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.