By Ben Feuer, photo by Roman Pfieffer

So you want to travel abroad in order to attend a top American or European business school?  Good for you.  There's just one little problem -- hundreds (or thousands, depending on your country of residence ... I'm looking at you, India!) of other people just as qualified as you are targeting those same exact seats. Fortunately, you have us on your side!  Check out this free three-step primer on how to prepare for your overseas MBA application.

1. Get clear on your goals and why you need a foreign MBA to pursue them.  Let's be honest -- although there are applicants who genuinely need the education a top school like HBS or Wharton can offer, there's also a lot of people who are just looking for prestige, a bigger network or a quick fix for a stalled career. If you fall into one of these latter categories, you have a problem, because no one in admissions wants to hear you whine about getting passed over for a promotion yet again. Fortunately, the trouble is mostly between your ears, and therefore, it's a relatively straightforward fix. Paying attention?  Good.

Past is prologue.

Got that? You are not defined by the four or five things that are currently frustrating you. You are the sum of the experiences, challenges and desires that have brought you to this point. Take a step back and look at your career from a higher vantage point. Where are you headed?  Is it somewhere exciting, inspirational? Who are you bringing along for the ride -- what troubled group out there are you preparing to serve?  It doesn't matter if you're a Private Equity quant jock or a burned-out prince of the non-profits in DC, the question is the same. What's next, and just how amazing is it going to be once it comes?

2. Know your role ... and your history. A good application to business school is an exercise in empathy -- you must put yourself in the admissions officer's shoes. She is trying to build a cohesive class. Where do you fit in? Look at your target schools. How many people like you did Stanford admit last year? What were they up to before arriving on campus?

Review your own work and travel history, both to figure out where you're the best fit, and what you have done that a top foreign school might find attractive.  Have you been the big fish in the small pond, changemaking like a boss?  Have you explored cultures and perspectives a top US or Euro MBA program might find intriguing?  What, and who, do you know that can help you to stand out?

3.  Shore up your fundamentals. Depending on exactly which country you are applying from, you may have an exceptionally competitive regional 'bucket' -- people from your area may only be able to claim seats when their fundamentals exceed even the usual lofty bar set by Booth, Kellogg and other top MBA programs. So make sure not to give them any reason to ding you on this account.  Your GMAT, GRE, and transcripts should be as strong as you can possibly make them. If your percentiles are lacking, study and retake. If you can't conquer one test, try the other. If you need more time and you're under 25, take a year to prepare. If your transcript and resume are thin on quantitative rigor, consider a one-year masters program.

So once you've done all that, what next?  Then, my friend, you are ready to take the plunge and begin planning your actual applications.  And that's when you should probably call us.

Article by Ben Feuer. Photo by James Jordan.



Is it an overgrown arithmetic problem? A formula for Noah’s ark?

Yes, but it’s also a highly selective program targeted at undergraduates in their junior year, designed to ‘lock them into’ Harvard Business School two to four years in advance of their attendance.

If you’re a top student, especially if you also happen to be female or an under-represented minority, you’re gonna be a very sexy target for graduate programs. Business school may seem to you like the least attractive option: dull, money-centric, excessively technical, and culturally irrelevant. Plus, it takes years of work experience and total industry commitment to even be considered!

Enter Harvard, always a thought leader, once again attempting to shift the conversation. The 2+2 program is that attempt. 

This program is designed to convince and convert brilliant ‘on the fence’ students, locking them into Harvard’s prestigious business school, HBS, at the ideal age — just when as they might otherwise have gone over to the medical or law schools.

Even if you already know all this, it’s important to remind yourself of it before you think about applying. By understanding the type of student Harvard wants, you can better position yourself in your application.



Here are some statistics that can help give you a sense of the overall landscape of 2+2 admissions. 

The 2+2 program accepts around 110 students each year. The selectivity of the program is around 11 percent

STEM and humanities majors are preferred … however, business majors are accepted every year. In fact, 26 percent of the most recent class were business or economics majors, compared to only 12 percent humanities majors! That said, econ is going to be much more competitive than undergraduate business.

