There is a lot to get used to during your first semester atHBS – attending class, making new friends, finding an internship, and doing
homework again. While reading and preparing cases for each class may seem
daunting and time-consuming at first, it becomes second nature after a semester
or two. By second year, many students decide to try their hand at writing a
Why write a case
with a professor?
In case you aren’t yet familiar with HBS cases, they are the
10-30 page packets upon which almost every class discussion is based. Cases can
be and are written on many topics: a person, a company, a country, an event.
They are written by HBS professors, research associates, and sometimes students.
For those who are nostalgic about undergraduate or masters’
thesis writing days, and are excited about being in an academic environment
again, writing a case with a professor is a great way to do independent
academic research. Depending on the topic, case writing allows you to conduct
primary research and meet case protagonists.
Some students have leveraged such research to find new jobs
or expand their professional networks. It is also a great way to leverage
pre-HBS work experience (by writing a case on a company you’ve worked with) or
learn something completely new. If you are looking to dig deep into a company
or topic, writing a case is one of the best ways to do it.
Additionally, case writing is a way to form a close relationship
with a professor of your choice - they become your case advisor and mentor. It
also affords you a unique “inside look” into the workings of HBS and the
process by which our learning curriculum is built. Being associated with a
published HBS document isn’t too bad either.
How does it work?
If writing a case is something that interests you, it is
very easy to get started.
1) Choose a topic of interest or a professor you are hoping
to get to know better. If you choose a topic first, find a professor that
either you know and like or that is particularly knowledgeable on or interested
in the topic. As you will soon see, pretty much any topic goes!
2) Determine how you want to fit the case writing into your
schedule. Options include replacing a class your second year with an
independent project, or treating case writing like an extracurricular activity
in addition to your regular class load.
3) Meet with the professor you choose; most professors are
happy to have case writing help! If you chose a professor before a topic, you
will want to discuss potential topics with him or her during these first
4) Get researching! Some professors provide more guidance
than others. Either way, this is your project so take initiative and make the
most of it.
During the first semester of my EC (second) year, I
continued to work part-time at the company with which I interned over the
summer. Once that commitment ended at year-end, I was looking for an
interesting extracurricular for my last semester.
I approached a few professors in the BGIE (Business,
Government, and the International Economy) department whose classes I loved. I
told them I was interested in writing about either Israel or the former Soviet
Eastern Europe and asked whether either of these topics would be interesting to
them as well.
Luckily, one of my favorite professors was interested in
writing about Eastern Europe and we immediately got started. I chose to write a
case in addition to taking five classes, which I found very manageable. Students
can also get credit for case writing by doing it as an independent project. As
the semester wore on, I started helping with another case about a small company
started by an HBS graduate in Nigeria. I ended up learning more than I had even
expected and developed a closer relationship with a great professor in the
However you decide to structure your future HBS case writing,
one thing is guaranteed: you will get to know interesting people and become
more knowledgeable about a topic of your interest. I can’t think of a better
way to have spent some time during my last stint in the academic world.