Thoughts on HBS (Starting Out)

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Mod Note (Andy): Each day we'll be posting the top WSO forum posts of 2014. This one was originally posted on 10/1/2014 and ranks #23 for the year by total silver banana count. You can see all our top ranked content here.

I'm just about a month and a half or so into my first year ("RC year") at Harvard Business School, and I wanted to write a bit about what it's been like so far. Since I'm still new to the place, take my experiences with the requisite grain of salt, but I've realized that various parts of what my "earlier self" thought this place was going to be like (the pros/cons) are pretty different from what HBS is actually like in concrete terms, whereas other things I'd never thought about make a big dent in my quality of life here. Hopefully this is valuable to others around here.

My background and interests:

American white male, HYPSM, quantitatively oriented, ~4yrs WE in industry and PE/VC, strong leadership stuff in my past life, etc. I'm unsure whether I want to go into IM (hedge funds) or entrepreneurship after graduation, and open to some other options (VC/PE, etc.). I went to business school for many reasons: I never had a formal/structured business education and wanted one, it's an easy way to buy optionality if you're still considering more than one path, I thought the networking was worth investing in, I thought soft skills are worth investing in, it's a two year breather, etc., all of which were worth the price tag to me.

People / Social Life:

I like 'em. I was worried that this'd be a place full of 28 year olds trying to re-live the glory days of college, and it's not been that. About 15% of people are aggressively social, another 50% are just generally nice people who like meeting new people and trying out new things, about 20% are social but also particularly nerdy (i.e. enjoy building droids and tech startups and hang out out with others that do the same), and the rest are people who do their own thing (you only see them in class). While there's a lot of hanging out at the "usual" bars, a lot of the social scene takes the form of weekend trips nearby (we've not had any crazy trips yet). The fact that a lot of people are in a different life phase (married or on the marriage track) than in college plays a role in that mix.

Dating scene's not been top of mind for me since I'm in a relationship, but surprisingly, most people in my section are either married, engaged, or in serious relationships. I hear, though, that a lot of the weaker relationships fall apart within 4-5mo, so I'm sure that'll up the drama factor in a few months. Also, those who aren't married / on the marriage track seem pretty motivated to get on it, both because there's the sense of "it's my last chance to find a high quality guy/girl" and because so many others at HBS are farther down the track. That dynamic's powerful enough that I'd bet good money it'll make for some interesting times in the coming months...

Obviously the gender ratio favors women here, but 40% female ain't bad if you're coming out of finance, and other grad programs (education, public health, etc.) have the opposite ratio.

Sections:

Something I'd under-weighted in my thinking about HBS is the "section" experience. This is your group of ~90 peers with whom you have every single first year class and with whom you spend the bulk of your social life. It's one thing to realize this in theory, but it's really hard to describe some of the more subtle but powerful effects of this dynamic. Sections provide a good education in soft skills basics: getting along with very different types of people (not all of whom will be your friends), developing a good "personal brand" (as much as I hate that phrase), and so on. But the other is that - since sections are communally run bodies - it's an interesting exercise in learning about things like leadership, power, and influence.

It's been a pretty interesting petri dish so far, but I obviously don't want to harp here for much longer since it's still early innings in my section experience. I'd only pause to note that sections, so far, seem like an under-communicated learning vehicle.

Case method:

I very much came to HBS despite the case method and not because of it. I felt like schools serve students best when they lay out a framework to slice-and-dice through messy problems rather than let students wade their way through it, bullshit and all.

Maybe it's the koolaid at work, but I'm significantly more bullish now. The method requires a lot of ingredients for it to work - right students, right professors, right cases, right norms, etc. - but when it works, it works well. A couple of things I hadn't appreciated much: (a) it's a great way to organically get exposure to all sorts of industries and businesses since you dive into one business each class rather than talking about concepts in the abstract, (b) the absence of a clear cut math/modeling problem makes even the "hard" classes much more interesting since there's not a clear line of attack at the problem and because context matters much more, and (c) thinking through "what should this business do" in the absence of full information 2-3x a day is a great education for an investor since it mimics real world judgment as decently as an academic setting can.

There are a few qualifications to the positives. For one, this is not a quant-y place. Number crunching is taught with the goal of helping you understand how number crunching is a means to an end, not with the goal of helping you become a very good number cruncher. This is fine and well when you're a PM at some hedge fund calling the shots, but if you want to get the analyst job at the hedge fund, a Wharton education (based on comparing notes with a friend there) will be more directly relevant. The area where this is particularly applicable is actually not finance (as a finance guy, I've found that the subject is pretty well taught) but accounting. So if you come to HBS, bring an accounting textbook with you and study it on your own.

Something else I'm not 100% convinced of is whether the case method is the best way to develop all kinds of soft skills. It obviously helps in many ways (see "Section" above), but I wonder if Stanford's "Interpersonal Dynamics" class would be a better model than HBS's LEAD and FIELD courses. I'm not really sure one way or the other.

Other academics:

I didn't realize until I grabbed lunch with one of the senior professors the intensity of planning that goes into the first year curriculum. HBS has iterated it's current pedagogy for about ~100 years, and everything happens for a reason. Every case, every simulation, every study group, etc., across every department, was purposely planned out and placed for some specific goal in a student's development at that time. You could debate whether the goals are effectively met, but honestly, the fact that so much thought goes into getting-it-right makes me feel a lot better about shelling out $100K.