You’ll need great stats. The GRE is an option, but GMAT is still more popular70% of admitted students chose GMAT.



~780 GMAT target.

~3.9 GPA target.



~750 GMAT target.

~3.7 GPA Target.


2+2 is not just for undergraduates.  Many people don’t know this, but candidates from master’s degree programs who have not held a full-time work position (not including law, medical or Ph.D) are also eligible to apply.



Getting into HBS 2+2 is both the easiest and the hardest thing you’ll ever do. It’s hard because very few people are successful. It’s easy, however, to understand why they’re successful.

Want to know the secret? Here goes —


Lead in what you love.


2+2 is, at its core, a blank check from Harvard to you. They’re saying to you, “No matter what, we have your back. Now go out and change the world, then come back to us and change it again.”

So you better have at least two key things if you want to get in —


1. A proven track record of creating change, in a leadership role.

2. An area of the world, not business, that you are currently focused on changing.


Once you know what that is, the rest is simple, at least in theory. The execution can be more of a challenge. You need to reorganize your essays, your resume, your extracurriculars, your potential recommenders, and probably your life, to reflect this new direction you now realize that you have. 

All of these aspects of your candidacy are important, but pay special attention to your recommenders. For younger students like 2+2 applicants, character is incredibly important because there’s less of a track record to look at. So pick recommenders who know you really well, and have known you for a relatively long period of time. Think years, not months. Strong, enduring relationships are a good indicator of success in a program like 2+2, which has 2-4 year gaps between accepting students and reeling them back in.

When it comes to your essays and resume, dwell in the land of the firsts and the bests. What have you done that is different? How did it change you?

There are many potentially compelling extracurricular profiles. Here are a few we’ve seen succeed in the past.


•Non-profit founder

•NCAA star athlete

•Major engineering/design competition winner (especially team projects)

•Small-to-medium business founder (revenues up to $50 million)

•Overseas educator

•Anti-poverty crusader

•Early career success in competitive field (entertainment, politics)

•School, class or association president


One last tip. Don’t get too hung up on name brands. Harvard’s attitude towards them is lukewarm at best — they want to add brand recognition, not join the back of a conga line. They’ll take a state schooler with extraordinary leadership qualities over a middle of the pack Ivy leaguer every day of the week.



The 2+2 applications have only one deadline this year: April 3rd, 2017. Applications are not reviewed on a rolling basis so your application will not be considered until the April 3rd application round.



No problem!  Hit us up and we'll be happy to discuss your particular situation and answer any questions you may have, including how competitive you are.

Facebook Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email

Harvard Business School's prestigious 2+2 program is attracting more qualified applicants every year.  How can you stand out from the pack?

The HBS 2+2 program has only been around for a few short years, but it is quickly becoming one of the most attractive destinations for ambitious young scholars.  It has evolved a lot in the few years it has existed, but its mission remains the same -- to attract the best and brightest young students who wouldn't otherwise consider business school and bring them into the Harvard fold. HBS takes these students 'sight unseen', as it were, without work experience, and requires them to work for two years before joining their Harvard Business School class.
The program is highly selective, with acceptance rates hovering around 11 to 12 percent every year -- but if you want to go, here are a few things you have to do in order to prepare yourself.

1.  Have a great job -- in your chosen field.  It is incredibly important to have a post-baccalaureate job lined up before applying to HBS 2+2, even if it means waiting until Round 3 instead of applying Round 2.  Furthermore, it can't just be any old job -- working at the Starbucks isn't going to cut it!  The most competitive applicants will have landed jobs that show their potential in their chosen field, while also leaving the door open to improve themselves with a business education.

 2. Have great test scores and GPA.  Even more than HBS itself, the 2+2 program is intensely competitive and numbers-driven, since there's less work experience for adcoms to judge. You can take either the GRE or the GMAT, although GMAT is the more rigorous test and therefore adcoms will be a little more forgiving of a 'weak' GMAT score than a weak GRE score.  A student applying to 2+2 should have at least a 730 with at least 75% score on the quant section to be competitive, and a 3.7+ GPA.

