Q&A from Prospective HBS Students

As the 2011 admissions process ramps up, I've been getting a lot of questions from prospective students either looking for an insider's perspective to HBS or just general answers to lingering questions. I am more than happy to answer any reader's questions and encourage you to post a comment to an entry if it sparks any queries. I make sure to respond to every question individually, although as my schedule gets busier as recruiting season begins here in Boston, it make take about a week for me to reply.

With the abundance of recent questions, I thought I'd take some of the more common queries I receive and post my answers here so that I can share my thoughts on a broader basis. Enjoy!

1) You use a lot of acronyms in your blogs. What's the difference between "RC" and "EC," and who the heck is this TOM guy you talk about?

RC stands for "required curriculum" and is the term used to identify first year students. Likewise, EC stands for "elective curriculum" and identifies the second years. In our first year we have 10 required courses over the two semesters, with small half courses thrown in throughout the term (this semseter we had a 6-week course called "Learning at HBS," later in the semester we have a 1-week intensive workshop called "The Manager as Integrator" and there may be similar courses second semester). First semester courses are Finance 1, Financial Reporting & Control (i.e. accounting), Leadership & Organizational Behavior, Marketing, and Technology & Operations Management (this is TOM). Second semester we take Finance 2, Strategy, Leadership & Corporate Accountability, The Entrepreneurial Manager, and Business, Government & The International Environment (I think that's the exact name, basically it's an economics course).

2) You really confused me in your midterm entry when you gave your course grades of A, B, C, etc. I thought HBS grades on a 1, 2, 3 scale.

You are 100% correct in that the HBS grading scale is unlike most schools in that the class is divided into 1s (top 10% of class), 2s (middle 80% o class) and 3s (bottom 10% of class). The grades I talked about in that entry were my personal opinions of the course as a whole, and the grade I would give the school if I had the chance to rate the class (based on my individual learnings). We did get percentage grades for our midterm exams, as well as participation feedback for each class, but other than that we have not been given any specific marks.

3) You never updated us on your leadership roles!

Whoops, sorry about that! I actually did get two of the three roles that I applied for, so I can proudly say that I am one of the Assistant Vice Presidents of Marketing and Social for the Marketing & CPG club and one of the CO-VPs of Marketing and Communication for the Entertainment and Media Club. Currently, I'm helping plan an officer kick-off event at a pottery painting place called Made by Me for the Marketing Club, and I'm spreading the word about the Entertainment & Media Club through some marketing efforst on that end. It's fun!

Another person asked how I got elected to these positions so quickly since I'm a first year. It's actually a very simple process without campaiging or ballots. Basically the first years fill out a poll explaining why they'd be best for the position and the EC officers select the RCs based on that information (so really it's more of an appointed role than an elected one). I believe that sometime in the spring actual elections are held to determine the officers for the next year.

4) How effective is the case method for quantitative courses such as accounting and finance?

This question will be answered very differently depending on your personal background, work experience and level of quantitative skills. If you've kept up with my blog at all, you'll see that I'm not the strongest in the quant area, nor do I particularly love dealing with numbers (I'm much more of a creative, people person). While this does put me at a disadvantage immediately in these courses, I've learned very quickly to take it all with a grain of salt. What I mean by this is two things: firstly, I have no intent of going into banking or accounting, so for me, a general foundation in the subject will likely suffice, and any additional quant training could be learned on the job or through additional outside coursework. Secondly, while the HBS grading system tends to compare students to one another, I had to take a step back to keep my sanity and remind myself that I am truly incomparable to many of my sectionmates in this area. Without a quantitative work background, I will never be as good in accounting as the two CPAs in my class, and I will never be able to model as quickly or effectively as the former I-bankers. But that's okay! Really. It's hard to come to grips with at first, but you start to recognize your personal competitive advantages quite quickly here and it's best to run with them and take the other courses for what their worth.

Now I realize I have not at all answered the question yet, but I felt like that was important to say. Personally, I don't find the case method as conducive to truly learning the techniques and concepts of accounting and finance. For me, a combination of case learning and lecture/small workshop courses would be more effective in helping me get a grip on the basics. The good news is that there are tons of resources on campus (whether it be second year tutors, sectionmates, people from your learning team, textbooks in the library, meeting with professors, etc.) that you can employ to help yourself understand these concepts. It's without a doubt more work, but that doesn't mean you can get there. On the upside, the case method is a great way to teach you how to think about business problems in an environment where information is ambiguous and often incomplete. You truly learn a ton in class every day.

I would highly, highly suggest that you take the time (if possible) to come visit HBS and see the case method in action. It's a truly different classroom experience from anything I've seen, and watching a course will give you the best idea of whether or not you can see yourself thriving in an environment like it.

That's it for questions for now. Another post from this week is on its way shortly!

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