EC and RC year are like two siblings: widely different in personalities but they happen to live under the same roof. I've polled my classmates on which year is their favorite, and the results are divided with no clear winner. You'll probably have your own opinion too, but I'll walk you through three key differences: who you meet, what you talk about, and what you do in your free time.
Who You Meet
RC year is when the section experience is at its strongest, and you find yourself spending most of your time with your 90-person family. Your section stays in the same classroom, takes the same ten courses from the same professors, and sits in the exact same seats every day. Outside of class, your section plans events to get to know each other in the first semester, and celebrations to spend more time together in the second semester. The sheer fact of being in the same place makes it easy to spontaneously plan lunch, dinner, or a night out. I went into my EC year with a very strong core group of friends.
EC year you pick your own courses, and you likely won't know everyone in each class. You can develop new friendships with people from other sections, but it also becomes harder to keep in touch with old sectionmates. I realized I couldn't just make plans to go to lunch after class because there are so many people I don’t see in class. EC year you have to make an effort to keep in touch, but you also get more time to grow and develop friendships.
What You Talk About
In RC year, when you take the same classes and experience the same events every day, you have a plethora of common topics with anyone in your section: did you read the case for tomorrow, how did you feel about what that professor said at the end of class, are you going to the retreat next weekend? You can also discuss most of these topics with people outside of your section because everyone in the first year takes the same classes, reads the same cases, and goes through recruiting or other major events together. I found it easy to strike up conversations and also transition into understanding people's plans for the summer.
EC year you spend more time talking about the different experiences: the atypical guest in one class, an awkward recruiting interview, or an amazing international trip. The thing I enjoy most EC year is spending time with my friends - talking through what they want to do with their life and asking others for advice on what to do with mine. RC year laid the groundwork for engaging conversations, and EC year introduced the flexibility of exploring personal topics.
What You Do in Your Free Time
It's not uncommon for RCs to feel like they have no free time. Between classes, club events, conferences, recruiting, section events, “My Takes”, RC parties, dinners, and guest speakers, the RC calendar is packed to the brim. I found it hard to say no to events because everything was so new, and I didn't want to be the person who missed out.
EC year feels less hectic. The fall semester is generously sprinkled with job search days (which mean no class on that day). Also, people select their schedules or do Independent Projects so that there’s a chance they don’t have class certain days of the week. I know plenty of classmates who are working on their own start-up, hitting up the gym, concentrating on recruiting, or exploring other interests. In both RC and EC years, time is precious and you'll need to prioritize how to spend it.
I've loved both years of the HBS experience. Just like parents say it's hard to pick a favorite kid, it's hard to pick between RC and EC. RC year is your first introduction to HBS, your section, and the MBA life. It is structured, hectic, memorable, and will always be special.
On the other hand, EC year is when most find their stride and delve deeper into their own areas of interest. Whatever your preference, both years have one similarity: they fly by fast, and my best advice is to enjoy both for what they are.
To learn more about student life, visit our First Year Experience and Second Year Experience pages.