3.  Have a STEM background. HBS 2+2 loves STEM applicants more than anything.  62 percent of the incoming class was STEM, dwarfing all other backgrounds COMBINED.  Engineers, mathematicians and data scientists' skillsets are always in high demand at business school, so this probably comes as no big surprise.  That said, liberal arts and business majors do have a real shot at getting into the program -- just less of a shot.

4.  Have a compelling story.  Although numbers tell a big part of the story, they don't tell the whole story.  The fact is, recommendations and essays are the "X factor" that can overcome slightly weaker numbers -- and unfortunately, this is the part of the process most candidates spend the least time on!  All of the advice we give to B-school applicants in general goes double for HBS 2+2 applicants -- finding a meaningful reason to go to business school, an exciting life goal the committee will want to engage with, and being able to talk about your personal background and life history in a way that really illuminates who you are.

If you have questions about your chances at getting into HBS's 2+2 program, contact us! ; We'd be happy to handicap your chances and give you a few pointers.

Happy hunting!

Photo by Niklas Tenhaef.

Facebook Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email



Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Evan 

Welcome to the Party

So you’re a little late.  Your job got busy, the deadlines came up sooner than expected, your first crack at the GMAT didn’t go as planned.  Not to worry — Round Two was created for folks like you!  The typical top ten MBA program takes anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of its class in round two with a similar volume of applications, although the exact numbers vary from year to year.  This means that all things being equal, your odds are slightly worse in the second round than the first, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

Characteristics of a Round Two Applicant

Round One is the ‘stats’ round; if you’ve got your bona fides all lined up, if your numbers are strong, if you have brand names all over your resume and gold-plated recommenders, you’re a round one candidate through and through.  The schools are going to use this round to fill out the heart of their program, shore up their numbers and make sure their basic food groups are covered.

Round Two is the ‘story’ round; it’s where the school starts to pick and choose, pull the folks with interesting backgrounds, fill in any gaps they may have after round one (if they’re short on a particular type of job background or ethnic background, for instance) and experiment.  If this sounds like you, you'll be better off waiting until Round Two to hit submit even if you are ready in round one.

The Strategy

What should you do if you're applying round two?  You have to think very hard about your essays and your recommenders -- for you, they're going to matter more than with the typical round one applicant.  Do you understand the overall narrative of your application, and how each of your recommenders fits that strategy?  Do you know how you're going to approach them?

As for essays, you have to start asking yourself some tough questions about your reasons for coming to business school.  What about you is particularly sexy for a top institution.  Do you have a really exciting entrepreneurial idea?  An unusual background — military, the arts?  Can you offer connections to (or insight into) a paritcular type of business that might be useful for your classmates to learn about?  Do you have a really amazing life experience that would make a great optional essay for HBS or Wharton?

You should also have a good story worked up (at least in your own mind) about why you waited until Round Two — was it to shore up your numbers, secure your recommenders, make certain you really wanted to go to school this year?  You don’t need to write about it but it’s helpful to know.

Finally, be sure and use these extra months to shore up weak areas in your candidacy.  Do you have enough volunteer leadership?  Are you creating meaningful change anywhere around you?  Do you need to retake your GMAT?  Do you have enough quantitative coursework and background, or do you need to take a Microeconomics class to shore that side of your application up?

Common Pitfalls

Do you work in Private Equity?  Do you have a co-worker in your business who is also applying for the same slot?  If so, you’re in a race, since most of the top schools take a very limited number from any given firm in a given year.  Don’t wait unless you absolutely have to.

Don’t simply wait because you can, or because you’re busy.  Use that extra time to strengthen your application — time is precious, time before an application is twice as precious.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, because Round Two is OK, Round Three is also.  Round Three, in most schools, is a much worse bet and should be avoided.

Round Two Neutral Schools
These schools generally offer no preference either way.

Chicago Booth

Round One Advantage Schools
These schools generally offer a slight preference to round one applicants.