Jobs:

I'm really not qualified to talk much here just yet. One thing I've liked is that HBS holds off all recruiters to campus for the first two months or so, and then holds off all internship recruiting (or at least interviews for them) till January. This is a f--king godsend, since there are so many other things here to spend time on. In terms of getting a job in IM, it seems like it's tough but do-able (whatever your background) if you stay plugged into the right clubs and network hard from there. I think HBS gives you a little tailwind (since a large number of big shops do come by here and recruit), but people with prior HF experience or mega-cap PE experience (not to mention Goldman, McKinsey, etc. types) are also dime a dozen here.

Whoa. This ended up being way longer than intended. Hopefully it's helpful to someone, and happy to answer questions about this, admissions, etc.

Comments (90)

Oct 1, 2014

great write up, having a similar experience at Kellogg (loving it).

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Oct 1, 2014

Thanks for the detailed account -- very helpful +SB'd. Can you talk a little bit about where else you applied and how decision process went for you?

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Oct 1, 2014
iamfromcanada:

Thanks for the detailed account -- very helpful +SB'd. Can you talk a little bit about where else you applied and how decision process went for you?

Glad it helped. I applied to HBS, GSB, and Wharton in Round 1. I had a strange set of results: I got dinged at Wharton w/o interview. I got an interview at GSB, but it went on to be awful (due to both my lack of preparation and due to some issues on my interviewer's end) and got dinged. With HBS, I first got a further consideration decision in Round 1 (basically a pre-interview waitlist), then got an interview, and then got in during Round 2.

It was a long, windy path full of surprises. I'm just lucky to end up at one of my top choices.

Nov 18, 2017

Hi! I was also placed on the HBS FC list and wanted to see if you did anything between Round 1 and Round 2 to improve your chances? The e-mail we received from Eileen states "please refrain from sending in additional materials, as they will not be added to your file." so just wanted to get your thoughts on navigating that - thanks!

Oct 1, 2014

@"baburator" I know there is no right formula, and a lot of factors play a part in getting into to HBS.

But if you had to narrow it down to a few things that a recent grad who just started out in F50 Corp Fin could do to maximize their chances of getting in, what would it be? (Besides the GMAT, which is obvious and undergrad record, which can't be changed)

I was talking to this girl (HBS14) who works on my floor (different division though) and I set up a coffee with her and asked her about HBS admissions. She literally said something like - HBS is looking for "genuinely nice people!" I nodded my head, but I was thinking why don't they just rename is Harvard School of Social Work then? She's the only person from HBS whom I've talked to in person. It left me more confused than before.

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Best Response
Oct 1, 2014
snakeoil:

@baburator I know there is no right formula, and a lot of factors play a part in getting into to HBS.

But if you had to narrow it down to a few things that a recent grad who just started out in F50 Corp Fin could do to maximize their chances of getting in, what would it be? (Besides the GMAT, which is obvious and undergrad record, which can't be changed)

I was talking to this girl (HBS14) who works on my floor (different division though) and I set up a coffee with her and asked her about HBS admissions. She literally said something like - HBS is looking for "genuinely nice people!" I nodded my head, but I was thinking why don't they just rename is Harvard School of Social Work then? She's the only person from HBS whom I've talked to in person. It left me more confused than before.

(Disclaimer: everything that follows is just the personal opinion of one dude who's not necessarily better positioned to answer this question than anyone else.)

I do think HBS cares about "nice", but I'd add some context; it's not a niceness contest, either. I actually think that to really understand HBS, you have to again go back to the case method and the section concept because everything revolves around that.

Think about what you need for the section & case method to work: you need (a) intelligent people, who (b) have very different backgrounds and ways of slicing and dicing problems, who (c) are highly verbal/articulate, who (d) are capable of holding up this communally governed entity called a section by contributing to it / holding up their end of it, and who (e) will won't kill each other with competitiveness while in study groups, clubs, teams, etc. For parts (d) and (e), niceness and ability to contribute to positive spirit of a group matter but remain only a subset of what matters.

The professor who heads the first year curriculum told us something that stuck in my head: "you weren't selected because you're the best at learning things (though we think you're very good at that, too) but rather because we think you're the best at teaching." So when you write your application, think about what you'll teach people: is there something unique to your background (whether work experience or otherwise) that causes you to see the world - especially business world - differently? Do you have some special skill or interest that you could introduce to HBS? Do you have a way of pulling people together (whatever the style) that could be beneficial to have in a section?

I'd highlight the sort of thinking and domain knowledge that someone with a Corp Fin background could bring to a classroom that'd contrast, say, the sort of knowledge that someone with a PE background or IB background could bring. Has your job taught you interesting things that you wouldn't realize about how the world works if you hadn't had that experience? If not, can you seek out such experiences? Can you get your bosses to attest to that? A lot of people think that PE types are auto-admits while Corp Fin guys face much harder slogs. I'm more skeptical; I think if you make this case well, you've got a huge tailwind.

Another thing I'd do is find something - whether in your job or outside it - that shows that you enjoy contributing to teams. It doesn't have to save the world, it doesn't have to be prestigious, it doesn't have to be big... it just has to show that, in your day-to-day life, you're the sort of guy who voluntarily contributes to the groups you work with (b/c it means you'll be a voluntary contributor to your section). Please make it something you like; it's much harder to do anything of consequence without intrinsic motivation.

