So, you’re a college graduate – maybe recent, maybe not-so-recent – and you find yourself without a job. It’s been a few months, you’re starting to think bad thoughts. You’re not panicking yet, but you’re definitely thinking about panicking. You need to jump start your job search but you don’t know what to do.

At that very moment you happen to glance at your alma mater’s monthly magazine and see an ad for the university club. It’s a private club that charges an initiation fee and dues but it would almost certainly be a solid networking resource. The question is, do the very definite and measurable costs outweigh the less quantifiable benefits?

Let’s analyze: Say you’re an alum of Columbia University here in New York. You graduated in 1993, and though you’ve lived in the New York City area since then, you’ve never felt a need to join the Columbia Club. But now you’re thinking about joining. What do you get?

1. A Place to Hang Out. The Columbia Club shares a building with the Princeton Club of New York. It’s a pretty swanky building in midtown Manhattan which has a restaurant, bar and a hotel open to club members and their families. The hotel rooms run about $230 a night, which is a pretty good deal for Manhattan, and would be a good place for your parents to stay when they are visiting from Cleveland. Also, when you’re tired of sitting in your apartment all day, not working, you’ll have another place to go … and not work.

2. Networking. The Columbia Club hosts regular events for members, many of which are geared toward those who are job hunting. “We are starting to see more and more networking as a result of the economic situation,” said John R. D. Celock, chair of the club’s program committee. He said that the club recently sponsored an event with the university’s Center for Career Education which featured a panel how to use the school as a resource during a job search.

3. A Place to Work Out. Since you lost your job, you had to drop your pricey $120 per month membership at that high-end sports club, but you’re happy to learn that the Club has its own gym and it only costs $360 per year. Still, given that your income is nonexistent, you’ll have to crunch the numbers to see if you can come up with the cash. Squash, massages and the on-site barber are extra, of course.

4. Travel Options. When you join a club like this you generally get reciprocal memberships at similar clubs all over the world. Columbia Club members, for example, can use the facilities at The Army Navy Club in Washington, D.C., The University Club of Chicago and the United Oxford & Cambridge University Club in London, among many others.

So clearly, membership has its benefits … privileges, even. But what’s it going to run you?

When you join one of these clubs they generally hit you twice: first with an initiation fee, and then with an annual fee. Sometimes there’s an application fee too. If you join right after you graduate, then the initiation fee is often waived, but the annual fee usually goes up as you get older and presumably better able to afford the expense. They also charge more for people who live in New York City, as opposed to people who live in the suburbs or out of state, because the city dwellers will probably use the facilities more often.

So, since you graduated before 2000, and now live in the burbs, the initiation fee is $1,000 and your annual fee is $1,135.  If you graduated in 2002, however, you’ll pay a $750 initiation fee and then $625 in annual dues (plus tax).

Not exactly cheap. For someone who’s unemployed and feeling the financial squeeze, membership in one of these clubs is probably cost prohibitive. But it’s worth keeping tabs on since many of the events they host are open to all alumni, not just members. And beyond that, there are plenty of ways to network, alumni groups included, that won’t cost you a couple thousand bucks to join. But I don’t have to tell you that. Bottom line is, if you can afford a university club – great. If not, you’ll have to be a bit more scrappy … and perhaps crash the club on occasion.

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