Harvard Business School (HBS) offers an excellent MBA program—this is largely a given, and we are not questioning that. However, what we will call into question is whether HBS (or any other school, for that matter) is right for you. Every year, we get a few calls from confused MBA aspirants who say, “I visited HBS, and I am not sure if there is a fit,” as if that indicates some sort of problem. Indeed, and this may be shocking to some, HBS is not for everyone—particularly those who do not relate well to case-based learning, those who want a lot of flexibility in their first-year curriculum, and those who would prefer a small class size (HBS’s Class of 2017 has 937 students, while the same class at the University of California, Berkeley, Haas School of Business, for example, has just 246).
We hope that applicants will use this post as a jumping-off point to critically appraise their target MBA programs and determine which schools are indeed right for them. Start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Would I prefer to be in a larger program, or would I feel overwhelmed by a larger program’s size?
- Would I prefer to be in a smaller program, or would that feel claustrophobic?
- Would I prefer to be at a school with a flexible curriculum and a consistent stream of new classmates and where I could make my own academic choices early on?
- Would I prefer to learn in a comprehensive core curriculum where I am, for a period of time, learning the same material as my classmates and where academics would provide me with a course structure?
- Am I best suited for the case method, lecture method, or programs with strong experiential components? (And do I really understand what each entails—for example, the teamwork and public speaking that is necessary within the case method?)
- Do my target schools match my academic objectives?
- Do my target firms recruit at my school?
- Are alumni well placed in my industry/post-MBA location? (Are alumni even crucial to my career?)
- Do my target schools have facilities and an environment that appeal to me?
Again, these questions are just a start—we could pose many more, but the point is that you will get far more than a brand from your MBA studies. You will gain an education and an alumni network in return for your investment of two years and thousands of dollars. You should therefore skip the rankings, determine what is important to you, and then do your homework to identify a program that truly fits your personality, needs, and goals.