Good luck.

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Oct 2, 2014

excellent excellent excellent advice SB

The professor who heads the first year curriculum told us something that stuck in my head: "you weren't selected because you're the best at learning things (though we think you're very good at that, too) but rather because we think you're the best at teaching." So when you write your application, think about what you'll teach people: is there something unique to your background (whether work experience or otherwise) that causes you to see the world - especially business world - differently? Do you have some special skill or interest that you could introduce to HBS? Do you have a way of pulling people together (whatever the style) that could be beneficial to have in a section?

I'd highlight the sort of thinking and domain knowledge that someone with a Corp Fin background could bring to a classroom that'd contrast, say, the sort of knowledge that someone with a PE background or IB background could bring. Has your job taught you interesting things that you wouldn't realize about how the world works if you hadn't had that experience? If not, can you seek out such experiences? Can you get your bosses to attest to that? A lot of people think that PE types are auto-admits while Corp Fin guys face much harder slogs. I'm more skeptical; I think if you make this case well, you've got a huge tailwind.

Another thing I'd do is find something - whether in your job or outside it - that shows that you enjoy contributing to teams. It doesn't have to save the world, it doesn't have to be prestigious, it doesn't have to be big... it just has to show that, in your day-to-day life, you're the sort of guy who voluntarily contributes to the groups you work with (b/c it means you'll be a voluntary contributor to your section). Please make it something you like; it's much harder to do anything of consequence without intrinsic motivation.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

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Oct 1, 2014

Thanks for the write up -- and am sure you will get many more views on this. As an HBS grad of about 100 years ago, I think the most interesting surprise is that indeed, the curriculum is extremely well-thought out. It's kind of amazing how everything you learn interplays with everything else you learn there (from an academic and process point of view)

The other thing that amazed me when I went was just how international the place is. It still does. Any thoughts on that?

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Oct 1, 2014
Betsy Massar:

Thanks for the write up -- and am sure you will get many more views on this. As an HBS grad of about 100 years ago, I think the most interesting surprise is that indeed, the curriculum is extremely well-thought out. It's kind of amazing how everything you learn interplays with everything else you learn there (from an academic and process point of view)

The other thing that amazed me when I went was just how international the place is. It still does. Any thoughts on that?

Yeah, it definitely strikes me as international. I'd read Ahead of the Curve where one of the [British] author's criticisms was that HBS's internationalism is just skin deep (i.e. they're all internationals who've lived in the US for long chunks of time), but I've found myself pleasantly surprised on that count.

I hadn't realized it until I just reflected on it, but there's enough international backgrounds that people have very different takes on issues like unions, international healthcare, international politics, gender roles abroad, etc, and that's been very positive for me as an American. I will say, though, that the vast majority of international students worked (in their home countries) for the large prestige American firms (McKinsey, Blackstone, Google, etc.), compared to the more varied work experience in the domestic set, but I guess that makes some sense from an admissions perspective.

And yes, I'm sure this is just the first of many more thoughts over many more months...

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Oct 2, 2014

I read Ahead of the Curve too -- terrible book. I have my own issues with HBS (although not the pedagogy), but that book was written by someone who couldn't get a summer job -- and that's almost unheard of. The author was very cranky and it seems like he was kind of a bad sport. Happy to debate that point with anyone in another thread -- I think the only value of the book was the part about Toyota.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

    • 1
Oct 2, 2014

great write up, just added to frontpage, thanks!

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Oct 2, 2014

In b4 Brady and his numerous avatars.

Great post btw @baburator !

Oct 2, 2014

Thanks for the write-up!
What were the most important points you made during the application process and interview and what is your main contribution to the group coming from a PE/VC background?

Oct 2, 2014
Dom Cobb:

Thanks for the write-up!

What were the most important points you made during the application process and interview and what is your main contribution to the group coming from a PE/VC background?

I'd spent my time in PE/VC and industry focused on a particular ("sexy") industry but on a less commonly covered subset of that industry. My argument basically went along the lines of "I know this industry really well, I've seen it from a variety of perspectives, I have domain expertise in a subset of that industry that will matter not only to my industry but to the world at large, and I want to share this experience and interest with my classmates." I think any number of the ~10,000 applicants could make some part of that statement, but I think fewer could make all of it credibly.

Beyond that, I tried to show the same things every applicant should: that I was sharp, that I could communicate well, that I had a genuine interest in sharing my perspective and skills with other people, that I've positively impacted groups I'd been a part of in college and work, and so on.

It's worth saying again: this is what I think got me interviews at HBS/GSB, but I don't know for sure.

Oct 2, 2014

Great write up! Do you think people with decent backgrounds, not exceptional (like Accenture instead of McKinsey) have a chance? How concerned are they about your post-MBA goals? Do they value nonprofit and sustainable enterprise?

Oct 2, 2014
TwoThrones:

Great write up! Do you think people with decent backgrounds, not exceptional (like Accenture instead of McKinsey) have a chance?

In my opinion, absolutely. While McKinsey BA's probably have a significantly higher success rate with HBS, I'd guess about 80% of that is a function of the people (lots of really smart, articulate, leadership types go to McKinsey) rather than the firm. I still think you're fighting, at least a little bit, the "aura" that McKinsey has (this is the other 20%) that may make the same guy from there look a little bit smarter/articulate than if he were from Accenture, but, IMO, that's overcome-able if you make a good case for why you've got something rare about your smarts/leadership/experience that would make you the better marginal contributor to the classroom or community.

TwoThrones:

How concerned are they about your post-MBA goals? Do they value nonprofit and sustainable enterprise?

I always got the sense that HBS cares about your interests (and any related experiences) in a broad sense much more than specific post-MBA goals. Most people here have only a limited idea of what they want to do after HBS, so admissions probably knows that asking for post-MBA goals is mostly a BS exercise. They do ask about it in interviews, but I think that's more to make sure you're thinking about your career in concrete terms (rather than having a preference for a particular industry).

If you're wondering if they penalize people with deep interest or background in nonprofits / social innovation, then no. There's plenty of those people here too.

Oct 6, 2014

Could you expand on the part about post-MBA goals? Do you mean they DON'T want you to have a strong preference for a particular industry?

Oct 2, 2014

surprised brady isn't all over this

Oct 2, 2014

whoa, an Amphipathic sighting

Oct 2, 2014

@"baburator" Awesome insights! Thanks for sharing. It would be incredible if you can give another update at the end of the semester.

Oct 2, 2014

Please keep posting, one of the most interesting dynamic during a MBA programme is the way your goals and objectives will change in time so it will be interesting to follow you.
Just one comment about the case study, I initally really liked that idea and was very keen to get into school where case studies were the primary methdology but I can tell you that I am very happy that I ended up in a school with a more balanced approach because students are so hammered by the work you need to do during the first year in parrallel with their future job exploration that no one has enough time to properly prepare for the case and ultimately it often results in an average discussion..

Oct 3, 2014

Based on what you can infer from the OP, it sounds like Harvard has done things that mitigate this effect (eg keeping recruiters away for a while). I'd also guess that given people are in sections and take all classes (and spend a lot of time outside them) together, at least a few people discuss the cases outside class/prepare together etc.

Oct 2, 2014

Great write up. Thank you for sharing. Can't wait to start next year :)

Oct 2, 2014

Great write-up, no questions but please continue posting with a Part 2/3..etc as your journey at HBS continues

Oct 3, 2014

Great write-up. The social scene actually picks up dramatically around late October as people are getting comfortable with the school and with each other. You will have the best 2 years of your life. Enjoy!

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Oct 3, 2014
mbavsmfin:

Great write-up. The social scene actually picks up dramatically around late October as people are getting comfortable with the school and with each other. You will have the best 2 years of your life. Enjoy!

You again???

Oct 3, 2014

Great write-up, thank you for posting... How important do you think relationships are in the admission process. For example, let's say you're a middle of the road candidate: at decent BB (Citigroup, BofA, CS) with a non-ivy undergrad. How much weight do you think the Ad Com would put on a recommendation from your MD who happens to be a Harvard alum? Also, taking things a step further.. Let's say that same MD decides to reach out to his Harvard contacts (professor and some of the administration) to bat for you. How much of an effect do you think that would have on your admission chances assuming you're a good but not great candidate.

Oct 3, 2014

Great damn article, thanks baburator. It's amazing to think how much insight you can provide to so many people with an hour spent writing a thoughtful post on WSO. Thanks again to someone in your position for giving back.

Oct 3, 2014

Great write-up, thanks for sharing

Oct 3, 2014

Loved the insight, please continue to update your experiences as you go through the course. Would be curious to see if anything of your thoughts change (maybe more cynical?) :P

Oct 3, 2014

Thanks, everyone. I'm happy to hear this is helpful to people. I'll keep you guys updated through the journey.

Mirando:

Great write-up, thank you for posting... How important do you think relationships are in the admission process. For example, let's say you're a middle of the road candidate: at decent BB (Citigroup, BofA, CS) with a non-ivy undergrad. How much weight do you think the Ad Com would put on a recommendation from your MD who happens to be a Harvard alum?

I picked a non-HBS MD at my job over an HBS alum MD who knew me a little less well. I take the admissions people at their word when they say it doesn't matter if your recommendation is from an alum. Recommendations are meant to be an objective, outside view of your traits and your impact, and it's not obvious to me that an alum rec does this better than a regular one.

I could think of only two other situations where it may matter: (a) your alum MD is so impressive or such a big donor that Harvard doesn't want to offend him, in which case you're playing in a league bigger than anything I've played in, or (b) your alum MD can credibly claim that you'll do really well in a case method type environment or something. I could see that being helpful but not so much so that you couldn't otherwise make the same case.

Mirando:

Also, taking things a step further.. Let's say that same MD decides to reach out to his Harvard contacts (professor and some of the administration) to bat for you. How much of an effect do you think that would have on your admission chances assuming you're a good but not great candidate.

Honestly, no idea. I've not done this, and I neither has anyone that I know of. My guess is that since the people with first degree connections to the admissions office (professors/administrations) don't know you personally, their "thumbs up" won't itself be strong enough to tip you over into admission. So at that point, either the admissions office is impressed by your resourcefulness, annoyed by your clumsiness, or doesn't care either way. So your call whether or not you want to toss that coin.

FWIW, I tend to be fairly Type A. When I was pushed from R1 to R2, I tried to think of aggressive ways to network my way into HBS. But I also didn't know anyone with a first degree connection to the admissions office (believe me, I dug hard to find one), so I decided against a weaker reach out. That's not necessarily the right answer or best strategy, just a single action-consequence data point for you.

