I grew up in a few different places. My dad’s business took us from New Jersey to Georgia, then off to San Diego during the early 90’s. I went to school at the University of Chicago—much different weather there than in San Diego, by the way. After school, I joined the US Army. I stayed in for almost ten years, serving as a soldier in Iraq, a platoon leader in Afghanistan, company executive officer, detachment commander, and finally as a company commander back in Georgia. 

I wanted to go to business school because I wanted to find something meaningful to do, something that would challenge me, and something that would enable me to provide for my family. After speaking with peers who had transitioned out of the military, I came to the conclusion that an MBA, more so than any other option, could make that happen. I also knew that I had much to learn about business, accounting, finance, and leadership in the private sector. 

HBS was my top choice both because of the unrivaled opportunities it could lead me to, but also because of the renowned case method

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The case method, for those who aren’t familiar, is a guided discussion on a real-world problem led by your professor but driven by your peers. Our cases each feature a protagonist who has to make a critical decision – and range from business problems right out of the headlines to a historical overview of China. It’s a platform to debate, explore, and learn something you can apply for the rest of your career.

You learn on two wavelengths in class: there’s the material you are studying and then there’s the method you learn it in. The case method prepares you to hold your own while engaging with your peers. You learn how to think and speak quickly. More important: you learn how to listen and absorb deeply. My favorite classes are the ones where I would change my mind two or three times during the course of the debate. You don’t get challenged like this in a lecture, period.

I definitely had some initial concerns about whether it was possible to absorb information like finance through the case method. Experiencing it, I’ve learned there’s no better way to practice the skills you’ll need after school. HBS also offers plenty of resources, like meetings with tutors and tutorials, to build your base skills so you’re ready to engage in the case discussion in the more technical classes. Figuring things out with your peers teaches you in a way you can’t replicate.

How I choose to prepare for a case really depends on the case. Some cases I feel comfortable jumping right into—maybe I have some knowledge of the subject or it’s just on a topic I feel comfortable discussing. For those, reading the case and crunching the numbers is straightforward. 

For others, I have to start on a more basic level. Maybe I read the case and just don’t understand what’s going. Or, worse, I think that I do but don’t have a strong conviction or what to do about it. For those, I either have to reach out to friends for their insights or do some digging on the background. One thing I’ve noticed is how much faster this process gets as you do it more. Jumping into unfamiliar territory and rapidly orienting myself on a problem is one of the most valuable skills a case can teach you!

Case preparation also equips for you for the inevitable cold call. At HBS you quickly learn that a cold call is when a professor picks you to tackle a question whether you like it or not. Each class opens with a cold call, but it can also happen at any time. Don’t think you’re safe in the middle of class, in other words. I’ve done it two or three times. It keeps you on your toes, for sure. 

We’ve also had many case protagonists actually come and discuss a case with us at the end of class. It’s incredible to meet the people you see not just in your cases, but making news. From alumni to world leaders, HBS gives you access to incredible people. 

To any prospective students who want to learn more about the case method I encourage you to visit a class. You can’t really grasp the value of it until you experience it, then you can’t go back. I took a lecture-based class at a different school over the winter break. The entire time I kept wondering when we’d get to really dig into what was going on and challenge each other. I never appreciated the HBS method as much as I did then.