06 Mar 2024

A Peek at the MBA Experience


by Dorian Salinas

Until she met a Harvard Business School (HBS) alumnus at a career panel, Elizabeth Barrett had never considered an MBA degree. Hearing about their journey from hospitality to an MBA to starting their own business sparked Barrett’s interests. A senior at the Cornell School of Hospitality, she wanted a career in the industry but also to dabble in entrepreneurship—she just did not know how to get there. Intrigued by the thought of new career prospects, she browsed HBS Admission’s social media and came across an announcement for Peek, a virtual introductory look at the MBA experience. She signed up, hoping to answer one question: “Can I see myself in a case method classroom?”

Every year, the HBS MBA Admissions team hosts a fully virtual, open-enrollment program intended for undergraduates to get a peek at the MBA experience. Over three days, participants engage with different offices and community members to get an understanding of how an MBA can support their future career goals. This year’s programming included eight case discussions and various panel discussions and sessions with students, faculty, and alumni on topics such as diverse perspectives, making a difference in the world through business, how to increase your personal brand, and authentic leadership.

Peek is just one of the programs, both open enrollment and application-based, that HBS offers to college students. Called “pipeline programs,” they are intended to introduce college students to the idea of pursuing an MBA. “There is no one path to an MBA,” said Gretchen Brown, marketing manager for college outreach. “The goal is to show college students that an MBA is a possibility for anyone—even those who come from non-traditional careers and backgrounds.” The Admissions team also attends college fairs, hosts information sessions, and leads conversations with students and alumni for prospective students.

Brooks Lin, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, majoring in finance with minors in management information systems and computer science, found the case method discussion to be the highlight of the program. “It was fascinating to experience what a class at HBS would be like,” Lin said, noting that the structure allowed for meaningful discussion and the freedom to explore diverse perspectives. “The opportunity to bounce ideas off other students and engage in guided conversations led by HBS faculty was an experience unlike any other.”

At the core of these pipeline programs lies HBS’s mission to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. Youngme Moon, the Donald K. David Professor of Business Administration and faculty chair of the pipeline programs, feels they help to cultivate a strong community built on shared values.

"These programs provide an opportunity to build a foundation for a diverse and talented student body," she explains. Moon also sees them as an opportunity to address any questions or concerns. Through candid discussions, participants get a chance to understand HBS more deeply. “Engaging, interactive programs like these are an opportunity to introduce ourselves and our values while addressing their questions head on.”

HBS’s pipeline programs have become a proactive approach to strengthening the connection between undergraduate students and the MBA offerings at HBS, with a focus on the value of case method teaching and participatory learning.

“Everyone walks into the room with some expertise, some lived experience, or some context that they can add to the collective learning. The case method is a disciplined conversation in which you try to evoke the best pieces of wisdom from all the people in the room,” Moon explains. “If the discussion is well orchestrated, the sum of everyone’s collective contributions is better than any individual piece.”

After three days of virtual case discussions, panels, and candid conversations with students and fellow undergraduates, Barrett reflected on her Peek experience and realized she had an answer to whether she could see herself in a case method classroom: “Yes.”

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