First month at HBS

What. A. Ride. I’m only able to write this because I accidentally turned up half an hour early to something. My head is just spinning…

At HBS you’re an active participant. In everything. From class, to extra-curricular involvement, so with 100% Type-A personalities organizing a social gathering, the pace is relentless. It’s not like my undergraduate studies, and I already treasure the rare hour or two to myself I can allow myself every couple of days.

The first few weeks (edit: month and a half! Really?!) are everything I expected, and more. There’s been so much I could mention right now, and simply haven’t got room. I’ve been trying to decide how I can keep this updated in a sensible way as the initial rush begins to calm a little, considering my new workload. So I’m going to give a brief update and try and regularly cover a topic I think might be interesting to those outside the ‘bubble’.

HBS Baker Library from across the Charles River

HBS Baker Library from across the Charles River

Section Life

HBS is divided into sections, with roughly 10% of the class in each (currently 94 in mine). I’ve been allocated to the best section, obvs! The section becomes your academic and social center. All classes are taken together – a significant piece in itself due to the case discussion method in use at HBS.

While the professors are truly excellent teachers, you’re meant to learn from each other as much as the professor themselves. It’s an engaging experience, and certainly no falling asleep in the back row (however much you may want to)…

We’ve recently discovered that there is no ‘science’ to putting sections together, no late night evenings with lots of coffee looking at the backgrounds of the 900+ students as we’d assumed up until now. They split the class into 10 equal parts, and the only consideration is to check for a roughly even mix of international students to US nationals. The amazing diversity of the class admitted each year does the rest for them, and so far it’s incredibly successful. The diverse background of my classmates is staggerring and much more different than I’d expected based on the traditional background of your typical MBA.

If you’re looking at HBS as a possible school, I strongly urge you to see a class if at all possible (ideally two differing subjects) and if not, at least watch the video above. The level of preparation is extensive, allowing the class to take a more ‘free-form’ discussion rather than a tightly scripted one.

As well as inside the classroom, your section becomes your social unit too, actively encouraged by the school – a close bond outside the classroom fosters openness and sharing within it. It doesn’t always happen and work out (there are always whispers and rumors of the ‘broken’ section), but usually it does.

It begins from the first day and we now have an elected president, treasurer, social chairs, athletic rep, international rep. Intra-mural sporting events within the class are competed between sections, party attendance is a competition between each section for the highest… competition seems to be a theme at HBS.

Looking ahead

So far, we’ve been what feels like an incredibly busy time. Apparently it is not. Extra-curricular activities are just kicking off, the recruiting season is now about to begin (we have been protected so far at HBS, unlike some other schools, but this is about to end already) and exhaustion levels look likely to escalate.

Pre-MBA: The fun begins

I was aware ‘professional London’ is a pretty multicultural community, but the last few months have really made me realise how much.

With just over a month to go before we start arriving on campus for registration, fellow HBS ‘admits’ have started to leave on last minute trips abroad – holidays, or more often, trips home to family.

Our group in London contains a surprisingly (at least for me) few Brits in our group, and is already a wonderfully diverse group. I think I’ve counted a few more British candidates coming from other international cities as well, rather than from the UK.

This has been gathered from our own small group of the incoming ‘Class of 2016′ – every couple of weeks during the spring there has been a small get together or event somewhere in London, and there’s been a steady stream of people to meet, especially as the later rounds of admissons get their decisions and join in. I think it’s possibly the first really useful outcome from Facebook I’ve yet been involved in…

Our group's latest drinking spot, a nice way to say goodbye as a group to London

Our group’s latest drinking spot, a nice way to say goodbye as a group to London

Professionally, the group is rather less diverse (unsurprisingly in London, as the dominant industries – finance and consulting – dominate) but this is more than made up from a real mix of experiences and personal interests once you get past the stock ‘so, what do you do?’ question.

It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable spring, enough to concern me that all this MBA nonsense is going to get in the way too much of having a good time (but I suspect not)! Cheers to the HBS London bunch, can’t wait to see you all in Boston!

A lull of sorts

Time is moving on steadily, and it’s now only just over a month before I leave for Boston. Until recently time was really dragging on, but things have suddenly started to accelerate – I’ve still got lots to do packing up my life in London before I move on and there don’t seem enough days any more!

