Greetings from HBS! My name is Siri and I am a second-year student and a
candidate for the joint MBA/MPP program between HBS and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Before graduate school, I worked for three years as a management consultant specializing in the pharmaceutical industry in New York. Besides business, I am very interested in politics and government, so during my college summers I also did several internships on presidential campaigns and in the U.S. Senate.
Although I majored in Chemistry and Physics in college and worked in management consulting, I didn’t feel fully confident in my business-related quantitative skills coming into HBS. I had never taken a single economics class in my life and had no exposure – and I truly mean zero – to accounting or finance.
In fact, developing an understanding of basic finance and accounting and a sufficient fluency in the concepts of micro and macroeconomics was one of the things I was most looking forward to about business school. I had heard that HBS did a great job of supporting people like me in getting up to speed quickly in these subjects through prematriculation programs, and I was eager for all the help that I could get.
In my RC year, HBS offered an accounting and finance immersion course on campus for people in my position (this has since been replaced by HBX CORe, but the content is interchangeable). Signing up for the course was probably the single best academic decision I’ve made at HBS. While I didn’t come out of the prematriculation preparatory work feeling like an expert, I did feel fully confident entering the RC finance and accounting classroom.
I also found over the course of the semester that the key to learning accounting and finance was repetition: the more I got exposed to the concepts through case reading, case discussions, reading the textbook and having informal discussions with classmates, the more intuitive and clear the material became.
At HBS, we learn finance and accounting through the case method just like every other subject. I am a huge fan of that approach. In the beginning of the courses, we spend a few classes nailing down the basic concepts (different financial statements, debits/credits, fundamental accounting identities etc.), but after that, we learn all other concepts in the context of specific cases.
To me, this strategy makes a lot of sense because it is the closest you will ever get to the real world in a classroom setting; the cases really bring accounting and finance to life. After all, in your job, no one asks you to solve arbitrary homework-style accounting problems; rather, you are looking through actual companies’ actual financial statements to make sense of what’s happening.
Similarly, in our finance classes, we learned to construct realistic discounted cash flow spreadsheets, among other things, which is similar to what many of my classmates were asked to do in their subsequent summer internships. So if you’re looking to really grasp how finance and accounting are used as tools in the business world, I absolutely think that the case method is the way to go. I must admit that I surprised myself in just how much I actually learned throughout the RC year in accounting and finance!
If you are at all worried about learning finance or accounting through the case method, I have just one simple piece of advice for you: take a deep breath and relax! HBS has set up an amazing support structure in this area and you will not be allowed to fall through the cracks. In addition to class sessions, professors hold extensive office hours and sometimes even proactively reach out to individual students who might be struggling in a course.
HBS PhD students act as “Teaching Fellows” for finance and accounting courses, holding review sessions walking you through additional sample problems. HBS also gives you clear and accessible finance and accounting textbooks that you can read to get a better handle on the material. Moreover, one of your most important resources will be your classmates who come from finance and accounting backgrounds.
My finance-savvy friends helped me check my homework, answered quick questions on the fly during bathroom breaks, and even hosted a section-wide review session before our final exams. As long as you are willing to put in the work and utilize all of these fabulous resources, I promise you that you will at the very least get through HBS finance and accounting successfully – you might even outperform your expectations! Best of luck!