Harvard Pitching MBA Admits At Rival Schools

Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX, tapes a session on accounting

Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX, tapes a CORe session on accounting

Harvard Business School is now positioning its online program of business basics to MBA admits at rival schools as a pre-MBA boot camp experience. The 11-week-long program called CORe (Credential of Readiness) is a deep dive into business fundamentals: Economics for Managers, Business Analytics, and Financial Accounting.

In a direct marketing campaign launched today (Feb. 26), the school is appealing to prospective students who have applied to other competitive MBA programs. “We know that getting into business school can be just as tough as landing that dream job afterwards,” the campaign says. “Now there is a new program that will give you a competitive edge and help you hit the ground running.

“Even if you’ve already been accepted to business school, CORe can make sure you’re ready to contribute on day one. In fact, that’s why HBS is strongly encouraging all its own incoming MBAs to take CORe before they arrive on campus this September.”


That new positioning by HBS would make CORe more directly competitive with other schools’ own efforts to get new admits up to speed before an MBA program begins. Those often week-long, on-campus boot camps are usually directed at non-traditional students and those with liberal arts backgrounds who have not had much exposure to accounting, statistics and finance. But now Harvard is pitching its $1,500 program as an ideal way to even the ground with students who enter an MBA program with financial or consulting backgrounds.

Business school marketing experts view Harvard’s decision to market the online program to admits from other schools, from Stanford and Wharton to Kellogg and Chicago Booth, as a shrewd move. “I think it’s a smart and savvy move by HBS,” says Barbara Coward, vice president of innovation and developing at Converge Consulting. “Even premier B-schools aren’t immune from the competitive forces in higher education today. B-schools are not only competing with one another, but increasingly with other graduate programs as well.”

Even though these students will go on to rival schools, Coward thinks some of them will become social ambassadors for Harvard. “The fact is that social proof carries more weight with millennials,” she says. “By attracting admits from rival schools, HBS is building brand currency and affinity that will be spread throughout these students’ networks. Just think of the pictures they’ll post on Facebook or the tweets they will send out about their experiences. That makes their friends and former colleagues, more likely to think about Harvard vs. Stanford, let’s say.”


The new positioning also puts CORe in competition with other pre-MBA prep programs. “There is a gap between the skill-sets and training of high-achieving students from liberal arts colleges, for example, and the technical capabilities and professional maturity required in both business school and post-MBA work environments,” says Ivan Kerbel, CEO of Practice LLC, which holds a summer seminar for MBA admits. “I expect it to become a thriving market, and for the service offerings to affect not only individual students and professionals, but also the ways in which companies, in addition to business schools, seek out and assess talent as part of their hiring and admissions efforts.”

Harvard piloted its CORe program last June, initially making it available only to rising juniors and seniors, freshly minted college graduates from schools in Massachusetts and some alumni. More recently, HBS began to sallow applicants anywhere in the world to apply for start dates in February, April and June. The deadline for applications for the April 15th intake is March 25, while the deadline for the cohort that begins June 3rd will be May 13.

A cohort that started yesterday (Feb. 25) was expected to number between 500 to 1,000 participants and will include a relatively small group of Harvard admits who will come to campus in September for their first year in the MBA program. Like many other business schools, HBS typically held a one-week program called Analytics to get incoming students up to speed on accounting and data. Harvard has decided to give those students who feel they need a jumpstart the option of taking CORE or coming to campus for the residential Analytics program in July or August. Harvard officials expect roughly 20% of the next incoming class at HBS, some 150 to 200 students out of slightly more than 900, to take CORe this year.


“This is really getting our students to do the program so they are ready to take advantage of the full experience on campus,” says Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX, the name of Harvard Business School’s online initiative. “The bulk of the learning experience will now happen through CORe which was designed with these students in mind. The genesis of CORe was asking how can we create a wow experience online so they can get up to speed with the basics of data, accounting and economics before they come on campus. we are now closing the loop and giving admitted students the option of taking it in February, April or June.”

But now HBS appears to be casting a much wider net for applicants by appealing to MBA admits from other schools and future applicants to MBA programs. As the school points out in its marketing materials, “upon successful completion of HBX CORe, you will earn an HBX and HBS Credential that can enhance your business school application and resume.”

HBS expects a fairly large summer enrollment in the June cohort, when the price of the program rises by $300 to $1,800. Anand says he expects to have as many as 3,000 learners in it, more than three times the size of the intake for Harvard’s full-time MBA program. CORe students will be divided into several cohorts of 300 to 500 each. The school will also increase the amount of financial aid available for students.

  • midwestern

    Thank you for the information! I have decided and will join HBX’s April cohort. I’d love to share HBX experiences after finishing the program! Thanks again John!

  • JohnAByrne

    If your undergrad major is business, you will probably cover material that is very similar to what you’ve already had. However, you can easily make the argument that you wanted to experience the case study method. That is a crucial piece of admissions intelligence at HBS because the school clearly favors candidates who endorse the case study approach.

  • midwestern

    May I ask what is your background? And for your cohorts, do you see many business background students? Thanks for your help in advance!

  • midwestern

    John, thank you for your in-depth thoughts. I should also revise my thoughts, as HBX content is more towards undergrad level, not MBA RC curriculum materials.

    Still, I thought HBX still is a very strong choice with its case method pedagogy, as well as the REAL professors instead of others (I’ll cite UCLA Extension for that). I also want to seek more materials as I will apply to their MBA. However, I had some confusion because my undergrad major is in Business, with a secondary mathematics field.

    I understand that I sure will learn more with HBX, even if it’s something I may be repeating, but I probably won’t benefit as much as a technical/liberal arts undergrad (Too bad that I figured out myself too early..)

