Adam: As an international student, I wonder if you could comment on whether you think your HBS education has been "too American" in focus.
HBS 2014: I have to admit, I had quite a culture shock arriving in the United States, even more so in Boston at HBS. Two thirds of the class are American and a third of the remaining third of international students have actually spent a couple of years in the US prior to the MBA.
As a result, a lot of the cases are America-centric. Comments in the classroom are usually quite polished, politically correct and without an ounce of emotional twitch. I think the word that summarizes best the atmosphere I got the first few weeks was "cold"! Then, people opened up a bit.
Adam: How hard has the first year at HBS been for you?
HBS 2014: I wouldn't say the first year was hard, I would rather use the word intense and to a certain extent overwhelming. I think one of the key skills you hone in a MBA is time-management. There is always something going on you would like to participate in. You need to constantly make choices and prioritize what's really important to you.
Academically, the case method is hard on international students who are not used to speaking in public. I have to admit that I really started enjoying talking in class during the second semester. I was relaxed by the grades I had received during the first semester. I did not feel I had to talk for the grades anymore but more so to express my convictions.
Adam: What parts of the program have you liked the most? The least?
HBS 2014: In the case method, professors make a big difference on how you perceive the course materials. As a result, the classes I enjoyed the most and least only stemmed from the best and the worst professors teaching it.
Adam: Can you tell us about your Field Program experience?
HBS 2014: The first part of Field is a bit fluffy. It is about how give and receive feedback, how to position yourself in a team. There was one cool workshop organized about storytelling that was quite useful. The second part of Field during which you are actually sent on the field first in the streets of Boston during the equivalent of a "start-up week-end", then in the streets of a developing country of your choice is amazing! The third part of Field during which you are asked to work on a start-up over two to three can be both frustrating and useful.
- Frustrating because expectations are high to arrive to a decent result over such a short period of time, with such a large team of 6 people
- Useful because for those students that expect to work in finance or consulting, it is a decent entrepreneurial experience
Adam: What has most surprised you about your first year?
HBS 2014: At the beginning of the year, I was struck by the welcoming speech of Dee Leopold. She was carrying the pile of 900 printed resumes of our class in her arm. She started "Do you know what this is?" pointing at the stack of papers. "This is what you all did in the past? And you know what?… we don't really care what you did !" while she carelessly threw away the papers on the floor. Pause. "What we care about, is that you are Givers than Takers. That is what you have all in common!"
At first, I was impressed by the speech, then I became skeptical and thought "This is all Harvard marketing"… but after the level of dedication of some students in what they believed in and how much effort they were willing to put into the community, I realized I was wrong. I was really surprised how truthful Dee Leopold's speech really was!
Adam: Do you actually have any time for clubs? If so, which ones are you active in?
HBS 2014: No. Clubs are useful at first to meet people. Once you made a couple of friends, you can see them outside the initial club frame.
Adam: Are there any common characteristics you find amongst your classmates?
HBS 2014: Aside from the givers' takers' dimension, another commonality I found is a sense of humility. I will have to caveat it however because it depends on the context. If taken individually, any HBS student is truly humble and open to hear someone's else story. However, put into a group, the humility tends to fade away as type A people like to be first on stage and look overly confident!
Adam: What are hot topics, activities, classes, etc. at HBS right now?
HBS 2014: Beer pong ? Flip cup? Sorry I still don't understand certain aspects of American culture!
Adam: Are there any changes coming to HBS?
HBS 2014: Yes and a big one for international students. They are launching a new version of the Pre-MBA. Instead of bringing students physically on campus, they will from now on be brought online through a learning platform. I understand that HBS want to expand on the e-learning tools, however, using the Pre-MBA as a guinea pig and thereby international students that needed to build confidence the most.
Adam: What are you doing this summer?
HBS 2014: I am working on a couple of start-ups with HBS colleagues and alumnis ! I love HBS for that !
Adam: What advice do you have for those considering application to HBS?
HBS 2014: If you are lost in your thoughts about what to do with your life and if you believe you have a chance, as little as it can be, to get in today, apply now, don't procrastinate. Very few people would have bet a nickel I could get in and here I am writing advice about applying to HBS!
Adam: Are there any specific websites or blogs that you would recommend that applicants look at to learn more about HBS?
HBS 2014: Adam's website is the best!
Adam: Anything else you would like to tell us?
HBS 2014: If you are looking for a real international experience, go to INSEAD. If you are looking for hardcore training in finance, go to Wharton. If you are looking for sunny weather around cool entrepreneurs, go to Stanford. If you want the best MBA brand and to hone your public speaking skills, go to Harvard.
I want to thank HBS2014 for taking the time to answer my questions.
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.