Getting Something Extra Out Of An MBA

This week 70 students from the Sloan School of Management of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will venture to California's Silicon Valley to see first-hand some of the nation's foremost technology companies. If lucky, some may even come away with new connections that lead to a job upon graduation.

With price tags that often exceed $100,000, today's graduate business programs go far beyond course work and clubs. In finding the right program for career advancement, it's important to consider extracurricular opportunities -- like MIT's "Tech Trek" -- that help students make contacts and develop expertise in a particular field.

"M.B.A. programs are offering a great variety of experiential activities," says Jerry Trapnell, executive vice president of the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. "Today, this is a key component of the M.B.A. degree, and should be an important factor in a student's decision of which program to enter"

Trapnell notes that more graduate business schools have relationships with companies that allow students to work on actual projects. Others, such as New York University's Stern School of Business, allow students to invest a portion of the school's endowment.

This trend is gaining ground with smaller schools and major state institutions alike, says Trapnell.

In New Jersey, for example, Rutgers Business School offers an M.B.A. concentration in pharmaceutical management. Each month, students meet with top executives from such companies as Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) and Roche to discuss topics ranging from drug pricing and marketing to competition in the industry.

"We're trying to provide students with a real-world perspective," says Dave Muha, communications director for Rutgers Business School. "And part of this is networking and interacting with executives in the pharmaceutical industry."

MIT's Tech Trek is a 10-year-old program designed to expose students to industry trends as well as connections for their job search.

"They're out here sizing up companies, learning about new technologies, and maybe even getting ideas for their own entrepreneurial ventures," says Paul Denning of the Sloan School of Management.

The students will be visiting large tech companies such as Cisco Systems (CSCO) and Hewlett Packard (HPQ), as well as smaller firms and start ups.

"I'm here to see the next big thing, the technology that's going to shake up industry and change the world," said first-year M.B.A. candidate Dominique Liana Russo.