Unlike many business schools today, HBS offers only one type of MBA degree: the two year, full time residential MBA. Everyone graduates with the same degree, and we don’t offer official concentrations or specialties. That isn’t to say that students don’t hone and pursue specific interests during their time with us. While the first year curriculum gives all students the same foundational business skill set, the second year is more of a choose-your-own-adventure story. Some students choose to continue taking a broad swathe of courses, while others concentrate in specific fields and function areas.

Laura Little came to HBS determined to pursue an interest in early stage healthcare. She gained experience through classes, her summer internship, and independent projects (IP) in her second year. We checked in with Laura to find out what prospective students should know about pursuing independent projects at HBS.

1.      Independent projects are only available your second year

Your options in the first year at HBS are fairly constrained, but your time is much more your own EC year. There are lots of possibilities to pursue: independent studies, consulting projects, case writing, helping professors with research, and cross registering for classes at other Harvard schools.

2.   You can take one independent project per semester

Technically you can do two, one each semester your EC year. IPs can really vary on how work-heavy they are relative to a typical class, but if you pick a good project I would say it's definitely workload intensive. My fall IP took quite a bit of time in clumps, including many hours over winter break, whereas my spring IP was much gentler on my time. Consider that time commitment when you are picking IPs, especially if you are going to be recruiting in one or both semesters.

3.      Faculty members sponsor independent projects

You should approach the professor you want to work with as early as you can. You should be prepared to design the IP objectives, goals, and deliverables more-or-less yourself with some faculty input. You're going to get out of it only what you put in!

I identified my spring term IP faculty member when I called him for some primary research I was doing for my January-Term internship. He mentioned that the work I was doing was very similar to an IP project another EC student was working on completing. Since I knew the EC as a friend from classes, it was easy to collaborate with him to continue his project as an IP.

4.      Independent projects allow you to explore specific interests

Working with a startup in the telemedicine space that was just getting started for my fall Term IP was great. I got to pitch some potential investors, allowing me to sit on the other side of the table from the VCs I knew well from my prior work experience. I also got to work alongside a tireless founder and understand how much really goes into launching a pilot, funding your venture, and refining the business model.

The spring Term IP was a bit more academic and built upon the work I did during my J-Term, which was focused on identifying what steps hospitals need to take to transition from fee-for-service to a value-based payment model. It helped me understand how to talk the language of premier cancer hospital leadership, and help them identify metrics to help them measure patient access.

Independent projects can be an extension of not only what you learn in the HBS classroom, but also help you develop career aspirations beyond your MBA as well.