    In your opinion would the HBX CORe still appear to be a strong credential with my already-business background? (My undergrad location/rank is similar to Mizzou 🙂

    Thanks again John!

  • JohnAByrne

    This is definitely NOT a substitute for an MBA program, but rather a great dose of business basics for those who never had the opportunity to take courses in accounting, economics and financial analysis. It is something of a pre-MBA that can help your chances of getting into a very good MBA program because 1) if you do well, it could allay any concerns by admissions that you’ll have trouble with quant work, 2) it shows your keen interest in business, 3) there is a transcript and a brand that will make your application stand out. The HBX program may be similar to the UVA and UNC programs you cite, but of course the HBS imprimatur means a lot here in terms of your resume, whether to eventually apply for an MBA or not.

  • midwestern

    Ugh I’m not sure about that.
    if HBS is that bad with 1st year RC, then….. shouldn’t it be outside of top 25 MBA programs..?

  • midwestern

    John, would you consider HBX to be a pre-MBA?
    I’ve looked at a few programs of this sort, and I found the following conclusions:

    HBX CORe (admit): real class pulled from 1st year MBA RC
    UVa McIntire Institute (admit): a beef-up refresh of undergrad business classes + career coach (no UVa or McIntire networking)
    UNC Business Essentials (not applying): for Non-Business majors only, easier curriculum

    Just wondering what your opinions are for them… and if applications are sent to non-HBS schools, shouldn’t this be included? Thanks for your thoughts!

  • midwestern

    I am a HBX CORe admit and I just happened to looked at your post.

    To be honest, Your argument has one weakness. HBS ding and HBX are independent.

    People who never applied to HBS can go for HBX
    People who are accpeted to HBS are also invited for HBX
    People who are denied for HBS can also go for HBX

    Possibly, there is a correlation that you probably can find HBX if you’re working on applications for elite MBA programs
    And possibly, someone who was dinged by HBS can use HBX to prove their ding wrong–that is, to be an admitted re-applicant.

  • Joe Schmoe

    So an MBA program which is not known for teaching great fundamentals is charging pre-MBAs so that they can learn fundamentals from them. Does not make sense to me. But I can imagine brand ho’s will take it so that they can put a Harvard BX into their resume.

  • oaktree

    DeeFan: If the person who gets dinged from HBS has really low self-esteem and thinks like a child, than your post makes perfect sense!

  • oaktree

    DeeFan: If the person who gets dinged from HBS has really low self-esteem and thinks like a child, than your post makes perfect sense.

  • Jrwx1

    Amazing program- I’m an alum of the pioneer cohort last June. Many of us said then CORe could be a tremendous pre-mba, pre-gmat even… And here we are. It was about 14-18 hours of work a week… Sometimes longer on very difficult modules. Happy to share details with anyone.

  • JohnAByrne

    I’m not entirely sure but I would guess–and this is only a guess–that four of ten people don’t get in. If you’re interested in creating an alternative transcript to offset a low GPA, this would be an ideal way to do it.

  • thepoet

    Thanks for the answer, John. How selective do you think HBX is – ie. what do you think the acceptance rate is into the program?

    The reason it’s so appealing is because it has a trio of courses that I was planning to take to build up an alternative transcript to offset a low undergraduate GPA. Since the GPA is self reported and there isn’t much else they ask, do you think they discriminate based on a low GPA?

  • DeeFan

    I did not say that it is being pitched only to the dingees. The dingees are just a subset of the target market that is being pitched.

  • JohnAByrne

    HBS is not pitching the program to those who were dinged, though some of those candidates would inevitably be in the pool of potential students for CORe. It’s pitching the online program to all MBA admits at every school who haven’t had the business basics and want to get up to speed on them before arriving on campus and competing with classmates who already have these skills.

  • DeeFan

    Let me get this straight. This is a program for students who are admits at other MBA programs as a way of getting a head start when formal classes begin.
    So, HBS is pitching these courses to applicants who may have been dinged by HBS? In other words, “You weren’t good enough to get admitted, but you are good enough to send us more money!”
    Really convincing message from HBS. Is this a gag of some kind? If you are dinged, the least HBS could do would be to give you a credit the amount of the app fee against these CORe courses.

  • JohnAByrne

    I wouldn’t say that an HBX certificate would be looked on unfavorably by other programs. In fact, I would think the opposite is true. It could be more than a slight edge for other schools because the program is selective and the grading is tough with a three-hour exam at the end at a Pearson testing center. The Wharton specialization in the fundamentals via Coursera also would be a positive on one’s resume and application, but it is not selective–anyone can do it–and the grading is not as rigorous.

  • PJ

    So a slight edge at HBS but looked at unfavorably by other programs? Do you think this is the case with Wharton’s coursera courses as well?

  • Concrete

    I wouldn’t put this on your resume when applying to Wharton, Stanford, MIT, or maybe Booth. Adcom members might view this as a signal that the applicant favoring HBS, and schools will raise an eyebrow to protect their yield %. It sounds like a perfectly fine as a pre-MBA primer, however.

  • JohnAByrne

    If you pull a “high honors” in the program and later apply to HBS it could move the needle. Essentially, it’s an early test of your ability to handle quant work and the fact that you took it from Harvard allows you to make the case that you so thoroughly enjoyed the case study method that you want to experience it for real in a classroom setting. So I would think that could give you a slight edge but everything else in your application would have to be in order as well.

  • thepoet

    Interesting. Could someone shed light on how enrolling for this program may boost a prospective student’s chance at gaining admission at HBS? Do you think it could set you apart from other candidates, and make your application more competitive (considering you do well)?