MIT Sloan

Good Luck!

Now you know the basics of how to be a strong applicant for Round Two.  Have questions about your own application’s timing?  Contact us and I’ll be happy to help.

Ben Feuer is an educational consultant with Forster-Thomas, Inc.



Facebook Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email


Photo by Patrick Breitenbach.

HBS recently launched a new podcast called Cold Call.  Disappointingly, at least in the first few episodes, the podcast itself is little more than an advertisement for the Harvard Business Review’s booming business in selling case studies at $5 to $9 a pop.  The format appears to be simple: they invite the professor to come on to the podcast, tease the story, and then say, ‘if you want to know how it turns out, buy our case study!’.  NPR ought to try this with its next edition of Serial.  It’s a conversation, not an account of what happened, so expect the podcasters to jump around from one subject to another.

Crass commercialism aside, HBS’s podcast does have a few interesting tidbits that are worth taking note of if you happen to be planning to apply to the school this year.  For one thing, you’ll learn a bit about the case study method, which is important to understand before you apply.  The case study method is anecdotal, for one thing — it is based on principles of storytelling, with the business leader as protagonist (this, by the way, is a great model for you to follow in your own essays about leadership). Another advantage is that you can hear from some actual Harvard profs and get a feel for what they might be like as teachers.  But thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the way the teachers tell the stories implies what kind of abilities they’re looking for in a leader.

Gautam Mukunda, a former consultant (and Harvard student) and the author of a recent book called “Indispensable”, takes the lead on the first podcast, and it’s clear from his tone what he believes is important.  Transformative impacts, unconventional leaders and institutional morality are three of the qualities he highlights.  He likes leaders who come from unusual backgrounds.  He’s on the hunt for people who are exceptional, who buck the norm, and who make ethical choices, even when they’re hard.

Not only is this good advice for a business leader, it’s a good way to approach your candidacy.  How and where can you show your own willingness to buck trends, even in a small way?  Can you show that you resolved a challenging ethical dilemma successfully?  Can you write about a time when you learned from a failure?  What are your own case studies?  These are the questions you need to answer if you want to be considered Harvard material.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Lessons from 2015-2016’s HBS Round 1

Facebook Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email

Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Ted Eytan.

One down, two dozen to go.  HBS, almost always the first mover in the b-school world, set a brutally early deadline this year, and it became a race to the finish for the strong round one applicants eager for a seat.  Having seen them come and go, we feel like a few remarks are in order as people prepare for their other round one deadlines, or in some cases, for round two.  Here are our biggest takeaways and what to do about them.

  1. Deadlines moved up … and people freaked out.  This year marked a dramatic shift nearly across the board when it came to deadlines.  Everything was happening sooner than expected, which made it difficult for some people to get ready in time for the Round 1 deadline – particularly people who were struggling to bring up a low GMAT.  This may mean that Round 1 is less competitive than in previous years, which might give an advantage to early movers – assuming they were fully prepared.
  2. The new HBS prompt is trickier than it looks.  At a recent Forster-Thomas ‘bull session’, where we sit around and debate the various essays we’re receiving and reviewing, we found that a lot of people were struggling with the new HBS prompt.  The emphasis on personality and informality really threw a lot of B-school writers for a loop.  Many applicants were also trying to tell too many stories – they had ‘completeness’ syndrome, the feeling that if they didn’t include everything cool they’ve done, the admissions committee would ‘miss out’.  Ironing out these issues took time, which meant that those who were prepared early once again got a slight advantage.
  3. Some people were thrown by the lack of a pull-down menu in the application to choose your round.  This is, I think, simply the schools realizing that the designation was redundant.  When you apply automatically determines which round you’re applying in, so why have a menu?  Still, it made some applicants very nervous.
  4. Keep your enemies close … and your recommenders closer.  Although we didn’t see any disasters, we did have a few last-minute scares this year with recommenders caught unawares by the changes in deadlines, rec formatting (it’s all online now!) and the slight variations in questions asked by the schools.  The candidates who fared best were in steady (but not overwhelming) contact with their recommenders and were extremely clear with their requests, both in writing and in person.

