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 case themselves.

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 meetings.

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.

My personal experience

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 process.

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.