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Journey to my MBA

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Visiting Harvard

I'm writing summaries of my visits to all the schools. I'll post them over the next several days. Below is a summary of what I learned about the culture, nuances and ongoing issues at HBS. For more detailed school info, you can review my Harvard Info session entry

Upon arriving back in Boston on Tuesday, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was snowing. Boston in the snow is a beautiful site. I stayed at the Boston Doubletree and was stoked when I found out that they upgraded my room at no charge to an Executive suite with a balcony that was at the top of the hotel (The 16th floor). Once I got to the room, I went out on the balcony. I stood there in the snow that had already fallen on the balcony and gazed out over Boston and the water for a very long time. It continued to snow most of the night. It was dreamy.

In the morning I had to take care of some things and ended up arriving at HBS by 11am. It had begun to rain in the morning and all the snow from the previous night had all melted away. I had missed the class that I had signed up for. I went to the admissions reception, told the woman at the desk what had happened and apologized for arriving late and asked if there were other options. She threw the book at me about policies for only being able to attend class on visitations if I scheduled it in advance and that there was nothing she could do. Two other prospective students were with me and they heard all this. They too received similar treatment. I walked out of the room, collected my thoughts, and went back and told here that I had come all the way from California to visit HBS and that I would really appreciate her help. She told me that I might be able to attend a 1:15pm class, but could not guarantee anything. She was nicer at this point, but still wasn’t all that helpful.

Knowing that there was a 12pm lunch meeting event with HBS students for prospective students, I invited the other two prospective students with me to walk over to the Spangler building to await the event. The three of us walked out of the building completely unhappy about how we had been treated. Apparently, they had been treated in a similar fashion before I arrived.

While I waited, I was able to reach Mark. He told me that he could take me to one of his classes. Knowing this, I didn’t even bother going back to the Admissions reception to tell her that I had someone to take me to class. I really wanted to let her have it, but chose to just get over it and move on.

The luncheon was great. Everyone purchased their own food and met in two rooms on the 2nd floor. Uh yes, we had to purchase our own food. There were probably 20 of us. We were split up into two rooms that were essentially group study rooms. The students answered a lot of questions that I was curious about very well. Later on, I met Mark on the 1st floor. He then took me to his class. The classroom was very nice with authentic international flags hanging on the back walls representing the countries of the students in the section. It was just like Wharton except that Wharton used color paper printouts of the flags. The topic of the class was about financial valuation of a business. Mark had me introduced and everyone clapped at my arrival as is normally the practice of any B-School. Although, it was a case study about a particular company, they had clearly used textbooks and lengthy classroom discussions to go over the financial principles to how and why Accounting principles were used. I liked it because the applicability of the particular accounting principles was immediate and ever so practical. I can see how case study could work for areas of study like accounting. I think the thing to remember is that HBS is a general management school and that the education of all topics is intended to not make one an expert, but to have each student walk away with a practical and relevant education of core accounting principles relative to core business functions.

There was a 3pm info session, but I elected not to attend and instead had coffee with Mark.

HBS is just a beautiful series of buildings that are all interconnected by underground passages. Everything is pretty close by and Spangler is the central eatery, study room, and lounging area for all students in between classes. All classrooms are centrally located in one building at Aldrich Hall. The library is undergoing renovation, so many of the tunnels are closed. Next year, when the library opens back up, it should be possible to walk from the dorms and every other building without ever having to step outside.

Here are some observations about the school that I gleamed from observation and validation from 4 students whether I was right or not. I’ll list what I’ve generally been able to verify.