Although we're sure there will be new questions and issues that arise in round two, we're equally sure that being ahead of deadlines, in communication with recommenders and patient with the essays will produce stronger and more successful applications.  Good luck in HBS Round Two!

Facebook Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email


 By Susan Clark.  Cartoon by Frits Ahlefeldt.

Picture this: it’s three AM, and you’re hanging out at the dorm of one of your HBS section mates finishing up a group project.  The five of you have been banging away at Excel spreadsheets since nine – nobody’s eaten.  You’re all completely exhausted – but you just realized there’s a key element that isn’t done yet.  How do you break the news to your friends?  How do you avoid the dreaded, “Aah, it’s good enough”? After all, these people know you, but they don’t really know you.  Why should they listen to what you have to say when you ask them to give the maximum effort -- that one last push?

The whole situation brings you back a few years to when you chose to leave your cushy job at JP Morgan to go to Haiti, where you didn’t know a single person, to create a social entrepreneurship venture to solve their ongoing water crisis.   There were so many late nights on that project, so many moments it would have been easier to give up – but you had a shared sense of mission that kept you pulling together. 

Without even thinking about it, you find yourself telling the story to your HBS classmates -- you explain to them that where you grew up, in a small town outside Rio de Janiero, clean water was hard to come be – you explain this ‘random’ class project is actually (for you) part of a larger mission, a dream to go out there and solve the problem of clean water once and for all via a social entrepeneurship startup you’re building.

You half expect them to laugh at you – but instead they pat you on the back and ask you what they can do to help.  Forget the class project – you’ve just made four friends that will last the rest of your life, because you introduced yourself to your HBS classmates in a way that matters.

Or look at it this way – it’s Friday night at your favorite hangout, be it Per Se or the local tap house, and somebody brings up a great topic of conversation.  You think to yourself -- oh my God, yes!  I remember when I did that … and you tell the story.

That’s exactly how you should write your HBS ‘Introduce Yourself’ essay.


HBS wants each member of its community to bring something unique and defining to the table; they’re looking for people who transcend simple brands on a resume, buck the odds and make a difference.  

There is no simple formula for this kind of expression; every essay needs to be as unique as the person writing it.  There are, however, certain key elements the essay should reveal.  You don’t need to have every one of these, but you should touch on at least most of these elements --

  • Your deep passion that has moved you forward, and excited your intellectual curiosity.
  • How that passion caused to grow beyond yourself and be a leader. 
  • How your efforts helped to refine your leadership style, or hone a new leadership skill.
  • How you made a real impact on people around you, big or small, whether it was saving a tree or selling your company’s product.  
  • A thoughtful expression of what makes you tick.
  • An indication of how you grew when you honored your commitments.
  • Something you want us to know about yourself, told through story, and applied to other areas in your life

This essay is NOT:

  • A chance to brag about how wonderful you are.
  • A chronological review of your accomplishments.
  • A rehash of material someone could glean from simply reading your resume.


A great HBS essay really shouldn’t be more than 600 words.  I know HBS is giving you more than enough rope to hang yourself with, but that doesn’t mean you need to spool out your own noose.  When it comes to introductions, less is more, and simplicity is the best policy.

Don’t make the essay a series of anecdotes.  Examples should grow naturally out of the broader points you want to make.

And it wouldn’t hurt to use a few words, no more than a hundred, about how HBS provides what you need to take the next step.


How to start?  How do you brainstorm an essay like this?  Start by making a list.  Five from each category.  Don’t self-censor, either, telling yourself, aah, that one’s not really good enough.  Just list them, and don’t question it.  Discuss:

  • How you discovered some value that was important to you
  • A time you were tested and came to realize your own strength. 
  • What you learned about yourself through failure. 
  • How you made a difference in someone else’s life.


