Do college students need their own LinkedIn? AfterCollege thinks so

College students seem to be flocking to professional social network LinkedIn, which describes them as its fastest-growing demographic.  But competitor AfterCollege is unfazed, believing it can give college students and recent graduates a better online job networking experience.

The San Francisco-based company, which was launched in 1999 as a job listing site for entry level positions and internships, is refashioning itself for the social era with a new networking layer targeting college-age users.

In any given year, the company said, more than 3 million college students and recent graduates use AfterCollege to search through about 200,000 listings, using its algorithms to find the most relevant jobs.  With the new social network, students will be able to connect with classmates, professors, administrators, alumni and employers to receive job opportunities, recommendations and advice.

Roberto Angulo, the company’s co-founder and CEO, is well aware that LinkedIn is already gunning for this audience, with a career path exploration tool, new student profile sections and, more recently, a College Pilot Program. But, he says research shows that while students may be joining LinkedIn, they’re not really making full use of it.

“Students were saying, ‘we know we have to be on LinkedIn when we’re out in the working world’ but the only thing they’d use it for is a profile, because they have no one to connect it to,” he said.

Given AfterCollege’s connections with colleges (16,000 academic departments at 2,300 schools) and employers (20,000), Angulo said, the company decided to build a social network on top of its site that gives students something like an instant network. If a student whose college or academic department is on AfterCollege joins the site, she’ll be immediately connected to her classmates and professors, instead of being forced to search for contacts (or be found) a la LinkedIn.

The company makes money by charging employers a subscription fee to post job listings on the site. Angulo said that unlike CareerBuilder, Indeed and other job sites, his company lets employers target students by academic department. AfterCollege, which has been profitable since the early 2000s, received a small angel round close to its launch in 2000, and  last year raised less than one million dollars in Series A financing from Flywheel Ventures to build out its social network.

For AfterCollege, which has maintained an unstructured network of students and employers, the addition of networking layer makes sense from business and trend perspectives. The company can make additional revenue by charging employers for direct access to students and it brings the site more in line with the connected Web students are now accustomed to experiencing.

But, considering LinkedIn’s growing dominance in the job networking space, I don’t think AfterCollege is going to unseat LinkedIn anytime soon as the professional networking site for college students and recently graduated users. A quick poll among the few people in my life who are in that demographic anecdotally supports Angulo’s observation that LinkedIn’s youngest users aren’t using it for more than building a profile. But, over time, as more young alumni join the platform, it could increasingly provide a more robust experience for young users. Also, if LinkedIn is going to be the place where college students eventually maintain professional relationships for the rest of their working lives, it makes more sense for them to build networks with classmates and professors in an environment with longevity instead of a place like AfterCollege that targets just one chapter of a person’s career.

While LinkedIn is building up its college-age membership and it has the potential to be a powerful resource for students, the site appears to have a ways to go in getting them to really engage.

(Image from hxdbzxy via Shutterstock.)