I majored in theater at a liberal arts college, and I came to HBS from a nonprofit.
I remember sitting in the auditorium on the first day of HBS, looking around the room at the 900 other suits surrounding me, and wishing so badly class could start with some kind of dramatic reading from a script so I could prove myself before being swallowed whole by the swarm of finance wizards.
I can’t help but smirk when I think back on this vivid memory, as I couldn’t have been more misguided in my anxiety.
It was a matter of hours, not days, before I realized the idea of the “traditional” HBS student was practically non-existent. There were former consultants and bankers, certainly, but the ones I met had diverse and dynamic interests and many were actively looking to switch industries and change careers.
Practically speaking, HBS takes very careful measures early on to be sure all students have the opportunity to strengthen their less developed skills in Excel, finance, and accounting. While there were piecemeal trainings offered during my time at HBS, the programs have now been condensed into a preparatory online experience called HBX CORe which provides students a common baseline of understanding and knowledge before classes begin.
It’s true you have to take finance alongside your sectionmates, many of whom have worked professionally in the field for multiple years. Finance professors at HBS, however, artfully conduct discussions that teach to the lowest common denominator in the classroom while still pushing the thinking of those students who master financial principles on a much more advanced level. Professors value thoughtful questions as much as they do insightful answers.
I also found my unique background prepared me well for the other RC classes that focused on strategy, operations, and entrepreneurship. And, for any fellow actors out there, HBS professors love a good role play! I could always advance the class discussion by volunteering to improvise a meeting or pitch a sale from the perspective of the case protagonist.
As a student at HBS, you are constantly advised by professors, alums, and career services, “Don’t follow the herd!” They say this as an encouraging reminder that there is no “right” path during or after HBS; your career journey should be authentic to your interests, passions, and priorities.
In my experience, not following the herd is easier to do when you come to HBS with a unique background. Your story naturally differentiates itself in interviews. Don’t lose that independence. Celebrate it. Own it. And look forward to where it will lead you in business school and in the rest of your life.