out in today’s competitive job market. While teaching at KAIST I was especially disappointed to see many students interact mainly with their high school friends and the students they were grouped with upon matriculation. I felt like they were wasting an opportunity by sitting with the same people class after class and did my best to encourage them to get to know other future scientific leaders of Korea before it was too late and they went their separate ways after graduation.
While starting to develop a professional network as early as possible is ideal, it is never too late to begin. Look for mentors, collaborators, and mentees at work. Join a professional organization. Put yourself out there and show your colleagues what you have to offer. Finally, don’t be afraid to lend a hand to someone who needs it. One of the greatest benefits of a professional network is that we can surround ourselves with people who push us to be better while creating a supportive environment in which to do so.