Since my last post, I’ve managed to secure a Visa, a place to live in a brilliant location in Cambridge just across the water from HBS, and received a whole host of vaccinations to my now-swollen upper arms (Massachusetts State Law requirements for students are a little bit OTT…).

I’m now in a position with my flights about to be booked, that all my paperwork is basically done and now just need to get on the plane. It’s just what I leave behind that would be the problem.

Recently (more in a future post) I had the opportunity to meet some current HBS first years (or RC’s – Required Curriculum’s – as they’re known at HBS) and got the unofficial ‘what they don’t tell you on the internet’ guide.

The advice boils down to three main areas;

  1. learn to live on very little sleep during the week
  2. buy a laser printer for printing out all those cases (saves a fortune over two years apparently)
  3. practice your beer pong before you get there, because those ex-frat boys who have left Uni more recently will have a much better touch…

One and two don’t sound too hard, three still needs some work. Three sounds the most fun to work on anyway…

Forgetting I’m Doing an MBA

I’ve been really quiet on here over the last two months, mainly because I’ve been off getting married/honeymooning. (Thanks very much dear reader, it was wonderful day!). I’ve had some time to gather my thoughts and relax a little, but now I’m back and getting ready now needs to begin in earnest. I’m taking inspiration from this new friend I got a photo of in the jungle – a picture of calm with chaos around him…

My new inspiration, the Monkey of Calm

My new inspiration and mascot, the Monkey of Calm

Now I’ve had some time to get things moving, in the background most of the seemingly endless paperwork seems now to be completed.

I have an appointment at the US Embassy in two weeks for a Visa interview, and I’m starting to think about packing up my entire life. I can’t quite believe how much ‘stuff’ I have accumulated over the last few years, and getting rid of it is proving harder than I imagined.

If it sounds as though everything is going smoothly though, don’t be fooled.

With practicalities well under way, my biggest concern now is finding somewhere to live I have no real intention of visiting before starting my studies.

Harvard University operates a lottery system for its student accommodation, organised into a series of rounds. While we were away, we found out that I had the worst possible lottery ‘pick’, in the very final round. It now looks highly unlikely (with a little over a week to go) any housing will be left.

This means going private. In a city I don’t know. And can’t visit. With no real history or knowledge of the system as I’ll be an international student that has never lived in the US.

My wife and I are starting work on ‘plan B’ and getting our first experience of how different the US is from the UK in some respects, with the very different ways the two housing markets operate. I’m sure it won’t be the last such experience.

So… now what?

I’ve been a little quiet recently, as I have a major personal event (my wedding!) to attend to and really it’s all quite practical things at the moment as I prepare for a big change.

I was reading a little the other day and came across an article that contained (among other things – I’m referring to #8 here) the advice from elders that you never feel really like a grown up. Everyone thinks you’ll become a proper adult in ‘the next 10 years’ but you’ll always just be figuring things out as you go along which is certainly true of my last three months.

So I was inspired to give my own slightly irreverent timeline of what I’ve experienced since December*, especially as a lot fellow applicants and future classmates get their own news on applications

  • Decision Publication – 24 hours

Oh my god oh my god oh my god. Too much nerves. Too much excitement. Unable to concentrate on anything…. [To friends] “Yeah it’s ok I’m cool, pretty relaxed about it”  (translation: ‘oh my sweet….’)

Sleep is your friend.

  • Decision Publication + 1 hours

HUZZAH! Top of the world! [Pop! Glug glug glug…]

  • Decision Publication + 2-3 hrs (possibly)

[‘Ring! ring!’ It’s an AdCom/School Official] “Ohh hellosh, yes I’m very proud to get acceptance into your famous institution. I’msh reeeeeally exshited! (and desperately trying to hold it together and not sound… like I’ve been celebrating)

  • Decision Publication + 2-3 days

Contact from the school. They’ve decided they want you, and want you to want them. Receive calls or emails, from the AdCom, current-/ex-students/faculty. Become immediately suspicious of sales tactics. [Exude ‘playing hard to get’, just like everyone else]. Repeat. Get tired. Turn off phone.

Search for FB/LinkedIn group. Discover other ridiculously excited admits, most just like you. Some awesome, probably better than you. Thank everyone.

  • Decision Publication + 1 week

Receive invite to welcome event/admit weekend (or equivalent)/both. Check flight/travel costs to admit weekend. Hesitate. Consider just going to welcome event.

