As graduation approached this year, I spent more and more time reflecting on my experience at HBS. The last two years have been more than I ever could have imagined, and I’m so incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this institution. As I look back, I’ve come to think that there are five key things that make the HBS MBA unique.
1. The Case Method
As you’ve probably heard, the case method is the foundation for the HBS curriculum. The case method makes for a highly engaging and enriching learning experience. At HBS, you don’t sit back in class and listen to a professor lecture. Each class, you read a case about a protagonist and a decision that he/she is facing. You’re put into the shoes of the protagonist and forced to make a decision on what he/she should do, often without all the information that you’d like to have. The case method is truly unique to the HBS experience. It helps prepare you to be a general manager, where you have to make tough decisions.
2. The Section Experience
The first year section experience is a unique part of life at HBS. At the start of your first year, you’re assigned to a section of 90 students. Your sectionmates come from an incredible variety of geographies, industries, functions, and backgrounds. You take all of your first year classes together and socialize outside of class. The case method pairs beautifully with the section experience as you learn from the diverse perspectives and experiences of your section mates.
This became very apparent to me during the Business, Government, and the International Economy (BGIE) course first year. Our cases focused on different countries, and while we had the professor to guide the discussion, we also had section mates from virtually every country we examined to provide their perspectives as well. That said, the section experience is more than just about learning from each other. You form deep connections with your section mates, and your section becomes your cheerleader and support network.
3. The Core Curriculum
Your first year at HBS you take all required courses with your section, while your second year you take all elective courses with students from across the class. Although you have to wait until your second year to select your own classes, the core curriculum has a number of benefits. To start, it ensures that everyone develops the foundational skills critical for business. Additionally, you’re introduced to classes and career paths that you might find interesting but that you otherwise wouldn’t take on your own.
For me, I came to HBS thinking that I was more of an established company person, but I discovered an interest in startups through the core curriculum. Finally, the core curriculum underpins the give and take of the section experience. While someone coming from finance can help a section mate with finance and accounting, he/she might learn from a section mate who ran a team at manufacturing plant before school about leadership.
4. The FIELD Program
FIELD is another unique aspect of HBS. FIELD is a two part program during your required first year curriculum and allows you to apply what you learn in the classroom to real world situations. FIELD 1 is the foundation of the FIELD program. It focuses on developing skills around leadership and working in groups.
During FIELD 2, students are put into teams and work with a company in an emerging market on a business problem. FIELD 2 culminates with students going in country for a little over a week. FIELD 2 allows you to gain an international perspective and an understanding of business in emerging markets. The FIELD program is a great addition to the case method because it gives you the opportunity to practice the business skills you learn about in class, and it’s a great test in leadership and working in teams.
5. The Large Size
HBS is one of the largest business schools in the world, and this comes with a number of opportunities. The large student body allows you to get to know a diverse group of classmates from all over the world during your time on campus. Additionally, there are student clubs and elective courses to cater to a variety of interests. Furthermore, the global HBS network is a tremendous resource.