One of your first lessons in financial management in business school will come from personal experience, and it’s always painful – learning to manage your discretionary cash.
If you haven’t yet done your homework yet, ‘discretionary cash’ is just a snobbish term for ‘non-essential’ expenses, a large portion of which is usually spent on a mixed bag of experiences and events that loosely make up your ‘networking’ experiences.
As an MBA student, there is no underplaying the value of networking, which could make all the difference in your post-MBA job or the direction your career will take.
After all, making the right moves is all about making the right connections, and while in business school, making the right connections is almost as important as the degree itself.
So, if you’re signing up for an MBA program, make sure you set aside some serious cash as your ‘discretionary’ or networking budget.
How serious? Judge for yourself
Bloomberg Businessweek’s (Nov 2015) Big Spender’s study reveals that the cost of networking adds up to a whopping $14,000 to $ 19,000 per student. Following is the break-up:
|Business School||Networking Cost|
|The Wharton School||$17,717|
|Harvard Business School||$16,290|
|Columbia Business School||$14,400|
Why Does MBA Networking Cost So Much?
Where does all that money go? Connecting with people and building your network is an expensive business and there are many ways to do it. There’s no guarantee you’ll strike gold but one thing is certain – it costs a pretty packet.
Career exploration trips overseas, week-long study tours, career conferences across the US and club-sponsored foreign fam tours are among the more expensive options because you have to foot your own travel, boarding and lodging bills.
Worse, most of these trips tend to firm up at the last minute, pushing up travel costs that much more.
Yet, these trips and tours are extremely valuable as they offer an insight into how the industry of your choice operates in another country; you get to learn about a new culture and language; gain a global perspective of business; and see how a product or service behaves in a different economy.
Most importantly, these tours and conferences introduce you to important people in your career domain and, if you make a good impression, they could potentially open doors for you.
Seems like a heck of a lot of money to shake hands and swap business cards – but it could be an invaluable investment.
Apart from hoping to make an impression on potential employers, let’s not forget how important it is to network with peers and seniors on campus.
Just like you, your peers too have a few years’ work experience, and you never know who you might need to reach out to after you get back out there, or vice-versa.
Winter break is when many of your classmates will take off on expensive cruises and to chill at Alpine resorts. Year-round, back on campus, many frequently visit fancy pubs and gourmet restaurants, where everyone who’s anyone hangs out.
You could also hang out at professional clubs, another ace networking move, but there’s just one word to describe the membership here – ouch!
How To Save Money in Business School Networking Events
Given how critical networking is, what can cost-conscious students do? If your business school organises networking events for first-year and second-year students to mix, jump right in. It costs nothing and you will soon realise that you can build rapport and discover common interests without having to sit across bar stools.
Career management experts point out that these events can act like a two-way street. If you’re a senior, you can mentor a junior student or act as a career advisor and, in return, they will always count you as a part of their network.
The other side of the coin is to tap your business school’s alumni. Many schools bring their alumni back to speak on career panels hosted by student clubs, as many alumni act as ambassadors for the business school. This offers an excellent opportunity for MBA students to meet them one-on-one. Tapping the school’s alumni association is a logical extension of this exercise.
Returning to the subject of conferences and how expensive they can be, well, here are some tips on how to save some money while getting the most out of them.
One, carefully choose the conferences that you attend and then try and get a discount. Many conference organisers offer discounts on early-bird registrations while discounts are also offered to MBA associations like the MBA Veterans Network.
Also, check with your school before registering because some conferences offer the school a discount on every student if the school assures a certain number of registrations.
If you are looking for a backdoor entry to a conference, volunteer to help organise it. Networking opportunities don’t get better than this as you will likely have direct access to the keynote speakers and session leaders. How cool is that? This is much more effective than paying $100 to attend the conference and then exchange a few business cards at the end of the session.
Another way to economise and save costs on networking-related activities is to plan well in advance and then bunk with friends of family while visiting on a study trip.
For those who need a more accurate estimate of their networking costs, you can log on to online forums that discuss life at business school or speak to recent MBA graduates to get a better idea.
Some schools even appoint ambassadors or students who serve as representatives and can give you valuable information and advice on networking strategies, how much it could cost and how to get the best bang for your buck.
A thumb rule to remember is that potential connections are ‘people’, not ‘trophies’ or ‘contacts’. So when you build a rapport with someone whose interests align with yours, have a conversation; don’t oversell yourself.
Although the ultimate goal is to make an impression on people who could help your career, you never expect networking to bear fruit immediately.