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Journey to my MBA

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Harvard Info Session

Went to the Harvard Info Session today. I liked it. I'll do my best to describe the information and the experience. The info session was held at Intuit Corporation. The CEO, Steve Cook is an HBS alumni so it was good to see how the alumni support the school.

The presenter was Alicent McCarty (Assistant Director of admissions at HBS). There were 5 alumni in the panel. All recent grads within the last year or two. She did a non-question PowerPoint presentation followed by a video and then the student panel was brought up to answer questions. Alicent moderated the questions. It was good to hear that she went through HBS herself.

After checking into the registration table and picking up my name tag, I walked into a room with seating capacity of 90 seats. The room ended up filled to about 100% capacity. The first thing I noticed was the dual projector setup with the Harvard Logo with the words Ve-Ri-Tas on the shield logo. I decided to look up the word and found that it means "truth" in Latin. The founder of Harvard actually had a more specific meaning of the word from the Christian roots of the school to mean "divine truth".

I was a bit surprised to find absolutely no hand outs or brochures. Alicent later said that this is because HBS is now completely paperless in its application process and brochures. Everything is available on their web site.

The people in the room was of interest to me. I saw about 90 people. There were only 7 women. The room was about 45% Asian (not- including Indian) and 20% Indians. So the room was about 35% caucasian. Every woman was Asian by the way.

There were sodas and large cookies and deserts which was very thoughtful for people coming from work. Big kudos to Harvard on this.

So Alicent started with the PowerPoint presentation in a thorough and thoughtful way. It was clear that she did the presentation with her experience of questions that she had fielded before in here presentation. The mission statement of HBS can be summarized as "Developing/Educating outstanding leaders who contribute to the well-being of society" It was mentioned that HBS does not create leaders, but develops leaders who are on their journey to greater things.

A key phrase that came up all the time was "Transformational Leadership". The learning experience at HBS is based around four key aspects.
1) General Management Perspective which they believe is a broad scope way to create the most well rounded leaders. Alicent mentioned how becoming a good "listener" is key. This aspect of the school is probably one of two highlights that makes HBS unique.
2) The sections. There are 900 students who are broken up into 10 sections of 90 students each. They all take the same class, but in 10 different classrooms. What Alicent may not have realized was that the room we were in fit 90 people. I looked around the room and was able to visualize how a group that size would be my closest classmates for a year.
3) Case Method. The 1st year is primarily case method and the second year is about 80% case method.
4) Passion for teaching by the Profs.

HBS recommends that everyone join study groups. This helps with having some classmates check your ideas and strengthen your reasoning by poking holes when going over case studies together. 50 % of the grades are based on class participation. Tests are open book. The classes are Pass/Fail and students are rated 1,2,3. 1 is great, 3 is poor and most everone gets a 2. Getting 1's are a key to scholarships and for interviews as all 1 students are usually interviewed by companies first. The number one skill that every student says is hard to manage is time and priority management. Apparently, there is way too much stuff to get involved in. From social life to activities. Later several alumni mentioned how it was important to plan what to get involved with early on and to learn to say no to what you don't have time for.

The diversity of the student body is as follows: 34 % Women, 22% minority, 32% international. This diversity is important because 30% of the case studies are from outside the U.S.

There are over 80 clubs. Many of the clubs are saught out by the faculty to provide feedback about how things could be improved in the school. There are 65,000 living alumni and 7,000 are in California.

Career development is done through
1) Self Assessment. The assessment is called "Career Leader". It's intent is to help show career direction suggestions.
2) Coaching - There are numerous Alumni who have volunteered to coach students.
3) Career Teams-These are student lead groups that help individuals stay on track with their career focus or to get a clear direction in where they want to go.

There are a large number of Marketing and Corporate Partners. Alicent also mentioned that there were 1500 jobs in the job bank this year. 30% of them were for International positions.

After the PowerPoint, Alicent showed us a 10 minute video on the school that was well done and with a few statements from the Dean. I didn't find the video over the top or cheesy at all.

Admissions Points
The key things they look for are
1) Academic ability - If they don't see finance or accounting classes in your background they'll recommend that you take them and depending on certain experiences, they will either recommend or require taking a 2 week analytics course at HBS before school begins.
2) Leadership Exp - Alicent mentioned that they are not just looking for people who are already clearly leaders, but also people who have a keen interest or untapped leadership slant. This is the second biggest highlight that I thought makes HBS unique. Where other schools may emphasize academics or teamwork, HBS focuses on leadership.
3) Personal Qualities.

About Essays
One of the Alumni near the latter 1/2 of the session mentioned how it was very important to find your story of how HBS fits into ones leadership Journey. So, some Indian fellow asked about community volunteer work. The entire panel agreed that 1) The volunteer work better seem like a natural extension of the person's story 2) They'll be able to see real quick if it's insincere and kind of a random thing the person does with no real ties into the person's overall story. So for example, if volunteer work is absent in college/work after college and is only seen as something done in the last 6 months to 1 year which is unrelated to career path, then this may be a red flag of insincere volunteer work.

Another good point by one of the Alumni was to make sure not to overdo it on the essays about ones leadership background. Basically, if you make yourself look like a great leader, then the question the reviewer asks is, "Then how can HBS help you if you've already got it that together". In other words, it's important to show how HBS is important to the Journey of Leadership in Business.

With regards to letters of recommendation. They said to not bother with academic recommondations. The transcipt will already show what they need to know for academics in their view.

Financing the MBA
They have a need-blind guideline. Where financing is only looked after acceptance and not before. They have a guaranteed funding policy that mandates all students will be able to get complete funding to finish school. This goes for whether they really need the loan or not. 70% of all students receive some form of financial aid. The loans are underwritten by HBS. There are fellowships available of up to $20,000.

My conclusions.
The panel was full of sharp well spoken individuals. I was impressed with them. The presentation was thorough and the question of what makes Harvard unique was clearly answered in my mind. I was able to ask about internships, how exams were done in a case study class. The panel was candid and were even open in answering questions about the reputation of Harvard grads that are sometimes negative. The school is highly leadership focused and wants to find people who will make a difference. HBS is DEFINITLY a school that fits who I am. HBS really did a good job.

On my way out, I had to ask one last question of Alicent. I asked her if she follows Blogs or B-week forums. She replied that she did not and said that she thought they were a good idea. That was interesting, I thought a person in her position might be following the forums somewhat.

I ran into Aregon and Depak at the session. It was actually very funny because when the session was over, these two guys standing in the middle of the room were starting straight at me and kept staring. I walked over and asked, "so should I know you guys?" -Thinking it was probably them and they said of course.. "It's us!" We talked for a couple of hours in the parking lot afterwards. It was interesting to get to know them. They are both different from one another. They are so on the ball with the apps. I want to see them get into their desired program.

Over the next week and a half, there are so many more Info sessions to go to. In my area, So far, I have plans for the following
Michigan 10/14
Wharton 10/6
Columbia 10/8
HAAS 10/14
MIT 10/14
Stanford 10/1
Tuck 10/7
Darden ?
Kellogg ?
Notice how HAAS, MIT and Michigan are on the same day? I have some decisions to make about going to the San Francisco ones instead of the Silicon Valley ones for the ones that conflict if at all possible.


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