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Oct 5, 2014

Out of curiosity, did you have your application/essays/interview prep professionally evaluated by an admissions consulting firm?

Oct 6, 2014
Mike-M11:

Out of curiosity, did you have your application/essays/interview prep professionally evaluated by an admissions consulting firm?

Application: Yes, reviewed by one (not @"Betsy Massar" or anyone else on this thread), and I was underwhelmed. I'd done a lot of diligence on HBS and GSB, and I didn't think there was any value add. YMMV.

Interviews: Yes, and I recommend it. After my GSB debacle, I learned my lesson and went through ~15 practice interviews for HBS. Four of these were with paid consultants; the rest were with current students, alumni, friends (who I coached on the style), etc. Here, I thought consultants were pretty valuable because they had a different lens (and thus different feedback) than people who were more akin to peers.

Most schools (at least HBS and GSB) will tell you that you don't need to prepare for their interviews, but I'd disagree. Your interview skills have likely accumulated rust and you're more nervous than on a typical day, so prep hard.

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Oct 4, 2014

Very insightful- thanks again! You bring up a good point, I guess having a 2nd degree connection go out and bat for you won't be nearly as effective as a first degree connection going out to bat for you. What are your thoughts on networking directly with the Ad Com? I'm only a couple hours away from Boston so a weekend trip here and there to network w/ the admissions office is definitely feasible. Also, I know the average age is 27 but have you seen anyone in your class that is slightly under (or over) that age? Lastly, aside from your strong pedigree and great work experience, did you have anything exotic or unique about your background? i.e. studied martial arts, traveled the world extensively, board member at a non-for-profit, started a mentor/mentee program at work, ect... Or do you feel that as long as you have exceptional work experience and a good undergrad pedigree that the uniqueness/extracurricular element won't matter as much? Sorry for the barrage of questions, just want to get the inside scoop from someone that's been able to crack through HBS! Thx in advance.

Oct 4, 2014

I'll throw in a comment too support baburator's comment above, but certainly don't want to steal from his thread:

Many, many, many people applying to HBS work for people that went to HBS. That's just the nature of the jobs that tend to get people into HBS to begin with. Every MBB consultant, PE guy, and banker works for/with someone who went to HBS. It really doesn't differentiate you from other applicants. It would be an absolute cluster if admissions permitted every HBS alum to "pull strings." It does work, but the person calling on your behalf needs to be a household name. We're talking F500 CEO to President of a country level, not some random MD at GS.

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Oct 4, 2014

Yes.

@"Mirando" you say

I'm only a couple hours away from Boston so a weekend trip here and there to network w/ the admissions office is definitely feasible.

do it to see a class, to see the presentation, to check out the food at Spangler. But it's highly unlikely that networking with the admissions office makes at difference in your candidacy.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Dec 1, 2014
CompBanker:

I'll throw in a comment too support baburator's comment above, but certainly don't want to steal from his thread:

We're talking F500 CEO to President of a country level, not some random MD at GS.

Not A random MD at GS. This is really funny . You made "Random MD at GS" sound like a random non target undergrad student. Really clever.

Oct 4, 2014

I don't know how the admissions committee works, and how many (if any) professors sit on it. One thing that people may not be aware of, however, is that Harvard's PhDs might know some of these people pretty darned well. These professors also do research, have PhD students working on their stuff, and it's actually a very close relationship for four or five years. Typically Professors tend to be mentors to their PhD students through the advisor/advisee system.

So in some cases, it may also be helpful to talk to a Harvard Econ or Management PhD alumn if you happen to work with one. They will probably know one or two professors there extremely well and might have a lot more sway than you would think- albeit with a single member of the committee.

I don't want to downplay the effect of an HBS alumn referral. All else being equal, you'd think they would have a little bit more equity in the program. And I'll be the first to say that the geeks of finance don't necessarily understand the MBA side of the business quite as well- or what it takes to get into or succeed at HBS. But there may be a relationship that you can lever through a PhD alumn that might be harder through an MBA alumn.

Oct 4, 2014

@"IllinoisProgrammer" not really. Like what @"CompBanker" says, there are a lot of people trying to get face time with the admissions committee. Like hundreds, if not thousands. Professors know this too, and aren't going to use their political currency unless they think it is valuable.
Thanks again @"baburator" for your comments on recommendations. What you say makes tremendous sense

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Oct 4, 2014

Oh of course. Profs hate it when they get phone calls from prospective applicants trying to network their way into the program. It's was supposedly one of the biggest faux-paus in admissions where I went to grad school. Trying to network with one of the professors in the hopes of an admit is not what I'm getting at.

My point is that having a reference from someone that people on the admissions committee might know probably helps. It's not like a reference letter from Barack Obama, but all else being equal, if you worked very closely with someone for four years and they offer an outstanding rec, aren't you going to put a little bit more weight on that? This isn't networking or face-time- it's simply part of the applications process and it might be a little bit more valuable to get a reference letter from someone who knows you and knows one or two of the committee members.

Oct 4, 2014

Great to hear your thoughts on the style of learning at HBS, especially when it comes to case studies. I'd be excited to see write-ups for the other big MBA programs.

Oct 4, 2014

In a number of fields, including STEM, networking with profs to get into the program is standard practice. B-school admissions don't really work that way, however. Not saying it can't, but it's certainly not typical.

Oct 5, 2014

I'm sure it'd help if a respected professor that the admissions committee knew and trusted chose to raise his hand and said "I've worked with this guy in some meaningful capacity, and I think he's got potential and would be a great contributor here," that would help. That's possible for some applicants (we have several former HBS research associates and former HBS case writers in the class) but for most it's hard to network their way into a high-trust relationship like that.

The same goes for networking with admissions committee people: the odds that, in one trip to Boston, you sufficiently impress someone who gives you a campus tour that the person remembers your name and goes to bat for you (and has influence enough to bat for you to begin with) seems low to me. I think there are better uses of that free time. But hey, if you prove me wrong, more power to you; you'll certainly deserve that spot in the class.

Completely random aside (coming out of a fun weekend): if you come to HBS (or probably b-school in general), it's worth having a separate spending category in your budget just for costume expenses. I'd never been a costume party guy before, but now it feels like there's a themed event every weekend!

Oct 5, 2014
baburator:

Completely random aside (coming out of a fun weekend): if you come to HBS (or probably b-school in general), it's worth having a separate spending category in your budget just for costume expenses. I'd never been a costume party guy before, but now it feels like there's a themed event every weekend!

Wait a minute - how do we know that this is not a Brady troll post?

No one else would ever advice people to have a separate costume budget.

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Oct 5, 2014

Because Brady isn't at HBS, he is elsewhere.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

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Oct 6, 2014
snakeoil:
baburator:

Completely random aside (coming out of a fun weekend): if you come to HBS (or probably b-school in general), it's worth having a separate spending category in your budget just for costume expenses. I'd never been a costume party guy before, but now it feels like there's a themed event every weekend!

Wait a minute - how do we know that this is not a Brady troll post?

No one else would ever advice people to have a separate costume budget.

This forum takes light hearted posts so seriously. I hope B school is nothing like the people on this forum.

Oct 6, 2014

OP, very smooth flow in your writing style. SB'ed just because of the phrase, "Maybe it's the koolaid at work, but I'm significantly more bullish now." Haha, I'll have to use that one now!

"You are neither right nor wrong because the crowd disagrees with you. You are right because your data and reasoning are right."

-Warren Buffett

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Oct 7, 2014

Thanks for the write up

Oct 8, 2014

Everytime I think of not getting into Harvard, it makes me want to cry.
Posts like this make it worse :(
Full disclosure: Got into a rank 15-20 mba program, was not as good as what it was potrayed

Oct 8, 2014

Get it together man.

Oct 8, 2014

You should share the details so others similarly don't fall victim to the false portrayal.

Dec 17, 2014

Are you currently a student at the 15-20 mba program? What do you not like about it?

I've said this before, but I will say it again. With b-schools there is a positive relationship between the prestige of the school and how enjoyable the experience is.

Oct 8, 2014

Does HBS REQUIRE students to travel as part of the FIELD program? When I visited the campus, the students there said you don't even get to choose which country you go to.

Oct 9, 2014
newyork:

Does HBS REQUIRE students to travel as part of the FIELD program? When I visited the campus, the students there said you don't even get to choose which country you go to.

FIELD travel abroad for ~9 days is required. The exception (where your destination is Boston) is for people juggling kids.

HBS gives you a menu of destinations - China, India, and Brazil plus a rotating set of emerging economies - and you rank them. Most people get one of their top 3 choices and seem pretty happy; I've not heard anyone grumble about FIELD yet. (Last year, Ghana was pretty terrible but it's cancelled this year.)

I think interview invites for R1 came out today? Good luck to those who received one! (If you didn't, no worries. Neither did I this time last year.)

Oct 9, 2014
baburator:
newyork:

Does HBS REQUIRE students to travel as part of the FIELD program? When I visited the campus, the students there said you don't even get to choose which country you go to.

FIELD travel abroad for ~9 days is required. The exception (where your destination is Boston) is for people juggling kids.

HBS gives you a menu of destinations - China, India, and Brazil plus a rotating set of emerging economies - and you rank them. Most people get one of their top 3 choices and seem pretty happy; I've not heard anyone grumble about FIELD yet. (Last year, Ghana was pretty terrible but it's cancelled this year.)

I think interview invites for R1 came out today? Good luck to those who received one! (If you didn't, no worries. Neither did I this time last year.)

When I read "juggling kids" I thought of the circus act LOL. What of, instead of kids, you have health issues?

Oct 9, 2014

Fantastic! If anyone who just recently started any other MBA program wants to weigh in, I'd love to read it.

Oct 11, 2014

Thanks for the great post! Could you tell us more about the "hook" that get you into Harvard MBA?

Oct 12, 2014

Great thread, thanks for posting.

Oct 16, 2014

This was a great post. Thank you for sharing your impressions so far and I hope you continue to do so. My question for you is related to your "Jobs" section. Although you have not participated in the campus recruiting yet, you made an observation:

"In terms of getting a job in IM, it seems like it's tough but do-able (whatever your background) if you stay plugged into the right clubs and network hard from there. I think HBS gives you a little tailwind (since a large number of big shops do come by here and recruit), but people with prior HF experience or mega-cap PE experience (not to mention Goldman, McKinsey, etc. types) are also dime a dozen here."

Are you suggesting that, because of those with the aforementioned backgrounds, that recruiting will be especially difficult for those who are career switchers?

