Know These 4 Things Before You Apply to HBS

HBSHarvard Business School doesn’t need to do much to market itself to applicants. Outside of the extensive work the HBS admissions team has done in recent years to spread the word about its relatively new HBS 2+2 Program, Harvard is more concerned with identifying which applicants fit the school best than with encouraging applicants to apply.

Here at Veritas Prep, we have no shortage of inquiries from clients who are certain they want to go to HBS. Once we dig a little deeper to get at their reasons, though, many of them realize they still have a lot more homework to do. Without a doubt, it doesn’t get more prestigious than HBS. But, before you apply, you really need to understand a few important things about the HBS experience.

We’re not presenting “Secrets of HBS Admissions!!!” here. None of these four things is a magic bullet that will get you into Harvard. But, not understanding these facets of the HBS experience absolutely can keep you out of the school:

The Case Study Method
HBS adopted Harvard Law School’s dialogue-oriented case method of teaching in 1924 to help students begin thinking like executives, and today, almost all HBS classes are taught using the case method. HBS created this teaching method to foster a dynamic learning environment that hews closer to real life activity than the typical academic assignments. From a skill standpoint, the case method gives Harvard grads increased capacity, perspective, and confidence for dealing with real business situations. HBS produces the majority of the cases they — and other schools — teach: Over 80% of the cases sold throughout the world are written by HBS faculty. HBS faculty produce 350 new cases each year by working with business leaders and global organizations. And, in line with Dean Nohria’s emphasis on this as the “global century,” at least 50% of the cases cover international companies and themes. The case method is central to Harvard Business School academics, and is discussed more extensively in the Academics section of this Annual Report.

HBS is also a nerve center of academic research, which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage to students. As with any other program — be it undergraduate, law, or medicine — there is a tradeoff when faculty spend a great deal of their time researching and publishing, as that means fewer hours are left for instruction and meeting with students. Of course, it also means that the curriculum is cutting-edge and relevant. HBS addresses the downside by limiting formal teaching responsibilities to as little as one semester-long class per year, ensuring that faculty can balance their workload between research and instruction without compromising either. HBS has a self-funded research budget of $70 million and annually produces over 30 books and more than 300 academic papers authored or co-authored by the school’s faculty.

Global Impact
Believe it or not, HBS’s international presence may be underrated. With research centers and offices in cities as diverse as Hong Kong, Tokyo, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Paris, and, as of Spring 2010, Shanghai, Harvard Business School truly has a global footprint. With the Class of 2010, 34% of the school’s MBA students were from outside the United States, representing 73 different countries, and half the cases produced annually by the HBS faculty deal with international business issues. “Global impact” is a popular buzzword in business school circles these days, but few schools can rival HBS in this area of management education, and the emphasis is expected to only increase with the advent of Dean Nohria and his international network.

Sections and Learning Teams
Like many graduate business programs, HBS makes a large class smaller and more manageable through the use of sections. Each Harvard Business School class features ten sections of about 90 students each — which means that 90 is the number of students in each course of the Required (core) Curriculum (since a student goes through all the core courses together with her section). Last year, then-Dean Jay Light asserted that 80 to 100 students makes the ideal size for a robust case discussion, and it’s unlikely that this ratio of students per section will change. Nor does it seem likely that HBS will dramatically increase its overall class size. The number of students in the Class of 2012 actually went down by about two dozen from the all-time high of 937 the year before.

During orientation, new students are assigned to six- or seven-person learning teams composed of individuals from different sections and intentionally diverse backgrounds with whom they will work throughout their entire first year. These teams collaborate on graded projects in certain first-year courses, but they primarily serve as a resource for students to confer on cases.

Today’s blog post was clipped from our Harvard Business School Annual Report, one of 15 guides to the world’s top business schools, available for purchase on our site. If you’re ready to start building your own application for HBS or other top MBA programs, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!