Just Starting Out? This Site Could Help You Attract Colleges and Employers

University of Central Florida students on commencement day outside of the CFE arena
University of Central Florida students on commencement day outside of the CFE arena. Aileen Perilla/The Penny Hoarder

LinkedIn’s vast network can be daunting, even for the seasoned professional.

It can be especially overwhelming for a high school or college student debating whether to pad that skeletal-looking work history with “quiz bowl captain.” (Hint: No. Here’s a better way to set up a LinkedIn profile.)

Mariana Moawad, who graduated recently from the Academy for Arts, Science, & Technology in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, says that despite advice from well-meaning adults, she hasn’t created a profile on the networking site.

“I’ve been encouraged to make a LinkedIn profile,” Moawad says. “I haven’t yet because I find it very intimidating and I don’t have enough to put on it.”

But without a LinkedIn profile, a student’s online presence could be reduced to social media posts. And how well do those photos from your best friend’s birthday bash reflect on your aspirations to become a marine biologist?

Although 68% of college admission officers say it’s “fair game” for them to check out applicants’ social media profiles to help decide who gets in, respondents to Kaplan Test Prep’s 2018 survey of admissions officers, also say it’s becoming less of an option as students move to social media apps like SnapChat that do not archive posts.

So what does that mean for students? A lack of relevant, helpful information about them, according to Shea Tighe, national director of engagement for STEMPremier, an online profile program that’s free to students.

“They’re not building a presence,” says Tighe. He notes that when he asks students about what they think of LinkedIn, the typical response is, “It’s something my dad uses.”

STEMPremier is designed for students to showcase and organize their accomplishments in the same way LinkedIn helps professionals present their work accomplishments, according to Tighe. He says STEMPremier’s searchable profile can connect students with colleges, employers and scholarship opportunities.

During her junior year in high school, Moawad says, a teacher assigned her class to create profiles. Students were allowed to choose between LinkedIn and STEMPremier.

Moawad says she’s glad she chose STEMPremier, since creating a profile led to two internship offers — one from Boeing and the other from South Carolina’s Coalition for Mathematics & Science — before she even graduated from high school.

Starting With the College Application Resume

Resume building starts well before most students apply for their first job.

Many college and scholarship applications require a resume, which can be problematic for someone who’s never created one before.

Moawad counts herself among those who struggled. She laments that she didn’t learn about STEMPremier’s ability to export profiles as print-friendly resumes until after she’d submitted her applications.

“A lot of us in high school applying to colleges were constantly making resumes for college applications,” Moawad says. “It was very hard for students to know exactly what to put on and how much to put on, and like how specific they should be about it.

“But with that same information, STEMPremier would automatically generate it for you.”

After creating a profile, students can add their GPA, test scores, career interests, extracurricular activities, community service, transcripts, badges, languages spoken and portfolios. They can even upload a video, which Moawad says helped generate interest in her.

“I had a project where I made a video about quantum computing, so I just casually linked it,” Moawad says. “That was something impressive, apparently.”

The program is designed to help students organize information in a format that allows them to share the profiles with colleges, scholarship programs and potential employers, who pay a fee to search the database of 365,000 students by skills and interests, Tighe says.

That search function made a critical difference to Alex Koziol, who originally planned to apply to several large universities before a direct message popped up in his STEMPremier profile.

The message came from Webb Institute, a small college in Glen Cove, New York, where all students graduate with a dual bachelor’s degree in naval architecture and marine engineering.

“Webb Institute sent me something that said, ‘We saw that you’re interested in robotics and swimming and some other things — like they actually saw my profile — and we recommend you apply,’” says Koziol, who did not know the college existed before the message. “It would have been hard to find out if they hadn’t reached out to me.”

That message proved to be a valuable one; Webb Institute accepts about 30 students each year, and they all receive full-tuition scholarships.

Koziol says he’s updated only grades in certain classes on his profile since starting college last fall, but he’d recommend the site to high school students weary of the college search.

“It’s kind like of a reversal because normally you look for colleges,” Koziol says. “On STEMPremier, it seems like the colleges look for you.

Resumes Without a Job History

From high school through college, students struggle to write profiles for LinkedIn because of its emphasis on work experience and professional connections, says Alexander Lowry, executive director of the master of science in financial analysis program at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts.

LinkedIn is brilliant if you are mid-career,” Lowry says. “It’s built for someone to say what they’ve done, what their qualifications are.”

Lowry, who wasn’t familiar with STEMPremier until The Penny Hoarder asked about it, says that by creating sections to highlight academic achievements and school activities, STEMPremier allows students to attract potential employers in a way that LinkedIn doesn’t.

So, would he recommend it at his college?

“I’ve already forwarded this to the head of our admissions and the head of our career services so they can jump on this right now,” he says.

Not Just for STEM

Tighe admits the name would seem to indicate that the site is exclusively for the math-and- science set. However, he says, STEM-related competencies — from mastery of specific programs to analytical skills — are applicable to virtually every industry.

STEMPremier is designed to reach students who might otherwise go unnoticed, either because of their major or because of their distance from hubs for high-tech jobs, he says.

For the students in the middle of nowhere, it puts them on the radar,” says Tighe. He stresses that early engagement with a company can benefit students by letting them learn how they can apply their talents to a career they might not have considered. “They’re judged based on skills.”

Moawad says she agrees that although there may be more opportunities for STEM-specific careers, she would recommend the site to any student.

Linked to the Future

Boasting more than 500 million members, LinkedIn is unlikely to go away anytime soon, especially since STEMPremier has just 200 colleges and companies currently participating.

And although STEMPremier could be useful as an additional career tool for students, it’s not a replacement for the vast network that LinkedIn offers, says career counselor and coach Lynn Berger.

“There’s no reason not to familiarize yourself with LinkedIn, but if it feels intimidating, I would do this [STEMPremier] and then over time, do LinkedIn,” Berger says. “They can start here, but when you have some experience or some internships, you can do both.

“With LinkedIn, you’re just going to have more access to different kinds of people.”

Even Moawad admits that she’ll probably join LinkedIn — someday.

“Maybe in the future, LinkedIn would be more beneficial for me,” she says. “But for now, for what I’m trying to do, I think STEMPremier was a better option.”

Tiffany Wendeln Connors is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder.