Formally trained as an engineer, Matt Holzapfel (MBA 2015) worked at both Sears and Dell in the years before business school. While at HBS he discovered a budding interest in entrepreneurship, and took advantage of the flexible second year to explore his new passion.

How did you approach your second year?

My first year (RC) at HBS confirmed my interest in entrepreneurship, so I wanted to use the second year (EC) to take advantage of HBS's many resources around the topic. My course load was a balance between entrepreneurship classes (such as Entrepreneurial Finance, Founder's Dilemmas, and Launching Tech Ventures) and classes that taught lessons that seemed hard to replicate outside of an HBS classroom (such as Investment Strategies, Authentic Leadership Development, and The Coming of Managerial Capitalism). I also registered for one Independent Project (IP) each semester and a course at the Kennedy School over the January term.

What was your experience like doing an Independent Project?

At first I was hesitant to register for an IP each semester because there are so many great courses offered at HBS. Fortunately, it turned out to be a great decision. My IPs provided a great opportunity to organically build relationships with professors and industry professionals who I might not have met otherwise. Also, by having only two cases each day, I didn't experience the case discussion fatigue that can happen on three case days.

What was it like to cross register for a class?

I cross-registered for a class on Persuasion at the Kennedy School during the January term. I needed to be in Boston during January, and I thought the class would be a great way to experience a different part of Harvard while learning an important skill.

The course had the same high standards as an HBS course, but was taught through a combination of lectures, small group activities, case discussions, and written assignments. The lecture component was a significant piece of the course, which is a departure from HBS's case method. It worked particularly well in this class because the professor was able to bring to life important persuasion principles through first-hand examples and research.

The student body was also noticeably different from HBS's. Many students had spent the majority of their career in the public sector before coming to Harvard. I loved getting the opportunity to hear their experiences and post-graduation goals. It helped broaden my perspective, and made me more appreciative of the challenges being addressed by leaders in the public sector.

If you could go back and do anything differently your second year what would it be?

Second year was great, but if I had to do it differently, I would change a couple of things. First, I would have only registered for classes that were of high interest to me. In particular, I registered for one class because the material seemed important and it was a popular class, even though I wasn't particularly interested in many of the cases. I ended up not enjoying the case discussions very much and wished I would have registered for a different course that better aligned with my interests.

I would have also spent more time building relationships outside of HBS. There are a lot of industry professionals, particularly when it comes to entrepreneurship, who love helping students. I would have spent more time building these relationship during my second year because it is such a great way to expand your perspective and the EC year provides the flexibility to coordinate these meetings.