HBS is an experience. HBS is an investment. HBS is two years to have fun, meet new people, and learn from some of the greatest teachers in the world. All of these hold a piece of truth. But only a piece. While the topline narrative is overwhelmingly enticing, the bottomline summary is that HBS is also costly.
From a time perspective, it is two years of learning and leadership transformation that will ultimately balance out along your entire career. However, for an experienced candidate such as myself, having worked for over a decade, these two years were an intrusion along a steady career path I had already built.
Additionally, HBS can only be experienced in the academic bastion of the US, Cambridge, which provides the best possible learning environment. Having lived and worked in San Francisco for 5 years prior to HBS, a cultural shift East, away from the very real excitement of tech seemed a nuisance at best, a career limiting move at worst. So why did I attend then?
This summer, I had the privilege of working in Berlin and sat as a panelist for prospective students in Germany who were thinking about applying to HBS. The usual litany of questions on the application process, the experience, academics and social life came up and the rest of the panel and myself were able to address them as normal.
However, one prospective student raised his hand and asked an unusual (but seemingly very German) question towards the end of the panel: “Everyone here has mentioned how great of an experience HBS is, but no one has mentioned the cost perspective. Given that the total tuition comes to over $200,000 for the two years and you all have or are going to complete this process, what exactly is in your bank account now?” A collective hush covered the panel. One of the alums launched in to our semi stock answer around the experience, the investment, the leadership, and how this is worth the cost, dodging completely the personal nature of the question. After seeing the prospective students initial look of disappointment with the answer, I chimed in with as much honesty as I could muster.
There is no simple equation for what the cost amounts to from a career or personal growth perspective. Simply having two years to take time and reflect is unreal and shouldn’t be subject to mathematical analysis. Add to this, you get these two years with some of the most talented and inspiring people in the world who are just as interested in personal exploration and the cost is unfathomable. This is definitely a leap of philosophical proportions, but really it is the only way to fully understand what this program is.
Much like the German prospective student’s question, the cost of HBS hasn’t panned out to what I thought it would be. I had a clear bright line in my mind of what the cost would mean to me: a safety net of insurance in the brand name, potentially a better job in three years after graduation, and this supposed network that I could call upon if I needed support.
I hate to admit it but I was so terribly short sighted. HBS cost me much more than an enhanced insurance policy. At HBS, I lost sight of what I thought my career should be. Rather, all that I had planned for turned out to be so limited. I had quite a narrow perspective on the world I chose to live in and HBS showed me that there could be so much more than this.
HBS cost me familiarity. HBS also cost me self-satisfaction. I had achieved a certain level of career success prior to being admitted. This now all pales to what I now expect of myself and the others around me. And I couldn’t be any more excited to see if I can meet these new expectations.
$200,000 won’t buy you piece of mind. It won’t buy you a guarantee towards prosperity. And it definitely won’t buy you happiness. But what you will gain is potentially much more valuable.
Be prepared to lose a piece of yourself. It’s a scary and amazing process. Be prepared for two years of self-reflection that is thorough, exacting, and transformational. It’s a brilliant experience that can’t be understood from an academic lens. Best of all, be prepared to be constantly provoked. More than anything, HBS will incite a furious level of curiosity that will be hard to abate. Embrace it because this will be the most useful of all skills you will gain.
See Addie's Class Day speech here.