The Best & Worst Things Harvard MBA Students Say About Their Experience

On Harvard Business School's sprawling campus

On Harvard Business School’s sprawling campus

What do Harvard Business School students really think of the place?

An informal survey by the MBA student newspaper, The Harbus, has a rather counter-intuitive answer. Only 51% of the responding students consider themselves “extremely likely” to recommend the MBA program to a friend or colleague.

That makes Harvard’s MBA experience about as likely to be recommended to others as drug store chain Walgreens (42%) or life insurer State Farm (45%), but significantly less popular than such leaders as Apple (70% for laptops and 67% for iPhones). The survey–completed by 105 anonymous MBA students out of more than 1,800 currently enrolled–was based on the popular Net Promoter measurement of brands.

Students were asked to rank the school on a ten-point scale based on how likely they would be to recommend an MBA from Harvard to an interested and qualified firmed or colleague, Under this net promoter approach, which had been developed by Bain & Co., the top scores of ten and nine, consider promoters of a brand, are totaled and then subtracted from the scores of one to six, deemed to be ‘detractors’, to come up with a net score of promoters.


The Harbus survey found that 62% of the respondents were promoters, while 22% of respondents were detractors. After rounding up, that gave the HBS experience an actual net promoter score of 41, one point less than Walgreen’s and four points under State Farm. The newspaper said the sample size–based on the online survey made available in Facebook groups to which HBS students had exclusive access–gave the results a 95% level of confidence.

What could kept Harvard from being more like Apple? Apparently, HBS students who graded the school more severely complained about their the rigor of the MBA core curriculum, their classmates, classroom learning, career opportunities and program structure. A number of students cited the pressure of the highly structured, intense and time-intensive program. One student said “I think HBS pushed me too hard and I went through a phase of high anxiety and depression. The second I see light at the end of the tunnel, they throw something else at me. HBS pushed me too hard.” Added another student: “They do themselves a disservice by packing the schedule so full in RC year, it reduces the time people could put toward career exploration and getting to know classmates.”

A number of less positive students also believed that the school funneled too many toward careers in consulting and finance, and failed to offer enough opportunities for MBAs with different ambitions. Another consistent theme among negative scores was the highly-structured nature of the required curriculum (RC) program, particularly the relatively new FIELD experiences that include a global immersion and the exercise to propose and launch a mini-startup.


When The Harbus asked students how the school could improve, the general consensus was that HBS needed a less packed core curriculum and more individualized career assistance, including technical training sessions for those looking to build skills in the most lucrative MBA career field today–private equity.

“Class is a huge issue,” complained one student to The Harbus. “Making friends here is expensive.” Another added the school “needs to work on the culture of every event being a drinking party…I would have enjoyed my social experience at HBS more if people would do more coffee chats than drinks!”

“HBS needs to be flexible when it makes sense,” advises another student. “One example is the no laptop policy. Laptops should definitely be allowed in Finance classes when models can be way off if one assumption is incorrect. Treat students like adults and put the onus on the student to learn, rather than enforcing strict rules that can actually detract from the learning experience.”


Mostly, though, the comments were pretty positive. Many promoters cited the high caliber and attitude of their classmates, as well as the quality of the in-class learning experience. “The caliber of people at HBS sets it apart,” wrote one respondent. “Aside from being intelligent and well-accomplished, I find HBS students are on the whole to be thoughtful, warm, and humble. It makes every day here a true pleasure.”

Other promoters cited the professional opportunities offered by the program, according to The Harbus. “Unparalleled professional opportunities available after graduation. Unbelievable access to influential leaders while at school. A large and powerful alumni network.”

Students also heaped praise on the school’s leadership. “The school is extremely well run” commented one MBA. “I feel like I’m getting a management education every day just by observing how the school runs itself,” added another responding student.

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