The most important thing to know about the new Harvard essay is that it is not about what you have done, but about how you operate, what commitment drives you to succeed and how you demonstrate leadership. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

HBS Bets Big on CORe

Facebook Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email

For years now, online and distance education have loomed as vaguely menacing threats off in the distance for traditional brick-and-mortar colleges and universities.  It seemed as though the two were inevitably destined to clash.

Leave it to HBS to figure out a way to make the competition/coordination dynamic both smart and profitable.

HBX CORe was introduced last year and has since gone through three cohorts.  Far from being just another mini-MBA or online learning program, CORe was innovating from the start; consider HBX live, which promises to allow up to sixty students all around the world to 'sit in class' together and communicate via the cameras on their PCs.  Pretty heady stuff, but if anyone can pull it off, Harvard can.

Although there was already some buzz around HBX CORe, adcoms were understandably cautious about anointing it as a substitute for (or even a supplement to) traditional business school education, and many students we spoke to were wary about the cost/value.  Who can blame them?  When your two biggest selling points for a product are; 1. It costs money (compared to a MOOC) and 2. It's proprietary (not open source), you might have a tough time getting buyers interested.

Fortunately for Harvard, their prestige and reputation for intelligent positioning is well earned.  In a series of recent announcements, HBX partnered with Amherst, Carleton, Grinnell, Hamilton, Wellesley and Williams.  This allows the program to funnel smart, high-achieving students into the system and also allows it to take advantage of financial aid and tuition remission, an important selling point for indebted undergraduates.  

In the short term, this should increase the quality of incoming cohorts and increase selectivity, which is essential if Harvard wants to establish a prestige brand for its new offering and prevent it being seen as a simple cash-in.  

In the long term, things get even more interesting.  The new HBX partnerships could be the beginning of a symbiotic relationship between traditional universities and online and distance education.  Imagine you're Johnny Freshman and you got shut out of a required course for your major, or you're interested in something your school doesn't have strong offerings in -- for a small fee, you can get CREDIT for distance learning courses at top universities.  This could be the beginning of true education customization.

Of course, this is early days yet, and a lot of things could still go wrong -- but Harvard's initiative here is bold and smart, and will probably pay dividends very quickly in the rapidly evolving world of online education.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email

Article by Evan Forster.  Photo by Ted Eytan.


A weird thing happened last week here at Forster-Thomas.  We were settling in for our usual Friday afternoon grind when we heard a strange sound -- my partner David thought it was a foghorn coming from the pier, but I knew better: It was a collective sigh of relief from 2000 Wall Street hopefuls who had just read the new Harvard Business School MBA essay prompt.  

 I could read their minds (I've been doing it for 20 years now) -- 

"Thank God, I don't have to face that crazy open-ended essay."  

"Thank God, they're not saying that scary stuff about already knowing everything about me."  

"Thank God, this is just like that Columbia essay my sister did a few years ago."  

"I can handle this."

We all chuckled a bit and went back to enjoying our appletinis.  

True, Harvard has opened the back door to rejection a little wider with this prompt, and a lot of applicants are going to waltz right in, rattling off laundry lists of accomplishments: mountains conquered, championships won, tests aced.  Cue the Legally Blonde references.

Now which of these people do YOU want to be?  Elle Woods or IQ 187?   Rattling off your bona-fides is like slapping your admissions officer in the face.  They can read.  They know who you are.  What they don’t know is how you operate. How you take on your community, your country, your world.


I'm going to introduce you to one of my favorite clients, Manolo.  But I'm going to do it Harvard style, by focusing on his passions and his transformation.

When Manolo came to the US, he didn't know a word of English.  (And before all you 'reverse racism' types start sharpening your pitchforks, he wasn't poor or raised by a single parent, he was just an immigrant.)  Manolo was a quick study.  He attended UNLV, where he was president of the Honors Society and found himself an internship at Goldman Sachs.

So with all that under his belt, you might think Manolo would be a little self-important, but actually, Manolo didn't want to talk about his accomplishments--he started asking me about Forster-Thomas’s nonprofit arm, Essay Busters.  Manolo desperately wanted to get involved with Essay Busters, but he couldn't do it over the summer; his internship hours were just too crazy.  I sort of shrugged my shoulders--I hear that kind of excuse a lot.

