He estimates that Wharton’s students join between five and 10 clubs, but he points out that 10 is overkill. “When you get here as a first year, you get carried away and join way too many clubs,” he says. A weekly student survey shows that Wharton first years spend an average of five hours each week on extracurricular activities, while second years, who often hold leadership positions, average 10 hours per week.
This involvement allows MBAs, particularly at large schools, to find and connect with like-minded students, according to Wharton Graduate Association President Jackson Dunlap, a second-year MBA. “One main benefit to joining a club is it lets you connect with people around a certain topic, whether it’s a hobby or a career interest or an affinity group. It allows you to shrink the MBA experience to a more manageable size and go a little deeper in your relationships,” he says.
Given the premium on relationship building at B-school, clubs are arguably more important to an MBA program than any other graduate experience. Any successful businessperson knows that many deals happen on the golf course, over a few pints in the bar, or during a three-course dinner. In this sense, clubs are the social training ground, just as classrooms are the academic one. Clubs offer a safe environment for MBAs to develop their skills so they can sail through future social situations – whether it’s hitting a birdie during a corporate golf retreat or selecting the perfect French wine for a client dinner. “On the surface, you may think we’re just drinking wine or playing golf,” Jones says of the golf and wine clubs. “But they do have an educational component, and people come out being more well-rounded.”
CAREER CLUBS: AN INSIDE TRACK IN THE JOB SEARCH
Career clubs are generally the largest and most active groups on campus. From private equity and venture capital to social entrepreneurship, most career tracks have a corresponding student-run organization. These are responsible for a slew of activities, including arranging alumni happy hours, preparing members for interviews, hosting industry panels, and planning large-scale conferences and trips. Columbia Business School’s Private Equity and Venture Capital Club hosts an annual conference with some 1,000 attendees – those at Wharton and Harvard Business School are even larger. The Ross Technology Club plans treks to San Francisco, Seattle, and Detroit as well as hosting weekly lunch-and-learn sessions about industry topics and internships.
According to Meloche, these informal interactions with key industry players, such as a virtual hangout with Google employees, give students a leg up in the job search. “You’re able to have a more ground-level conversation on what their internship and full-time experiences are like, what they’re really looking for outside of their corporate recruiting presentations, and how you can really portray those characteristics in your resume and interviews … these are things you don’t get outside of the club,” he says.
STRETCH EXPERIENCES: TRYING OUT SOMETHING NEW, FROM TAP DANCING TO RUGBY
Clubs can also give students a safe zone to dapple in new activities. Jones calls them “stretch” experiences and tells of several dozen Wharton MBA candidates who took up tap dancing and performed for the first time before an audience of 1,500 people. Others push their physical limits more literally. Only 20% of the students in the Wharton Rugby Football Club played the sport before joining. Now, they’re training three times a week alongside more experienced rugby players and going head-to-head against other B-schools in weekend tournaments.
It can also mean simply learning about a new topic, such as cigars, photography or beer brewing. Given MBAs’ diverse and varied backgrounds, there are often industry professionals on hand to provide experienced instruction. For instance, UNC Kenan-Flagler’s Beer Society boasts two Japanese brewers, from the Suntory and Kirin breweries, who share their expertise with beer novices.
For Meloche, the stretch experience translated to trying on a new role as president of the Ross Technology Club. “I would never have considered myself a natural-born leader, but at Ross it’s something I wanted to develop, and that’s why I ran for this position,” he says. “I was a little bit nervous about being president but figured I would see how I adapt. So it has really became a big part of the learning experience.”