Thursday, July 17, 2008

HBS Info Session: The Scoop

You know the feeling you have when you're looking forward to something good? Do you have it in your mind? Okay hang on to that feeling b/c now, recall a moment when that something you were looking forward to doesn't turn out the way you expect, and I'm not talking in the good sense. This anticlimactic moment leaves you with a pang of utter disappointment, dashed hopes and the only thing you can mutter to yourself is, "DAMN, that's it?!"

Well, now you know how I'm feeling right now after getting home from the Minority HBS information session. What really sucks is that I know HBS can do better. Last year, I went to a Harvard session put on by the School of Ed and it was fabulous! It was also when I thought I'd be venturing into grad school for higher edu. Tonight's disappointment made me question my intentions for an MBA. Granted that HBS receives far too many apps than probably any other B-school in the country, you would still think that it would put more planning into hosting an event, especially in SF of all places!

Okay, you're probably wondering what exactly went down. Here goes my candid observation:

The event was held at the Medjool Restaurant & Lounge in the Mission District of SF. I've only heard of the Mission District but until today, had never been there to experience it for myself. As its name suggests, this part of town is recognized as the home of stunningly vibrant, mural-lined streets dotted with taquerias and mercados that remind me of being in Little TJ or Rosarito as a result of its predominant Latino & Spanish-speaking population. I got there 30 minutes early b/c the email indicated that registration would begin at that time. In any case, once I arrived and inquired about where I should meet up with HBS, the hostess said she didn't know but thought it would be up in the Penthouse area. So, I'm, this is nice. I speak too soon b/c as soon as I get up there, the waiter says there's no HBS group here, but kindly directs me to the mezzanine level. Apparently, nobody really knew that Harvard was in the building...when does this ever happen, right? Well, I finally spy a guy and a girl and just as I (had not) suspected, they are the only 2 hosting this event. I give them the benefit of the doubt, but notice that nothing's organized at all. There's no Harvard banner or any HBS brochures in sight, so obviously, how can anyone discern that this is Harvard and not some random people meeting up for drinks? She has nametags scattered on some low tables along with a hastily printed sign-in sheet. I guess I'm the 2nd guest to show up and she then makes it clear that this is going to be pretty informal. The only thing is: there's 52 people on the list and there's only 2 of them! I think to myself: This cannot be productive.

The biggest perk of being early is that you're able to ask your questions w/o having to compete for face time. However, even this is difficult b/c the place is so darn noisy and the set-up is such that you either have to sit on couches so low to the floor while others tower over you as they stand, or vice-versa. I elect to stand and a few more people show up before 7pm. Later I find out that other people were also under the impression that this would be a nice and somewhat formal session that would include an HBS powerpoint presentation followed by perspectives from alumni and/or current students. The emails I received didn't allude to the fact that we'd be met by only 2 current students with no plans whatsoever. Anyhow, based on our interrogation session (for lack of a better word choice b/c that's pretty much what it seemed to be), here's what I gathered:

1. Both of the students, A* & J*,have finance backgrounds and currently doing internships in the SF area (one at Genentech; the other at Accenture (I think). A* participated in the Harvard Summer Venture in Management Program prior to considering HBS and said it helped her realize that HBS was the right fit for her.

2. HBS cares a lot about leadership (and that's pretty much all I got).

3. The HBS interview (if you're lucky enough to receive one) will either make or break your candidacy, meaning the adcom has not made a final decision yet and you have the potential to sway their opinion of you if you kick ass in person. J* contrasted it to Stanford's interview, which (in his experience) pretty much tries see if you are a good fit for them, thus, he says that they've pretty much made up their mind on you already and you have very little to do with changing it. J* also mentioned Columbia and how they are, of all B-schools, so obsessed with their yield numbers and would prefer to hear you say, "YES! Columbia is not my back-up, but really my #1 and I haven't applied anywhere but here!" He says telling them you applied to other top B-schools will may likely increase your chances of being dinged!

4. A* said she is probably taking on $100K in loans. Ouch! But again, she touts the ROI is awesome in the long-run and she believes it will definitely be worth it. When asked about career services, she says there's still room for improvement. When I posed the question about the not-so-great economic forecast, she admits she is worried, but that, her professors have reminded her that the Harvard brand will sell itself, even in the midst of a brooding economy. Of all Bschools to invest in during this state of the nation, Harvard is probably the best.

5. HBS' case-study teaching methodology is pretty much 90% of the way courses are taught. This requires a great deal of work and participation on the student's end. This means that close to 50% of your grade will be based on class participation. I asked her about the grade non-disclosure policy and she said HBS has done away with it the past year. Really? However, she reassured me that when she was applying for internships this past year, none of the companies inquired about her grades.

6. HBS students are very cooperative. A* was really concerned about being in an uber-competitive business environment and found that her peers were more than willing to offer their advice and expertise. This is a major plus in my book!

Alright, I think that's all I can remember at this moment b/c I cut out after just an hour of chit chat. Writing things down makes me realize I probably took away more than I thought. However, even with this info, I'm still left with a sour taste in my mouth, but one I hope to sweeten on August 14 when I attend the MBA panel event. I double checked the description for that and they assure me it's going to be a panel of admissions reps/directors from each of the 5 major Bschools, so that makes me happy.

The students today were both nice, but somehow, I just didn't click with any of them. Maybe it's b/c none of them shared my passion for social enterprise. I guess it's Bschool...what did I imagine right? I still have HBS on my hit list b/c 2 peeps are not reflective of what I believe the program is capable of offering me. I also still plan to visit late September and network with other students who share my passion and maybe, that will salvage my taste buds for HBS.

In the meantime, I have to keep the bigger picture in mind. I know where I want to go and an MBA will undoubtedly take me there. This is just one of those potholes I can run over. (But I can't help but wonder: Is this really what I want?) I think this question will forever be on my mind until I get in somewhere (somehow).

Ahh...the thoughts that go down in this noggin of mine! Alright, so what's the lesson here folks?

1) KNOW Before YOU GO: Double check what type of info session you'll be attending: formal presentation w/Admissions or informal one with alumni/students. The optimal choice would be a mix of the two. The former is more structured and thus, for those of you who are just looking for general info, it's great. The latter is more for those who've already done research and want specifics into the life of HBS students and so forth (Is it just me or does the latter remind you of speed dating and 21 Questions? I think it kinda felt that way during the night. Weird.)


Oscar said...

Hi, i'm a prospective B-school student as well, was wondering you'd like to chat about some schools. I've been to a bunch of info sessions and minority events. Would you be interested?

chandara said...

hey oscar..leave me a message and we can chat that way. i was unable to link to your blog.