Why You Should Consider Student Clubs When Choosing MBA Programs

Although MBA professors, alumni and students all agree that academic quality should be the primary consideration when choosing a graduate business school, one way to differentiate between comparable programs is to look at the student clubs each school offers.

“Clubs are very important and should definitely factor into an applicant’s research and choice, but given that business school is a major investment, clubs should not outweigh academic rigor, the strength (and connectedness) of the alumni network, and the program’s job placement track record for your desired industry,” Rebecca Horan, a brand strategist who received her MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business and a former Stern admissions officer, wrote in an email.

“And the truth is, any academically rigorous program with a powerful alumni network and strong placement rates is likely going to have a great selection of student clubs and associations as well,” she adds.

Business schools are typically home to an eclectic group of student-run organizations, including clubs that focus on cultivating a specific type of business skill, like investing, and clubs that focus on socializing with people who share a hobby in common, such as skiing.

[Read: Get a Boost in B-School From Extracurriculars.]

There are also usually affinity groups for ethnic and religious minorities; self-identifying lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students; and international students. These affinity groups allow MBA students who come from underrepresented backgrounds to forge friendships and professional relationships with one another in a supportive and affirming social environment, experts say.

“It’s helpful for networking, but I think it’s more helpful though for students feeling socially connected with each other,” says Jack J. Baroudi, a professor and senior associate dean for academic programs at the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

“So, for instance, we have an international student association in the business school and that becomes a very important place for our new international students to come in and say, ‘What is school like in the United States? What is business school like?’ and to meet their fellows who come in from their own country, but maybe also from other countries,” Baroudi says.

Experts say vibrant MBA student clubs facilitate career exploration and professional networking, both of which are critical components of a solid business school experience. These clubs also allow students to apply the skills learned during MBA classes in extracurricular business projects, and these types of projects can add luster to student resumes if they lead to significant accomplishments, experts suggest.

For MBA students who arrive at business school unsure of what career they want to pursue after they receive their MBA degree, student clubs offer exposure to a plethora of industries and business functions. That can help students discover the types of jobs that are the best fit for their talents and interests, according to experts.

Student clubs are also valuable for MBA students with niche career interests who want to break into or advance within a specific business sector, experts say. Students in clubs can network with their future colleagues, hear lectures by experts in their target field and develop valuable industry contacts.

[Read: 4 Questions About School Success for B-School Alumni.]

Clubs can also provide MBA students with opportunities for leadership, creativity and personal development.

Jed Portman, a second-year MBA student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, says his involvement in the school’s beer industry club has been profoundly rewarding. Portman is the president and head brewer of Darden’s School of Brew, a club which creates the recipes and sources the ingredients for its own one-of-a-kind craft beers, which are then added to the menu of a local brewery taproom.

According to Portman, the most significant selling point for Darden was its rigorous core curriculum and reputation for helping students cultivate fundamental business skills. Still, Portman says he is grateful for the existence of its School of Brew club. “I don’t mean to say that I wouldn’t have gone to Darden if they didn’t have a club like School of Brew, but it certainly enriches the experience,” he says.

Portman, who previously worked as a food editor at Garden & Gun magazine, a publication devoted to telling stories about the American South, says getting involved with the School of Brew gave him a chance to make a unique contribution to his MBA class.

“People don’t come to me with help with their accounting and their finance, and I recognized early on that a club like the School of Brew would be a way for me to give back to the Darden community, because when it comes to more conventional business skills, I have a lot to learn,” he says.

“But I did bring a strong food and beverage network and a lot of knowledge of that industry to school. So School of Brew has been a phenomenal outlet for me and for other students like me.”

Portman says MBA students who come to business school after having worked in non-business positions can use student clubs as a way to strengthen their competencies in fundamental business skills, while simultaneously showcasing unique skills they have because of their non-business work experience.

And through the School of Brew club, Portman realized that he had a knack for product development, a skill which he recently used during his MBA internship at Fortune 500 grocer, supermarket retailer and food manufacturer The Kroger Co.

“That had helped me figure out where I might fit in the business world, because I realized, ‘Hey, I like this, and I’m not terrible at it,'” Portman says. “You’re never going to see me on Wall Street, but I enjoy the process of creating a beer. … Nothing satisfies me more than seeing someone enjoy a product that we made, so that’s encouraged me to look for opportunities that allow for that sort of creativity.”

Stephen Rakas, executive director of the Masters Career Center at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, says that both business-related and purely social MBA student clubs offer important benefits.

“I recommend students join clubs that represent both their career and personal interests, when possible,” Rakas wrote in an email. “It’s an opportunity to share more about yourself and build stronger connections with your classmates. You may not want to begin an elevator pitch by discussing the Brewmeister’s Club, for example, but being able to chat about your hobbies and non-academic interests can serve as an excellent ice breaker and, for some companies, it may be a part of the interview process.”

Lindsay Badeaux, senior assistant director of admissions at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, says clubs can help MBA students make important contacts with recruiters.

“Half the value of an MBA is the network you’re building, so in that sense, all types of student clubs could be beneficial in expanding your network or meeting others from diverse industries and perspectives,” Badeaux wrote in an email.

[Read: What Kind of Work Experience Helps MBA Applicants?]

“That being said, the professional clubs can be especially helpful for students preparing for a career switch, as they often hold events specifically to prepare students for the recruiting or interview process. They may offer opportunities for mock interviews, resume reviews with alumni in a certain industry, lectures or panel events with industry experts or networking events to connect students with key contacts in the field. All of these club-hosted opportunities can help prepare students for their future job search, or even serve as a foot in the door for their next internship or job,” says Badeaux, who also works as an MBA admissions counselor with IvyWise.

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