Focusing on the Full M.B.A. Experience

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA blog on U.S.News.com

Despite all of the attention paid to extracurriculars during the MBA application process, it seems some b-school hopefuls don’t fully realize how vital it is to continue being involved once they settle in on campus.

According to the 2013 Prospective Student Data Survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council, the nonprofit behind the GMAT graduate school admission exam, prospective students at both ends of the age spectrum expressed differing levels of interest in participating in clubs. Forty-eight percent of those younger than 24 and 23 percent of those 31 years old and older planned to become involved in student groups once on campus.

While it’s true that part-time students tend to sacrifice participation in MBA clubs and extracurricular activities, anyone gearing up for a traditional, two-year MBA program needs to know this: if you don’t get involved with some activity outside of the classroom, you will not reap the full benefit of the MBA experience.

There is a multitude of ways to get involved, and you will learn as much from these activities as you will from your studies. Your grades really don’t count that much.

Even if your school has a disclosed grading system, after you graduate, no one is going to ask for your GPA. So go to class to learn, but don’t study so much that you miss out on the rest of the experience.

Whether the focus is social enterprise, entrepreneurship, real estate or rugby, there’s a club for every interest under the sun and something for absolutely everyone at b-school. These clubs will not only to build up your network, but help you create a sense of camaraderie with your fellow students. This is essential for getting the most out of your MBA, and I encourage anyone applying to also check out the student clubs offered by your target programs.

You might be contemplating a different career path after graduation, in which case the professional interest clubs provide an excellent opportunity to explore new career options and gain deeper knowledge in a specific area.

Perhaps you’d like to become involved with an activity that provides a diversion from academic life, or nurture a hobby or interest that had languished during your 80-hour work weeks, pre-MBA. Or how about a student organization that is both professional and social, offering the best of both worlds? The options are nearly endless.

There are only so many hours in the week, however, so do watch out for the phenomenon known as FOMO – fear of missing out – which may lead you to overextend yourself simply because there are so many amazing things happening all the time at b-school.

Julianne Harty, who has just graduated from the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University and chronicled her MBA experience on her blog “Sleeping Between Spreadsheets,” says she chose both social and professional clubs for the first year but was restrained by both time and her budget as each club has membership dues.

“Be aware that while you may join a lot of clubs, you may only be active in a couple of them,” says Harty. “Join only the ones you’re interested in and will derive value from – the professional club that’s related to your career is a good one, but also look out for social clubs with common interests so that you can develop relationships with people and bond over something that isn’t b-school.”

The writer behind the MBA blog “The Brain Dump,” who goes by Cheetarah, wrote about how she encountered FOMO this past year at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. She writes that joining student groups is practically mandatory. “If you’re going to search for summer internships and full-time employment the student groups are often the first line of recruiting. Many events are members only. If I want to interact with my target companies I need join the clubs.”

Student clubs can also offer an excellent opportunity to hone your leadership skills. In a recent post on the Duke University Fuqua School of Business student blog, Sarah Feagles shares what lead to her desire to make Fuqua a better place by committing her time and abilities to organizations that she’s passionate about.

“It’s easy to fall into the trap of just going through the motions as an MBA student and making it a very ‘transactional’ period in our lives,” she writes. But now that she co-chairs Fuqua’s Leading Women Organization and is training to become a COLE Leadership Fellow, Feagles has a new perspective on the importance of giving back to the community that has given so much to her.

Aside from the knowledge you acquire academically, the network you cultivate in business school is the most valuable asset you’ll come away with. The best thing about participating on campus, says Harty, is just being able to be with your classmates in a non-academic setting.

“Being able to bond over a beer, a game of poker, the latest case study you worked on, diffuses a little the stress of the program. These extracurriculars are where you find your friends in the program,” she says.

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