Well it's been another crazy week at work, and the pace doesn't look to be slowing up anytime soon. This isn't how I had hoped the last few weeks before the R1 deadlines would shape up. I had hoped to have a quiet few weeks where I could do the final revisisions to my apps and essays, but such is life. I'm still in good shape to submit HBS next weekend, and am meeting with the person who reviewed my Chicago essays today, but no progress on Stanford. I really need to get that in gear if I'm going to stick to my goal of all R1 applications.
Now on to the event. It started with a chance to mingle with the other applicants before the official start, but unfortunately I got there only 10 minutes before the start so I only got to talk to one or two people. The event started with about 45 minutes of a simulated case discussion (the case, about potential applicants to HBS, was sent to us via email when we registered). It was interesting to see the case method in action, and there were a lot of well thought out comments from the "class". Nothing too new though in terms of messages about application: the main message is there is no "right" answer to who should apply, it's all about your specific case and applying when it is right for you. After the case discussion, we watched the HBS case method video.
After the video, they brought in 3 alumni from the class of '06 to answer Q&A from the group (1 from finance, 1 in advertising sales and 1 in strategy for a R&C company). Here's my summary of the points they made (some of which wasn't new info):
- The teaching method is entirely case driven, even for quantitative courses. You may have assigned reading from texts to learn concepts, but it always goes back to cases to learn to apply the concepts. Over the 2 years, you will do 500-600 cases. These don't have a "right" answer, but are designed to teach the students how to approach and analyze various problems.
- For essays, make sure you're thinking of it as one story, told in 5 parts, not as 5 separate stories.
- Leadership is hugely important to the adcom, but does not need to take place in a professional setting. It can be in school, personal life or community service, but they are looking for people with leadership potential, demonstrated through a "habit of leadership".
- On a question about when is right to apply, the alumni had slightly different answers. The first made the point that it's a personal decision but you need to really know that now is the right time, and added that you should decide whether you can add value to the class discussions. Another alumni said that it depends on your career goals. If you're in consulting or banking and looking to go back, it's probably better to do an MBA earlier in your career, whereas if you're looking to start your own business post-MBA, you may want to do it later so you can draw on more experience. The adcom rep noted that HBS is trying to encourage younger applicants to apply (i.e. the 2+2 Program) and that 1/3 of the class of 2009 has 3 years or less work experience. She quickly added that this doesn't mean they don't want older candidates, just that they wanted a better mix of younger candidates to compliment the typical 4-5 year experience crowd.
- In response to a follow up question about what students thought about the younger students, the alumni unanimously said that they couldn't tell the difference in class participation or insight between the "younger" and "older" students. That there was tremendous diversity of backgrounds and experiences which made for a rich discussion in class. They said their class was probably a little less than 30% with 3 years or less experience, with the remainder evenly split between people in the 4-5 year bucket and people later in their career.
- On a question about what surprised the alumni most, they all focused on the overall experience and culture of HBS. One alumni mentioned the mandatory attendance policy, where all students are expected to attend (and be on time for) every class, which he thought was very different than other schools. The other 2 alumni focused on the culture of the school, where (in their words) you're surrounded by incredibly talented and intelligent, ambitious people, but it doesn't feel competitive. They also mentioned that the faculty are very engaged in teaching, that they're passionate about research as well, but for the semesters that they teach they put all their energy into the classroom and are willing to help students outside the classroom as well.
- Grades are typically 40% class participation, 20% midterm and 40% final (usually a case write-up), and are applied on a curve. Their class agreed to not disclose grades.
- Last, the alumni were each asked to share one piece of advice. The first said to keep your mind open as to what you want to get out of the MBA. There's so much you can do and get involved with so make sure you're not limiting your experience. The second expanded on this and said don't be afraid to take some risks, especially when it comes to the summer internship. Use the MBA experience to try out different things and really discover what it is you like - 2 of the 3 alumni have different jobs now than they planned to have going in to the MBA. The third focused on the apps process and said that you should visit the school, sit in a class, and talk to students and alumni to really decide whether you fit with the school.
At that point the official Q&A ended, although the alumni and adcoms stayed behind to answer 1 on 1 questions. Unfortunately at that point I needed to leave to catch my train (the Q&A had lasted 15 minutes longer than planned), and since I didn't have any burning questions I left. Overall, even though there wasn't much info that I didn't know or couldn't have found out from the website, I thought it was a good event. My only concern about HBS (other than whether I'll be accepted) was, despite all the student blogs to the contrary, that the culture would be cutthroat and overly competitive. Hearing the alumni here, and seeing that they were normal and, while confident, were not arrogant made me feel more comfortable. It was always only a very minor concern, but I do feel much better about it now. I still plan to do a class visit once they start next month, but for now am at peace. At least until I start thinking about how much work I need to do on Chicago and Stanford apps.