Four Things That Make Harvard Business School Unique

Harvard Business School needs no introduction. No top business school attracts more applications (and enrolls more students) than Harvard. Still, we find that a surprising number if applicants don’t know enough about the school beyond its top-shelf name.

Before you apply to Harvard Business School, get acquainted with these four things that make it unique among top MBA programs:

Case Studies
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: The HBS faculty produces more than 80% of the case studies sold throughout the world. And, in line with Dean Nitin 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.

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.

Original Faculty Research
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.

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 Curriculum (since a student goes through all the core courses together with his section). 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.

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