If there is anything all of us graduate students have in common, it is that we live on a budget. Some of us have a measly assistantship stipend that gets us through, some us live on Ramen noodles and PB&J sandwiches while some of us borrow the money we need to live comfortably but with the looming worry of paying it all back after graduation. Whatever your situation, something tells me that dishing out money for a professional conference isn’t high on your priority list… but maybe it should be.
Here are some tips for getting to those conferences on a budget:
Choosing a conference:
This isn’t as easy as it sounds and just choosing a conference based on how much they charge for registration isn’t your best bet. Choose your conference based on your interests, your future goals, and your financial budget. Decide what type of conference you want. Are you looking to network and have a broad range of topic areas to explore, head to a national conference. If you have a focused interest like supervision in counseling or family therapy, find a focused conference. The key here is to get the most bang for your buck.
So you have decided on a conference that you will benefit from most, now how to pay for it? There are a lot of ways you can other people and organizations to help.
1.Apply to present a paper, sessions, of learning institution – most conferences offer financial perks for those who are presenting. These range from free registration, payment of membership dues for the organization, to free lunches and dinners at the conference.
2.Your graduate program will often offer small funds for students who are presenting at conferences. If this is the case, ask if your program will match financial assistance from other sources. For example, if ACA pays for your registration fee, (let’s say it is $100), although you don’t actually see the money you can let your school know that your grant is for $100 and some schools will match it.
3.GRANTS – This is an underutilized source for those who qualify. Many grant opportunities exist for students who are presenting at conferences. They know we are students and need the extra help so many organization set money aside for this purpose. Ask your program faculty. They get emails about this stuff and are just waiting for you to ask.
4.Register early – most conferences offer incentives in the form of discounted registration rates if you register early. Usually the longer you wait the more expensive it gets so it doesn’t pay to procrastinate.
Transportation – As for airfare, the earlier you book the better. Usually anything less then 14 days out is going to cost you. Register for free fare tracker services on flight search engines like Kayak.com. They will alert you as soon as a fight to your selected city goes on sale. You can also pay with your arrival and departure days. This does require some planning ahead. Decide what portions of the conference you can’t miss and which portions aren’t as necessary. Arriving a day early or leaving the day before the closing of the conference might reduce fares. Or of course DRIVE!! If it is less than 6 hours away, definitely go for it, especially if you can get some friends to travel with you.
The Hotel – Find a roommate for the trip. Send an email out to your classmates and see if anyone else is thinking about going. Believe me, you will find many students are on the fence about going because of cost and if you can share a room to split the costs, you will most likely get some students willing to make the trip.
Food – This one is pretty important! The great thing about conferences is that often times some meals will be provided. Whether it is a snack lunch or a catered banquet, ask around. At the bigger national conferences, there are always groups who are having catered get togethers at different times during the conference. Ask around and get invited. If they have boxed lunches, ask if they have extra, they usually do, and take one for the road.
So, the long and the short of it is, go to conferences. Sometimes you luck out and the conference is in your hometown. If that is the case you have no excuse. The benefits definitely outweigh the cost. Believe me, in the long run that business card you got during a conference may be the key to your next job, a lifelong colleague and friend, or a mentor. I hope you take my advice and see what options are out there for you.
If you have any more ideas, please post!!
Jessica Diaz is a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, a third-year doctoral student, and was a student representative on ACA’s Governing Council.