1) The students there are incredibly bright and were incredibly articulate. They are quite supportive of one another.
2) Despite the concept of study teams as closer knit helper groups to get through classes, they are not utilized to their fullest by most students. This is primarily because there are very few team projects and there is a general culture of allowing each person to do their own thing instead of strongly encouraging an education process that had teamwork emphasis. Many students are off studying on their own. Moreover, when the students are busy, they often miss their morning learning team meetings to discuss the cases for the day.
3) Students are pretty laid back. I’d say that out of Tuck, Darden, Wharton, HAAS, Cornell, Michigan, MIT… Harvard has the most laid back social and academic environment. This really surprised me. In contrast, I’d easily say that Wharton had the most New York like tension in the halls of rush rush, go go.
4) You will get out of Harvard what you put in. Despite the large number of students, there are numerous events and clubs to allow one to get to know others and create friends.
5) Leadership at Harvard appears as a strong vein in the way classes are taught. For example, many of the case studies and discussions are moderated by professors from a leadership perspective rather than say a purely marketing or financial perspective. Moreover, it seems that many cases that are chosen to go over are cases of leadership challenges whether you’re talking about a study on marketing, sales, finance or operations. In contrast, I noticed Wharton for example definitely talked about leadership, but emphasized more on the financial aspects of nearly every case.
6) HBS is one of the few schools with married couple housing dorms on campus. This completely impressed me as every campus I’ve visited thus far provided dorms for singles only.
7) Plain and simple, Harvard is a terrifically hard school to get into not just because of the need to have qualifying application stats, but because of the type of people they select as well. I would say though that Harvard appears to be very picky with stats first and then by each person’s story.
8) The rumor that HBS grads are arrogant is a strongly contested and debated problem within the halls of HBS. It is clearly not a quality of the 1st years. But I’m thinking that if you’re told 10 times a week in class by profs and staff that HBS students are the best in the world… what does that do to a person after 2 years? You be the judge. By the way, I’m not exaggerating about how many times this is said to students. Ask any HBS grad about how true this is.
9) I would say that the way the school is run is very efficient. The logistics of the way things are run has had a lot of thought put into it. For example, because of the number of students, office hours are not necessarily open door for profs. All the students schedule meetings with professors. Most of the students mentioned that you could probably just go and see the prof, but that this was not generally done because they are so busy. With approximately 900 students in each class, I can imagine why. There are many more examples as well and this ethos of scheduling, advance notice and planning pervades the entire school. Even the admissions office is setup rather efficiently. This may explain the treatment I received when I was asking for something not planned or out of the norm. Just to be completely fair though, many of the students mentioned to me how well cared for they feel from the profs. One student mentioned that he came from an engineering background and that numerous times, the prof would send e-mails to him after classes about how to be a bit less analytical in the class. The prof noticed that the student needed to get over a subtlety in the way his analytical mind was causing him to not see the broader picture of the case. Another student mentioned that she had regular conversations via e-mail and in person with one of her prof’s. The prof had initiated regular check ups on her and gave her tips on how to get through class. The prof noticed she was a bit young and needed a bit more mentoring.
10) One last thing is that I noticed quite a few prospective students and current HBS students who seem to be in a category of individuals who only wanted to go to HBS, Kellogg, Wharton or Stanford. HBS seems to compare itself most with Stanford or at least get's compared by prospective students to Stanford quite a bit. I met quite a few people who only applied to Stanford and Harvard.

Oh yeah, about that situation I had at the admissions office, I mentioned it to all the students I talked to and a couple of them said that they would report the problem immediately to the appropriate people. One student acknowledged that they knew about the problem and had heard the same thing from some other prospective students.

Despite the negative issues I came to understand first hand, I also saw the phenomenal approach on building leaders as one that strongly draws me to the school. I know that some of my comments are less than positive about the school, but it was not my intent to bash HBS. Rather, I wrote what I believe to be the truth about HBS. My info session review of HBS is overwhelmingly positive.

I am now confident that Harvard’s legacy is about bright leaders who are educated to take on roles in every industry in our global economy. HBS has amazing faculty and the students are truly taken care of. The facilities are top notch and students are able to make significant impact on how things are run. Time and time again, I’ve noticed that an amazing number of CEO’s and business leaders are HBS grads.


Anonymous Kaneisha said...

Hi, Dave!

I just applied to and got into HBS as an undergrad (crazy?!) and I stumbled upon your page while looking for perspectives on B-school from undergrads. I agree with your perception of HBS. I would add great food to the list and they also do a strange knocking thing when people don't speak loudly enough in class. Check out my blog at (I'm Kaneisha) and good luck on your application process!

6:02 PM  
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8:47 AM  

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