Practical stuff starts. Forms aren’t filled in.

  • Decision Publication + 2-3 weeks

Decide admit weekend is probably worth the expense after meeting everyone at welcome event, and they’re pretty much all going. Especially if you haven’t visited campus already.

Forms aren’t filled in.

  • Decision Publication + 1-2 months

Go to admit weekend (times several if you’re lucky). Have awesome time, like everyone. Wish you could do it all, see it all. F.O.M.O. (Fear Of Missing Out) has begun 6 months before you even arrive.

Decide on destination for next two years.

An absolute bare minimum of forms are filled in (school acceptance form, maybe visa-dependent forms if you’re international).

  • Decision Publication + 2-3 months

First downtime since starting applications. Worry about finance, practicalities, relationships, family, and everything else. Watch funny cats on YouTube. Realise you lost another day, again. Curl up in ball inside duvet and pretend you’re a doormouse and it’s all a dream. (Optional at this stage: get married and lose track of everything else).

Realise it’s a lot closer than it was a month ago. Get that rising warm feeling of slight panic up the back of your neck. Worry about finance again in particular. Go back inside duvet.

Still only required forms are filled in. Read about US healthcare system. Duvet again.

  • Decision Publication + 3-6 months…

I don’t know yet, but imagine duvet will still feature heavily. And books.

 

*In case you should consider this is some sort of guide… Don’t. For two big reasons;

  • I was accepted in Round 1 so I had a lot of time that I have wasted very successfully so far.
  • I am not a suitable role model.

Admitted Students Weekend – Part 2

As mentioned in my earlier entry, ASW was a action packed couple of days. I covered my first impressions of HBS in Part 1. In Part 2 I’ll take you through what my I got up to on my visit.

Wednesday

I arrived in Boston early, mainly to see an old school friend who was a tutor at Harvard, but also to visit and observe a case discussion. I was lucky enough to get a really easy to follow subject (Entrepreneurship) that focused on a business started by some HBS alums a few years earlier. It was fascinating and well worth visiting, and prepared me well for my own case later in the week. After that I trudged off again through the snowstorm to visit my friend and do a tourist trip around Harvard Yard, before capitulating to jet-lag.

Thursday

Mostly optional events on the first day, I attended (for me at least) an essential Financial Aid and International Office joint presentation, and sat in on an entrepreneurship panel discussion, before the full cohort joined for an evening reception.

Financial Aid was full of details that aren’t particularly relevant if you aren’t attending HBS. However, it is pretty note-worthy that HBS only give out need-based aid and fellowships – the alternative of merit awards have always seemed a little like thinly-veiled bribes to me. What this means as an attendee is that;

  1. Probably at least some of your class wouldn’t have been financially able to attend HBS without these awards, and this surely encourages greater diversity than would exist otherwise
  2. HBS doesn’t have admitted students that have been ‘persuaded’ the join the school. Everyone has chosen HBS without financial incentives.

Details of financial aid are very personal circumstances and specific to individuals, so it can be difficult to know before you put your application in to do any real financial planning – it’s much more like guesswork.

I had the choice of an ‘Entrepreneurship’ panel discussion hosted by the Rock Centre for Entrepreneurship, or a similar ‘Established Companies Careers Service’ event. Being still very undecided about my future career path, I decided to check out the Entrepreneurship panel – after all, it was an area of HBS I was less familiar with and thought I’d learn a little more there.

HBS Panel Discussions - Careers Service and Centre for Entrepreneurship

HBS Panel Discussions – Careers Service and Centre for Entrepreneurship, & Financial Aid (Picture: HBS Admissions Blog)

One of the most exciting parts of the discussion was the fact that 3 out of the 4 panel members, when they attended ASW, went to a similar ‘established companies’ panel. They ‘fell into’ entrepreneurship at HBS. To me, this is far more exciting than hearing from a group who were always destined to be entrepreneurs. I want to believe this option is a possibility even if I don’t pursue it from Day 1. Of particular note was the way FIELD3 (the final part of the new experiential learning course in Year 1 where students begin a new microbusiness) had led to several new viable businesses being started, and these were continued during Year 2.

There was also a walking tour to have a good look at some of the housing options offered by Harvard University as a whole or HBS, most generously current students opening up their own apartments for viewing!

