Tuesday, November 14, 2006

HBS visit

Again, this was a visit I was very, very tempted to cancel. I got a long weekend in between Sloan and HBS but after six visits I was getting very tired of the whole visit process, especially since I am not seriously considering HBS.

This campus could use some signage! Absolutely no "This way to the Admissions Office" signs and in fact the Admissions office building (a cute little house of its own) just has "Dillon" above the door and absolutely no clues as to what might like within. Not critical, just crankiness inducing especially when dragging my GMAT prep book laden suitcase behind me in the rain. (Maybe if I were a real HBS candidate I would have known this already.) My class wasn't until 1:10 so I headed over to the dining hall to catch a student lunch which happily took place in its own private room with a conference table. (As I had heard, the dining facilities were excellent and also seemed very environmentally concious, in terms of packaging, products and recycling.) There were two students, first-years, in my session, one from Milwaukie and one from Singapore. I was sort of neutral on the students but took a strong dislike to almost every other prospective in the session of which about half were there for interviews that day. The woman student from Milwaukie said she found the coursework much more challenging than she had expected in that you can't afford to get behind in anything because it's hard to catch up. That's the way that my undergrad was so I can't quite imagine what it would be like to be at a place where that wasn't the case. Although the job pressures were certainly less as an undergrad but given that the course I observed later seemed pretty damn easy I wasn't sure where the challenging bit came in. She also mentioned that the new policy of grade disclosure made people take classes more seriously such as showing up and not taking cell phone calls in while in class. Not a heartening sign for me if it takes the threat of a grade to make HBS folks take things seriously. The male student said that he was really sick of case studies. Funny. I don't like the idea of case-based education anyway and that didn't make me feel much better.

After lunch I was herded along with a number of other prospectives to an Accounting class. I was initially scheduled for some sort of leadership/strategy course but I was actually relieved to end up in Accounting, though the others seemed very disappointed. We were introduced and resoundingly applauded, as I've heard is the routine there. The topic of the day was variance accounting and there proceeded an exceedingly slow and boring case-based discussion which left me entirely baffled as to how one learned anything about accounting at all at HBS. I have a good threshold for tedious classes but this stuff was so easy and this is a good two-thirds through the semester. They were breaking out the drivers behind gross margin and cost variance and in my mind a good lecture could have covered the content in about 15 or 20 minutes. I guess the practical discussion of the case and students' previous work experience is useful but it just seemed like a wasted 90 minutes. On the plus side, the classroom dynamic seemed largely friendly and positive, although two students sitting to my left had the unfortunate habit of making rude comments to one another if they didn't like another student's contribution to the conversation. Anyhow, in my mind the only way to make boring subjects like Accounting bearable is to move more quickly, not less. On the other hand, this is the trouble with a completely inflexible year-long core, you have to teach to the least advanced students in the core. Not really my style.

I was very close to calling it quits there but I decided I may as well sit in on the info session. I was glad that it was led by students. They were very nice and the questions were interesting and I was glad that I went.

Bottom line - large, inflexible program that seems really academically underpowered. I was thinking during the info session, why am I trying to go to the most rigorous program I can find when I could try to get into a highly prestigious but far less challenging program and just have a fun two years where I don't have to work very hard at the schoolwork but come out with excellent job prospects anyway. And a large program has benefits too, maybe smaller isn't better. And a rigid core certainly makes scheduling the first year a lot easier. Something to ponder, but I just don't think I could do it. I'm not after the exclusive club, I'm trying to build my mind. Fabulous for folks interested in general management and who enjoy the case-based method, but that's just not me.

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