Round 1: September 7th, 2016
Round 2: January 4th, 2017
Round 3: April 3rd, 2017
When people think about the MBA degree, the very first school that springs to mind is Harvard Business School (HBS). HBS is synonymous with the degree and literally sets the pace for the industry. Everything it does instantly makes news–both good and bad. And Harvard’s new dean, Nitin Nohria, has immediately injected energy and enthusiasm in the school.
Since assuming leadership of HBS on July 1, 2010, Nohria has racked up accomplishments that would have taken some B-school deans a decade or more to achieve–they include crafting and communicating a new agenda for the school known as “the five i’s” for innovation, intellectual ambition, internationalization, inclusion, and integration; pushing through significant changes to the MBA program against concerns by some that he was moving too fast; and raising millions of dollars in donations, including a $50 million gift from India’s Tata Group and its philanthropic interests. All of these moves build on the formidable reputation and clout of the so-called “West Point of Capitalism,” a business school that, frankly, is a university unto itself, with 33 separate buildings on 40 acres of property along the Charles River.
Harvard’s case method curriculum is designed to prepare students for the challenges of leadership in the real world. Though case studies maintain their dominant role at Harvard, the school has introduced several major changes that mix up the traditional HBS formula for training leaders. MBA students now take turns leading a group engaged in specific, assigned projects. They are also sent to work for a week with one of more than 140 firms in 11 countries, ranging from a Brazilian soap maker to a Chinese real estate management company. Groups are also given eight weeks and seed money of $3,000 each to launch a small company. The most successful, as judged by a vote of their fellow students, receives additional funding.
These very ambitious changes–especially for an MBA program the size and scope of Harvard’s–build on what has long been an engaging and proactive learning environment, where students develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to face a variety of difficult decisions they’ll encounter throughout their careers.
Students spend their first two terms completing the required curriculum with a “section” of 90 students to which they are assigned. This group of students takes all first-year classes together and forms an intellectual and social circle. During the second year, students choose up to five courses per semester to build their elective curriculum of choice. The new curriculum changes this up a bit, adding shorter courses into the course catalog.
In the 2012-2013 admissions season, Harvard announced significant changes in the way it assesses MBA applicants. The school cut the number of required essay questions in half, from four to two and added a novel 24-hour test for applicants who make the first cut and get an interview with admissions. Those candidates have to write a 400-word essay on what they wish they’d said but didn’t during the interview and put it on their online application within 24 hours of the interview.
For the first time in five years since the debut of Poets&Quants’ ranking, Harvard Business School slipped behind Stanford to rank second in 2014. The fall largely occurred after Businessweek’s newly updated ranking–based on major changes to its methodology–put HBS in eighth place, down from second two years earlier.
Make no mistake: Harvard is one of the very best two or three premier MBA players. If a business school ranking fails to give Harvard its due, it’s merely the result of quirky methodology and little else. There is no business school in the U.S.–and even in the world–that can genuinely lay claim to having a better MBA program than Harvard. With the largest endowment of any business school by far, the institution’s resources are vast and so is the quality of the school’s faculty, students, and alumni. And because Harvard has been at this for so many years, its MBAs are far ahead of any others in getting and occupying powerful and influential leadership positions in one industry after another. That’s why HBS always leads rankings of B-schools with the most CEOs at the world’s top corporations.
In fact, the biggest misconception that business school rankings propagate is that Harvard is just another school on the list and its rivals are close competitors. Harvard is in a class by itself.
If you’re an applicant and are fortunate enough to be accepted by Harvard, there are legitimate reasons to turn the school down: you want a smaller, more intimate experience; you prefer a less competitive school; you want more of a mix of lectures, case studies, and experiential learning; you want to live and work in a completely different part of the country; or another school has nailed a specialty discipline that makes it a no-brainer. But you’d be making a difficult call to say no to what is, without question, the best business school in the world.