Trips and Treks: a Critical Part of the MBA Experience?

In case you missed it, the New York Times had an interesting article over the weekend exploring the role travel plays during one’s MBA experience.

Some travel opportunities during b-school are curricular and offer course credit as part of a class. Other trips are student-organized and career-focused but don’t include academic credit, such as the so-called “tech treks” to Silicon Valley. Finally, MBA students can find multiple opportunities for leisure travel across the globe during holiday breaks and long weekends.

Each of these experiences provides valuable networking settings where students can bond with their classmates, and the Times notes that the array of travel possibilities in b-school has grown dramatically of late.

Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jeffrey Pfeffer has taught for 35 years at the GSB, and tells the Times, “The social aspects of business school have become more prominent over the last decade — there is no doubt about that. Students go to Vegas and take over a Southwest Airlines plane, they go to the Sundance movie festival, and some of them rent houses on Lake Tahoe.”

So what’s the potential down side to all the camaraderie-building that group travel provides? Well, it comes at significant financial cost, and estimates quoted in the Times are all over the map. The article notes travel budgets range anywhere from $5,000 to $30K during a two-year program.

Students of modest means who don’t want to miss out on these networking excursions pay for them with credit cards, banking on the belief that it will pay off down the line with a high-paying job. Still others take on jobs to pay their way.

Despite the sometimes exorbitant cost, the overwhelming majority of the MBA students and graduates interviewed by the Times seems to find significant value in these travel experiences.  Some point to employment offers and internships that came about thanks to a school-sponsored trip.

MIT Sloan School of Management alumna Samantha Joseph (MBA ’09) worked as a teaching assistant to pay for her travel expenses, which included trips to nine countries during her two years at MIT Sloan. Though she didn’t receive course credit for most of these experiences, she tells the Times they were an important part of her education.

“If you want to be a global leader in any industry, it’s important to see how the business world works and runs in other countries,” says Joseph, now director of corporate responsibility and sustainability at Iron Mountain, a data and records management company.

Ultimately, students must decide for themselves what is financially feasible when faced with the dizzying array of travel options that come up during an MBA program. Personally, I believe there’s so much to be gained from making strong connections with your classmates, and there’s almost no better place to do so then outside the classroom—and possibly outside the country.

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