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Harvard’s CORe Takes Case Method To Masses

HBX CORe Graduates

HBX CORe Graduates


The CORe program is not like a MOOC specialization. For one, you need to apply to the program, which includes writing essays and taking a multiple choice test that measures logical and quantitative aptitudes. As part of the process, potential students also submit an application that includes a resume and an undergrad transcript, though no prerequisites are required. In general, acceptance notification comes within a few weeks of submission, with acceptance rates varying by cohort.

The cost of the program is $1,950, with some applicants able to quality for institutional need-based scholarships. The program offers two credentials. The main credential is a certificate verifying that students mastered the concepts in the three courses. Top students are given an “Honors” or “High Honors” notation on their diploma and official transcript, which is available for verification through the HBX registrar. For $3,600, students may also earn eight undergraduate credits from either the Harvard Extension School or Harvard Summer School. HBX also has a collaboration with Boise State University where students are able to earn undergraduate credit for successful completion of CORe. As you’d expect, credential holders are not considered HBS alumni, though the school is working on additional benefits for CORe graduates, such as special events with HBX faculty.

The program is also marked by its ease and flexibility, with the structure designed to accommodate busy schedules. The platform is available on any desktop or laptop with broadband internet, though access through smartphones and tablets is still in development. Together, the courses require roughly 170 hours, with students able to choose durations between 8-18 weeks in their cohorts. Due to the program’s popularity with high end candidates, HBX will open four cohorts from January-May of 2017, with the next classes running from January 10th-April 6th and February 14th-June 15th (Application deadlines for these sections are Dec. 19th and Jan. 23rd, respectively).


HBX CORe Platform

HBX CORe Platform

For Mullane, CORe is a game changer. By translating the case method to the online world, it opens up a unique form of learning to the masses. “The case method is not something virtually anyone experiences in their whole academic journey, no matter where they are in the world,” he explains. “For so long, the only way to experience it was to show up on a Harvard Business School campus or one of the other business schools around the world that use HBS cases.”

Case learning also brings context to dry theories and tactical concepts in quant-laden disciplines like analytics, accounting, and economics. A mathematician by trade, Mullane was at first skeptical of the case study approach when he entered HBS. However, he quickly became a convert after teaming up in study groups to deconstruct scenarios together. He soon realized that what he was doing in a group was exactly what would be expected from him as a manager in the real world.

“A professor once said, ‘The case method and the study groups really prepare you to be a general manager,’” Mullane remembers. “I think that is so true. So much of your life as a general manager is assimilating information that has been provided to you by people or by the industry and trying to make sense of it in a holistic way. It’s about the story the numbers tell. I think that’s what we’ve created in the HBX platform by sticking to the need for it to be case-based.”


Michelle Francis, HBX CORe graduate and member of the Booth Class of 2018

Michelle Francis, HBX CORe graduate and MBA candidate at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

As a result, Harvard began developing a custom platform designed to facilitate the case method, something that had never yet been attempted. An important part of recreating the experience was the ability to deliver cold calls “In class,” says Mullane, “you didn’t have a clock ticking down in front of you to get a response out. Like a classroom, your cold call is visible to peers when you submit it, so there’s a lot of pressure to make sure you’re insightful and lucid.”

CORe cohorts generally include 300-400 people. Although these cohorts don’t engage in live case debates, cold call answers are one means to drive discussion points and teachable moments. That was the case for Michelle Francis, a 2018 MBA candidate at Chicago’s Booth School of Business who earned her credential of readiness this spring. “I was able to read through all of my colleagues’ cold calls and review their responses and that helped me to better understand a concept – especially if they typed the same message or response. That helps me internalize the concept.”

This dynamic naturally creates a community feel similar to a study group, with Mullane admitting that every cohort seems to develop its own culture. In fact, cohort relationships often spilled outside of class, says Rajendran, who had members of his cohort meet face-to-face. “We enjoyed going online and posing questions so much that we decided to have in-person meet-ups to discuss concepts that had just gone live,” he explains. “Four or five of us would meet in places like the Starbucks in Harvard Square in Boston to practice and dive deeper. We would share our own experiences of how we could apply concepts. There was a strong social element in the CORe HBX experience: You gain access to a wide and diverse network of people.”