College Connect: Conference cash may not always be there, but you can still make the contacts

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By KELLY DICKEY, Ball State University

I was thrilled when I found out this year’s American Copy Editor’s Society, or ACES, conference would be held in New Orleans. Thoughts of meeting professionals, attending workshops and maybe taking a little trip down Bourbon Street rushed through my head.

But as I crunched the numbers for the flight, hotel and membership fees totaling more than $600, I quickly realized that my dream trip would remain just that — a dream.

Tight budgets are the brutal truth for a lot of professionals who want to hone their skills at conferences. And the hard realities are even harder for broke college students.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You really can connect with professionals without breaking the bank.

Though I had to pass on my New Orleans trip, I’ve made the most of opportunities closer at hand, thanks in part to my professors.

This semester alone, I’ve met with professionals at multiple meals and conferences simply because faculty members thought of me when opportunities came up.

You can also still check with organizations to see if there are any conferences coming up around your area. You’ll probably still have to pay a membership or registration fee, but you won’t have the added cost of a plane ride and hotel.

And you may not even have to go off-campus.

Find out if your university is hosting any workshops in your field. Even if registration isn’t open to students, sometimes departments ask students to show professionals around and let them sit in on classes.

And if you’re determined to go to that national conference, scholarships are sometimes available. Two of my classmates are going to New Orleans thanks to scholarships through our department, as well as from our university’s Student Government Association.

As you would expect, funds are usually limited. I tried for a New Orleans scholarship, but there’s only so much cash available, and I didn’t make it.

That’s OK, though. I’ll make the most of my freebies in the meantime. Last month, I and two other financially-strapped students were invited to a local Economic Club luncheon.

We dined on prosciutto and chicken, and even got to meet the Washington bureau chief for The New York Times.

It wasn’t a junket, but the chance to chat up a terrific journalist and make another contact made it a great day: a mini-conference, like my own Big Easy, just closer to home.

Kelly Dickey is a senior at Ball State University and managing editor of the Ball State Daily News. She became interested in personal finance and business reporting after writing about economic transitions in Muncie, Ind.

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