Get to Know: Harvard Business School

Not surprisingly, we get more questions about Harvard Business School than about any other MBA program. At such a highly visible school, it’s hard for changes to go unnoticed, but there have indeed been a lot of changes at Harvard recently. Among them are:

An evolution beyond the case method
What was sacrosanct at Harvard for generations was that 100% of courses were taught using the case study method. As many predicted when Dean Nitin Nohria arrived in Summer 2010, the curriculum is undergoing change. Starting with the class matriculating in Fall 2011, students will now have “field method” experiences as a counterpart to the case-based teaching. The first change to the curriculum is a year-long first-year course called FIELD, for Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development. FIELD features small-group opportunities for students to put what they learn into practice. The Class of 2012 will also see a reduction in the number of case-based courses and the introduction of new labs, similar to what schools like MIT have offered for some time.

A slight increase in average age of admitted students
Harvard has traditionally been very open to younger candidates, and has not been as fixated on years of work experience as some other schools. This preference for younger candidates may have reversed with the class starting at HBS in Fall 2011. Over a quarter of those accepted in this class graduated from college in 2007, which means that they have a solid four years of work experience before beginning their MBA. Harvard didn’t accept a single student straight from college this year into the full-time MBA program, either. It is highly unlikely that the pendulum will swing too far in the other direction — Harvard is almost certainly going to continue accepting high-potential early-career students. However, those with a few more years of work experience should also be encouraged by this trend.

An effort to broaden the professional pool beyond consulting and finance candidates
While consultants, investment bankers, and private equity analysts will undoubtedly make up the majority of classes of students entering Harvard for years to come, during this past year, these standard business school types weren’t welcomed as warmly as they typically have been. Harvard was more selective in choosing among these cohorts, and some very well-qualified candidates did not get offered a spot. This is likely due to Dean Nohria’s concern regarding the bad rap that business schools have gotten in the press and their perceived responsibility in contributing to the economic

More women in the classroom
As a direct result of one of Dean Nohria’s new initiatives, 39% of the Class of 2014 are women. Harvard now rivals Wharton in this area. Harvard is also working to increase the numbers of women on the faculty and is sponsoring academic research on women in business.

A “normalization” of the HBS 2+2 program admissions
Coinciding with the increase in overall age of Harvard’s students, the Admissions Board also made an adjustment to the HBS 2+2 program. There are fewer special rules and policies surrounding an application to 2+2, and instead, it looks more like a formal channel for Harvard to attract qualified students earlier in their lives. College juniors and seniors can apply through 2+2 in a series of application rounds that work just like the standard MBA application rounds do, except that they’re staggered on an offset schedule from the main cycle, and the essay questions are slightly different. The HBS 2+2 program is at least as competitive, if not more so, as standard Harvard’s standard MBA program.

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