View east from One Western Avenue

View east from One Western Avenue

After registration, an introduction and a group exercise designed just to get some introductions started we heading off to an evening drinks reception. Putting me in a room with 400 excited fellow-admits and a low ceiling led to me developing temporary deafness…

Friday

The welcome began with introductions from the Co-Presidents of the Student Association and followed by the Dean, both very light-hearted and entertaining.

We were then split into mock sections, and participated in our first case. My own was discussing how to grow an expanding Indian textile producer and retailer, with a member of the faculty who had studied the business in question and had regular contact as they made critical business decisions. It was really interesting to work through a real-life problem and then get a “so what did the business do?” discussion afterwards with the thought process of the managers.

There was a huge amount of activities during the two days, with sub-groups splitting off and having special-interest discussions with what was relevant to them. It was quite an achievement by the admissions team to provide personal itineraries to over 400+ attendees!

Before heading off into Friday evening and an ‘extra-curricular’ event the incoming class had organised ourselves, the event was closed by Director of Admissions Dee Leopold and Associate Dean Youngme Moon – who appeared to be very passionate, warm and also both very funny!

Closing address of ASW: Dee and Youngme

Closing address of ASW: Dee and Youngme with the first half of Class of 2016 (Picture: HBS Admissions Blog)

We got a real sense of the scale of HBS here, with all the attendees of ASW together – and this is only half the incoming class!

Admitted Student Weekend – Part 1

As I’ve previously mentioned, I was fortunate enough to take the trip over the Atlantic last week to visit Boston. The main reason for the trip was to take part in the Admitted Student Weekend  (ASW) at Harvard Business School.

There’s too much to fit into one post, but the three days of activities were action-packed, as well as being incredibly well organised. Packing the schedules of 400+ excitable students plus partners, with personalised agendas, and making it run like clockwork was an incredible achievement. For this post, I’ll write about the campus and follow up later with ASW itself.

The Baker Library at HBS in the snow

The Baker Library at HBS in the snow. As nice without the snow.

HBS is stunning, far more attractive and inspiring even than Harvard Square across the river. Especially in snow. I found the lack of students and staff worrying – had they closed for the day, and was my class visit planned for the morning off?

“There are no days off at HBS” the student accompanied who me told me later, only half-joking. Once checked in at Admissions and into the Aldrich building for my class visit, I discovered where everyone was. Underground.

Despite all my previous research, I had no idea that the tunnels existed.  Why not, for that added Bond-villain base feel, just build an underground network of tunnels between your buildings? During the snow-storm they were well used.

After thinking this was quite amusing, after a few days in the sub-zero temperatures in Boston they made more and more sense to me. Students can move between dorms, lecture halls, canteens and most other HBS buildings all without stepping foot outside. Most of the buildings have levels below ground anyway to avoid congesting the campus so its an easy way to get between activities.

HBS Underground tunnels

The HBS underground tunnel network. Probably more efficient than London Underground

By afternoon, despite almost a foot of snow falling in the morning, paths were cleared and it was just like a normal cold day.

A significant proportion of my time was spent in the Spangler centre, drinking warm drinks and chatting to prospective or current students. As it was dubbed during the week, this is really where HBS feels the most ‘country club’, and it oozes elite spendor. It was surprisingly quiet though, with many students in between classes studying case materials or tapping at laptops.

Having said that, I met through acquiantances a number of really interesting backgrounds during the two days, and I’m filled with excitement at the conversations I could be having over the next two years here.

The Spangler Lounge (photo from hbs.edu)

The Spangler Lounge (photo from hbs.edu)

Over 75% of HBS students live on campus or nearby, especially RC’s (Required Curriculum – First Years to you or me). Several students advised this in the first year, you simply do not have time to waste travelling home and back again for evening events. Some with families lived in rented houses or apartments but they definitely felt they’d had to make compromises to stay with their family and missed out on some evening activities.

The last bit I had a look at was some of the student accomodation. The apartments are unfurnished (which is a real pain as an international student), and perhaps a little expensive for what they are. But they are incredibly convenient for campus and on balance I think it’ll be a price worth paying. Friends visiting the dorms said they felt a bit more social, with nice communal areas but reported a wide variation in standard and size of rooms from cheapest to most expensive.