Forget the coupons, the stock-up-and-save sales and the loyalty discounts. To get some of the hottest deals around, sometimes all you need to do is give your university a call.
Discounted classes, deals at local and alumni-owned businesses and access to state-of-the-art facilities, your alma mater may offer up some valuable bargains and services.
In a rocky economy, many colleges are even more eager to reach out to their alumni to give them a boost—with the hope that when good times return, alumni will repay the favor.
"The primary purpose is to offer alumni and friends a tangible way to become and remain connected with the school," says Tim Wigington, assistant director of strategic planning for the University of Portland's alumni relations office.
Here are some of the most common perks offered up by schools to help keep their alumni happy.
Discounts at local retail stores
Many colleges and universities team up with local retailers to offer discounts on everything from pizza to bicycles, ranging from 10 to 25 percent off and sometimes more. If you live near the university you attended and are a member of the school's alumni association, you may be sent the card automatically. Otherwise, you may just need to ask for it.
Wigington says such partnerships have been successful at his college and allow everyone to benefit. "[Partnering] with local businesses or businesses with alumni connections build a network that grows our community," he says. So do your part by taking advantage of the deals. At Portland, for example, alums can earn 10 percent off from a local dry cleaner, 30 percent off online purchases at a local clothing store and 15 percent off of labor costs at a local auto repair shop.
National company discounts also available
But what if you don't live in the same place where you went to college? If you went to a large school, you may still benefit. Some schools have teamed up with national companies to garner group discounts for their alumni. You may be able to grab big discounts on home and auto insurance, car rentals, hotels and other services, head to the alumni page of your school's Web site and search for the benefits page. At the University of Michigan, for example, alumni association members can get discounts on Apple products, T-Mobile cell phone service plans and admission to theme parks including Six Flags.
Free and low-cost trips to the gym
You may not have to spend big bucks on that gym membership. Colleges often have state-of-the-art weight machines, Olympic-sized pools and quarter-mile, indoor tracks that you can access for free or for a relatively inexpensive daily or annual fee.
That said, sometimes there are restrictions. Alumni may find that they're required to use facilities only during certain hours, such as early morning or late evening. Nonetheless, if you can fit it into your schedule, it can mean big savings. Kathy Pappas, director of alumni relations at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass., says that you may even be able to get a deal for a non-grad.
"If you want to bring a guest with you to our gym, for example, it's just $2," she says, noting that many colleges have similar policies.
People living or working near a college should also check in to see if they qualify to get a discounted rate to use the facilities. At Grinnell College in Iowa, town residents pay just $260 a year get to access to the school’s recreation facilities. Those include a brand new building with basketball courts, cardio machines and weight equipment.
Access to tons of books, DVDs and CDs
Even if you never set foot in a library during your college days, you may find that it now has exactly what you need. Don't think dusty tomes of heavyweight academic research. Most libraries have extensive media collections so you can pick up CDs, DVDs and consumer magazines. At the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, alumni can check out up to 10 videos, DVDs or books at a time.
Many will also provide alumni with passwords so they can do research, using fee-based services such as data merchant LexisNexis. Some even have inter-library loan programs which gives you access to library collections across the country. At Ohio State University in Columbus, for example, alumni association members can check out any of the 6 million volumes owned by the school -- and can access a total of 38 million through linked libraries.
Classwork for a nominal fee
Looking to brush up on your Spanish skills before taking a vacation to Mexico or yearning to tackle a few Shakespeare plays? Your alma mater may allow you to audit a class for free or for a fraction of the full price.
"If alumni are thinking of going back to class but they just want to explore it first, they can audit it first for a small fee," Pappas says. At her school, alums pay a $15 processing fee to audit a class.
Career assistance for the asking
Think your alma mater's career assistance ended once they helped you land your first job after graduation? Think again, says Nichole Hall, programming and internship coordinator at the Mansfield University career center in Mansfield, Pa.
"Many larger universities have people dedicated specifically to alumni career development," she says. They may offer everything from practice interviews, job search strategies and in-person consultations.Some colleges have organized free or inexpensive networking events for alumni or will allow alumni to attend job fairs hosted by the college.
At Mansfield, Hall says alumni can take advantage of several free career services, including career exploration activities, access to graduate school information, and access to a career resource library. For $40, alumni can attend a “Career-Day Mini-Conference” that includes four workshops, or pay $20 for any of several workshops offered throughout the year.
Even if you live hundreds of miles from your alma mater, they may be able to help, says Toni McLawhorn, director of career services at RoanokeCollege in Virginia. "With technology today, it's easier to provide direct assistance," she says, noting that she can review cover letters and resumes and connect job seekers with other alumni who may be able to help -- all online.
To find out what your college offers its graduates, check in with the alumni office. Many have benefits pages on their websites. Others can answer your questions with a quick phone call. If they're not sure about a particular service you're interested in, call the specific office to get more detailed policies.