But I underestimated Manolo.  Within four weeks, he conceived of and laid the groundwork for Essay Busters: Nevada.  He engaged every club of which he was a member, securing funding, even working with the mayor of Paradise.  He lined up 32 potential mentors in four weeks.  From New York. While interning full time at Goldman.

What was that about your amazing 780 GMAT score again? Zzzzzzz.


If you want to go to HBS, you need to find that passion.  Where are you leading?  What are you creating?  If the answer is not screaming at you right now, you need to ask yourself, are you really HBS material?  

Choose something you are excited, almost desperate, to have others be a part of.  Then talk about it.  Perhaps you're paving the way for future female Wall Street CEOs.  Maybe you're an engineer working on ending the drought in California.  Or you're at McKinsey trying to create an entirely new private equity marketplace.  Whatever it is, you're up to something big, something that's going to transform the planet one day, and you're sharing the impact with everyone around you.  True transformation has a ripple effect.  

That was clear with Manolo.   He made those around him better.  Find what you have to share--find a way to make those around you better.

Mark my words: Manolo will be invited to interview at HBS in the fall.  And it won't be because he's well-connected, because he's the right color, or because he has an amazing GMAT or "perfect background" (whatever that is).  It will be because he demonstrated an ability to transform himself and the desire to help others do the same in his home community of Las Vegas.

That's introducing yourself -- Harvard style.

Facebook Twitter Google Digg LinkedIn StumbleUpon Email

It’s the online business education that isn’t an online business education. It’s taught by HBS professors, but it’s not an HBS program.  It’s an elite training program for ambitious future business students without the specific guarantees of an MBA degree. Such are the ambiguities and contradictions in Harvard’s new HBX core program.  Is it worth the high price of admission?

The frequently asked questions and HBX Core’s shiny new website look promising enough.  Many people decide to go to business school relatively late in life, it argues. Why should they be at a disadvantage compared to those who got involved in banking right after graduating? HBX core hopes to close the knowledge gap, improving students ability to hit the ground running when they start attending business school. The program is a part time commitment -- you can still do your job while you are taking the classes. It is also designed to be rigorous, delivering grades and promising serious expectations for assignments and class participation.

But can Harvard actually deliver value for the money with HBX Core? The answer isn’t yet clear, and it’s unlikely to be anytime soon. That said, we did our best to find out by contacting admissions officers in the know.  The results were a little disturbing.  Forster Thomas’s admissions contacts at top business schools indicated that not only has Harvard not reached out to them about the program to flout its benefits, many of them were not even aware it existed. Although they will most likely review it along with all the other new initiatives when they meet in the fall to begin considering admissions, it seems unlikely at this point that the Harvard name alone is going to make the Core certification leap out on anybody’s resume.

That said, there are a few things about HBX Core that might make it more valuable than your average community college accounting course, but even these aren’t sure things. For instance, will Harvard’s plan to grade on a high honors\honors\pass basis actually correlate to the business ability of students graduating from the program? If so, the program’s reputation easily grow over time. If not, it could lose all its credibility overnight.

All in all, it’s probably too soon to make a full judgment either way on HBX core. For students planning to apply next year, it’s hard to endorse the program unless you are absolutely planning to apply to Harvard. It seems like a safe bet that Harvard will want to promote the program and make it seem legitimate in its early stages, which means they will probably make a big show of admitting at least a few core students into HBS.

For other schools, the benefit is less clear. Also unclear is whether the core program can substitute in any meaningful way for full MBA program, or even a one-year-old part-time MBA program. Will employers value the certification?  Will Harvard try to bring some recruiters in as partners?  It’s an alternate approach which could bear fruit, but there are no signs of it as of yet.

We will keep our eye on the story as it develops. In the meantime, if you want to get the latest information on HBX core or if you have any questions, just contact us and will be happy to answer them.