HBS is a big place. We think it’s one of the great advantages of our program (lots of students = lots of alums = a big global network for you to access). We receive a lot of questions about our size, like “with a first year class of 930 other students, is it possible to form meaningful connections in such a big class?” Well, Neil Wusu (MBA 2015) and Philipp Schalli (MBA 2015) are here today to answer some of those common questions, tell you about section life, and the ways it builds a community here at HBS.
What is an HBS section?
Neil: To make campus feel smaller, HBS breaks up each class to 10 sections of 90+ people in your first year. You find out during your first week at HBS which section you’ll be in (A-J), and they use an algorithm to make sure each section has a diverse cross-section of people from different countries, backgrounds, and interests. You take all your first year (core curriculum) classes with these 90 people in the same classroom. Think of section as your homeroom/extended family at HBS. Instead of dealing with 900+ new names and faces, you get to start with 90.
Philipp: The section is much more than your classmates for a year – it is a group of great friends to share ideas and interests where you quickly find people to connect and debate with inside and outside of the classroom.
How do you think the section set up impacts the academic environment at HBS?
Philipp: The group of 90 is extremely diverse, and you will have people from all different backgrounds: section mates with in-depth finance experience from investment banking and private equity, with marketing expertise from CPG, who have successfully started and sold companies, who have served in the Navy and who are from the US, Nigeria, Switzerland, Korea or any other place in the world. This diversity is one of the key ways learning at HBS works. In a classroom full of different perspectives and backgrounds you understand and work through cases together. The section is the embodiment of this idea. The section is also an extremely safe environment where everyone is encouraged to speak up and contribute in the discussion. That allows for a very smooth transition into a learning environment where speaking up is crucial for success.
Neil: Section increases the level of accountability in each class. It’s one thing to come unprepared for a class with people you see once or twice a week. The stakes are much higher when you have class with the same people 2 to 3 times a day, 5 days a week. Section really makes you invested in the learning of your classmates. Coming unprepared doesn’t only rob you of a valuable classroom experience; it lessens the quality of your section mates’ classroom experience as well. Section also provides a level of academic support. You become very invested in making sure everyone in the section is thriving academically. From frequent student-led review sessions, to informal phone calls with section mates asking about how to do the analysis in a specific case; your section is always there to make sure you understand the topics being covered in class.
How do you get to know the people in your section?
Philipp: There are a lot of social activities where everyone has opportunities to meet. Some of my favorite activities have been section sports, Thanksgiving dinner with the professors and the section ski weekend.
Neil: The shared out of classroom experience of section is what transforms your section from a homeroom to an extended family. Through social events we not only become closer personally but the section develops a personality as well (Something like the houses in Harry Potter…except EVERYONE thinks they’re Gryffindor).
Section activities include:
- Events/Mixers (karaoke, trampoline dodgeball, bowling, brewery tours, board game night)
- Holiday Celebrations (Thanksgiving dinner, ugly sweater Party, Chinese New Year dinner)
- Intramural Sports (basketball, volleyball, flag football, squash, section Olympics, IM trivia)
- Group Travel (spring break in Costa Rica and Machu Pichu, long weekends in Iceland and Nashville)
- Section Retreats (long weekends in Cape Cod or ski weekends in Vermont)
What surprised you the most about section life?
Philipp: I was pleasantly surprised how connected my section remained after our first year when we no longer had class together every day. I missed my section in the classroom, but outside of the classroom I stayed very connected with many of them. There are a lot of ways to stay connected, be it through sports, shared academic projects, or simply for fun and dinners in the evening. Even in classes during your second year you will always have a few people from your section whose comments you are looking forward to in classes.
Neil: Hands down I was most surprised (and impressed) by the section’s ability to bring together people who otherwise may not have ever gravitated towards each other. Where else can you find the son of a US Senator, a first generation college student from Arizona, a Canadian Olympic ping pong player, a former NFL cheerleader (and MIT engineer), and a Westpoint grad/Iraq war veteran bonding over an intense game of intramural flag football or playing Settlers of Catan at board game night?