If so, what advice would you give other than being plugged into the right clubs? I'm sure most could pay the annual club fees and participate in conferences, but when you have to go head-to-head with someone who has an extensive background in the field in which you are trying break in, how do you compete? Grades, GMAT, bid points to get the interview you want and then compete hard to get the job? I know that you just got there, so if there is an alum or EC that you could past this on to please feel free.

Oct 16, 2014
TGood:

This was a great post. Thank you for sharing your impressions so far and I hope you continue to do so. My question for you is related to your "Jobs" section. Although you have not participated in the campus recruiting yet, you made an observation:

"In terms of getting a job in IM, it seems like it's tough but do-able (whatever your background) if you stay plugged into the right clubs and network hard from there. I think HBS gives you a little tailwind (since a large number of big shops do come by here and recruit), but people with prior HF experience or mega-cap PE experience (not to mention Goldman, McKinsey, etc. types) are also dime a dozen here."

Are you suggesting that, because of those with the aforementioned backgrounds, that recruiting will be especially difficult for those who are career switchers?

If so, what advice would you give other than being plugged into the right clubs? I'm sure most could pay the annual club fees and participate in conferences, but when you have to go head-to-head with someone who has an extensive background in the field in which you are trying break in, how do you compete? Grades, GMAT, bid points to get the interview you want and then compete hard to get the job? I know that you just got there, so if there is an alum or EC that you could past this on to please feel free.

Yes, I think it's tough to be a career switcher into a HF. It's easiest to get the job with prior HF experience, slightly harder if you're PE, significantly harder for other finance (IB, VC, etc.), harder yet for M/B/B, and hardest for those with just industry or non-traditional backgrounds.

The question of how you compete from a point of weakness is a good one, but don't have a good answer for you yet. It's something I'm exploring myself in conversations with ECs and alums. If anyone on this board's got a better answer, I'd be all ears.

Oct 24, 2014

Just a quick thought from my own experience, although a zillion years ago, and others I have seen -- the idea is to get into a stepping-stone position and then, in second year, to network by taking leadership roles in clubs and getting to know recruiters.
By a stepping stone position, for me, coming out of government and wanting to go into investment banking, it was a long shot, but I ended up working in banking in between. Life was different then, but I think second-year students will be able to tell you that it is imperative you show interest in your new industry, even if it's not exactly the same position you want to have long term.

Betsy Massar
Come see me at my Q&A thread
http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forums/b-school-qa-... Ask away!

Jun 3, 2015

I know you're extremely busy, but if you have time for another update, I'd love to hear it too!
I'd also love to hear your additional experience and perspective on this after your first year and internship recruiting.

I would be coming from a big consulting firm (but not MBB), and am interested in the top end jobs - PE, VC, Hedge fund. Do you think it would be better to go to a school where these aren't the focus, so I am not competing against those with as much experience?
To articulate an example - if I got into Stanford, HBS, and Wharton and want to go to PE - maybe it would be best to go to Stanford since it is still strong in finance, but there are probably not as many looking to go into PE. Another example may be MIT - but H/S/W are known to be the top 3 and MIT is in the 2nd top tier. Would this still be a good possible angle?

Nov 30, 2014

I'm an EC at HBS and was able to make the transition from the military to a full time offer at a large MF. From what I saw last year and heard from the year before, almost everyone who really wants to work in IM was able to find an internship in IM. This could change if the bull market ends, but there were well over 50 official internship postings last year through HBS CPD, and several people landed internships through their personal networks. The interview process is definitely difficult/arduous, but it does weed out anyone who isn't serious about investing.

IMHO, the best way to compete with the "stellar" backgrounds is to actually love investing. The A+ resumes will take up most of the interview slots at the top funds, but most funds will interview 1 or 2 non-traditional applicants. Most people who did Goldman Sachs IB then PE never had the opportunity to invest in their PA because of both lack of time and trading restrictions. There are also probably less than 10 people per class who worked in IM prior to HBS, so the majority of people have no public market experience.

Before starting your MBA, I'd recommend reading as many books as you can on value investing, market history, behavioral finance, strategy etc, and also to start investing real money ASAP. I may suck at Excel, but I have spent several years investing real money and thinking about what makes good investment opportunities which is what helped me get my foot in the door. If you go into an interview with several high quality stock pitches (more than the standard 2 longs and 1 short), and can talk about successful and failed prior investments, it will be very clear that you are truly interesting in investing and aren't just chasing after the money.

At HBS, the investment club is a great way to network, and ECs provide a lot of guidance to help the RCs navigate the process. I'd recommend getting involved right away with the student investment fund. It's a great way to see a lot of stock pitches, and also to meet a group of people with similar goals. From what I've seen, everyone helps everyone with trying to land jobs and internships. Hope that helps, and I'm happy to answer any more questions.

Nov 30, 2014
NavyInvestor:

The A+ resumes will take up most of the interview slots at the top funds, but most funds will interview 1 or 2 non-traditional applicants.

You're the second person I've heard say this. Is this true across shops or just for the larger IMs who take on a couple of interns/hires each year?

Dec 17, 2014
NavyInvestor:

I'm an EC at HBS and was able to make the transition from the military to a full time offer at a large MF. From what I saw last year and heard from the year before, almost everyone who really wants to work in IM was able to find an internship in IM. This could change if the bull market ends, but there were well over 50 official internship postings last year through HBS CPD, and several people landed internships through their personal networks. The interview process is definitely difficult/arduous, but it does weed out anyone who isn't serious about investing.

