Last year, HBS replaced its previous week-long residential pre-MBA program, Analytics, with HBX’s Credential of Readiness (CORe) program, an online primer on the fundamentals of business that is open to learners around the world. 

While some incoming students are required to take CORe as a condition of their admissions decision, it is open to all incoming MBA students. After taking CORe, students arrive on campus with the skills and confidence needed to dive into their MBA coursework.

We recently caught up with the former Executive Director of HBX, and current Executive Director of Harvard Business School’s MBA Program, Jana Kierstead.

Can you tell us about HBX CORe?

HBS was interested in entering the online space, but we only wanted to do so if we could offer a high-quality product that matched the style and mission of the school. We wanted to be sure that we stayed true to the case method of learning while also taking advantage of the unique features of an interactive online platform.

CORe was designed entirely to be a highly-immersive, engaging learning experience with a substantial interactive component. In other words, we don’t want you to go more than just a couple of minutes on the platform without having to do something. You aren’t logging in and just watching a video lecture, (our videos are great, though!) you are interacting with the platform in some way – using a spreadsheet emulator, exploring a balance sheet, etc.

Here at HBS, we know that you not only learn from your professors but from your peers as well. One of CORe’s unique features is the diverse, global group of learners that meet on the platform. Throughout the course, there is a peer help section where students can ask and answer questions of their fellow cohort members. You will be frequently asked to answer cold calls, comment on the contributions of others, or even engage in a group discussion.

Who can benefit from taking CORe?

Is it cliché to say everyone? The topics covered are so widely applicable and we truly believe that almost everyone can benefit from this type of education.

One of the best things about the CORe learning experience is the wildly diverse group of learners with whom you get to interact in your cohort. While college students and early career professionals from a variety of backgrounds make up a large percentage of our cohorts, we also have students in later stages of their careers that contribute a wealth of knowledge and experience. There is also a great mix of those with a background in liberal arts, STEM fields, and business.

How is CORe similar to the MBA program?

CORe was designed by some of the same HBS faculty members that teach in the MBA program and uses our signature case-based methodology. It also requires a high level of participation and peer interaction. It’s an incredibly powerful way of presenting content that allows students to solve real-world business problems through the eyes of an executive.

Aside from not being a degree program, one major way CORe is different from our MBA program is in terms of scale: CORe is not subject to the physical constraints of a residential program. As long as applicants have the aptitude and motivation, we have the ability to make top-notch business education available to them.

Are incoming HBS students involved with CORe at all?

Our faculty have embraced CORe whole heartedly and we’ve heard feedback that the students who have completed CORe before entering the MBA program are really well-prepared to engage in their MBA coursework.

What tend to be students’ biggest takeaways?

We’ve heard from students time and time again that they truly feel as if they understand the “language of business” after completing CORe. They are able to better understand the articles in the Wall Street Journal, or they have a new appreciation for the world around them. Even seemingly mundane things like going to the grocery store take on new meaning once you understand bundled pricing!

We’ve also had students who have taken on new responsibilities in their current jobs, gone onto new careers, been accepted into their top choice graduate school and MBA programs, or even started their own companies after completing CORe!


How has HBX evolved after the initial few CORe cohorts and what surprised you?

We are continuing to improve our platform by adding new features, many of them stemming from student suggestions. Beyond that, I think we were all a bit surprised and delighted by the supportive nature of the CORe community and peoples’ willingness to jump in and answer questions, provide motivation, and share guidance. It reaffirms our belief in the power of peer learning and that learning is not a zero-sum game.

What’s your advice for someone who is considering applying for CORe?

CORe is a terrific program for the serious learner – there is so much to do and see on the platform, and such potential for interacting with your fellow students to deepen the learning experience.

The program requires a commitment of roughly 150 hours to complete the coursework, and your success depends your level of participation and contributions to the online community.

As with anything, you will only get out of it what you put into it!