IMHO, the best way to compete with the "stellar" backgrounds is to actually love investing. The A+ resumes will take up most of the interview slots at the top funds, but most funds will interview 1 or 2 non-traditional applicants. Most people who did Goldman Sachs IB then PE never had the opportunity to invest in their PA because of both lack of time and trading restrictions. There are also probably less than 10 people per class who worked in IM prior to HBS, so the majority of people have no public market experience.

Before starting your MBA, I'd recommend reading as many books as you can on value investing, market history, behavioral finance, strategy etc, and also to start investing real money ASAP. I may suck at Excel, but I have spent several years investing real money and thinking about what makes good investment opportunities which is what helped me get my foot in the door. If you go into an interview with several high quality stock pitches (more than the standard 2 longs and 1 short), and can talk about successful and failed prior investments, it will be very clear that you are truly interesting in investing and aren't just chasing after the money.

At HBS, the investment club is a great way to network, and ECs provide a lot of guidance to help the RCs navigate the process. I'd recommend getting involved right away with the student investment fund. It's a great way to see a lot of stock pitches, and also to meet a group of people with similar goals. From what I've seen, everyone helps everyone with trying to land jobs and internships. Hope that helps, and I'm happy to answer any more questions.

Out of 900+ people in a class only 10 have public investing experience? Is that a function of admission preferences? Seems really low when a lot of talented people work at hedge funds and would go some place like HBS.

Oct 30, 2014

I'm perplexed by these questions about realistic post-MBA goals.

In my mind, applying for an MBA presupposes that you've taken the long-view (5-10 years) in regards to your career.

No one who is right on track to be where they want to be at 30 y.o. is going to drop two years of their career and 150 large on a largely useless degree, unless you're just really spanking life and want to knock boots with some other really successful like-minded folks for two years.

People get an MBA because they see that their current trajectory is not going to get them where they want to be and need a little boost / new toolset to get there. In 99% of cases an MBA shouldn't even enter the picture unless this is the case.

Any other way of thinking about an MBA just does not compute. Maybe it's just me.

Oct 30, 2014
StJamesPark:

I'm perplexed by these questions about realistic post-MBA goals.

People get an MBA because they see that their current trajectory is not going to get them where they want to be and need a little boost / new toolset to get there. In 99% of cases an MBA shouldn't even enter the picture unless this is the case.

I think you're missing the point. Yes people use an MBA to switch careers or increase their skillset. But the point is they want goals that are realistic. Despite what some people on WSO think even HBS doesn't guarantee you any job at any firm simply because HBS is so amazing. If you spent 3 years in Teach for America, have an undergrad degree in art history and say that you hear Private Equity is pretty cool so you are going to go to KKR after your MBA the admissions committee is going to be reasonably skeptical. Now if you've been doing M&A for 4 years in TMT and decide you want to go to a mid-size PE shop with a Tech focus that will be seen as more realistic. It doesn't mean your goal needs to be so easy an MBA isn't necessary (anybody recruiting for PE right now without PE experience will tell you how hard it is) but it needs to be possible.

Oct 31, 2014
MilitaryToFinance:
StJamesPark:

I'm perplexed by these questions about realistic post-MBA goals.

People get an MBA because they see that their current trajectory is not going to get them where they want to be and need a little boost / new toolset to get there. In 99% of cases an MBA shouldn't even enter the picture unless this is the case.

I think you're missing the point. Yes people use an MBA to switch careers or increase their skillset. But the point is they want goals that are realistic. Despite what some people on WSO think even HBS doesn't guarantee you any job at any firm simply because HBS is so amazing. If you spent 3 years in Teach for America, have an undergrad degree in art history and say that you hear Private Equity is pretty cool so you are going to go to KKR after your MBA the admissions committee is going to be reasonably skeptical. Now if you've been doing M&A for 4 years in TMT and decide you want to go to a mid-size PE shop with a Tech focus that will be seen as more realistic. It doesn't mean your goal needs to be so easy an MBA isn't necessary (anybody recruiting for PE right now without PE experience will tell you how hard it is) but it needs to be possible.

Pretty sure we're in agreement. I'm saying if one doesn't have a good answer to the 'post-MBA plan' question than that person should not be applying for an MBA in the first place, obviating the need for any serious MBA applicant to be worried about answering this question.

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Oct 30, 2014

@baburator @"Betsy Vassar" Funny you should bring up the book Ahead of the Curve, I actually did a review of it for WSO: http://www.wallstreetoasis.com/blog/ahead-of-the-c...

Metal. Music. Life. www.headofmetal.com

Oct 31, 2014
In The Flesh:

@baburator @"Betsy Vassar" Funny you should bring up the book Ahead of the Curve, I actually did a review of it for WSO: //www.wallstreetoasis.com/blog/ahead-of-the-c...

Hahaha couldn't stop laughing at Betsy Vassar! I think what made it so funny is that you are a long time poster.

Oct 30, 2014

Great post. Hopefully there's a part 2 soon.

Progress is impossible without change...

Oct 30, 2014

Out of curiosity, how many students have you met from a MO (Credit Risk) role at an elite BB at HBS? I am debating on choosing a role like this vs a FO role at a boutique bank. HBS is my goal. Thanks!

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