What college should I go to if I want to get into HBS?

My ultimate goal is Harvard Business School.

What is the best track to reach this goal?

I have a few options that each have unique opportunity costs:

1] Go out-of-state to University of Illinois at Chicago.

This option is what I would like to do because it moves me into a setting where I am independant in my dream city. However this option also comes at great financial cost. I would most likely not be bringing in any additional revenue based on the strength of the courses and social life of this public university while maintaining a strong GPA.

2] Go in-state at Western Kentucky University or University of Kentucky.

This option allows me to enjoy the college experience (greek life, parties, etc) without paying the out-of-state tuition fees. However I would, most likely, not be working as the implications stated above with option 1.

3] Go to Owensboro Community College and then transferring to University of Kentucky after my associates degree.

Our community college has a 2+2 program that allows students to live at home and pay significantly lower tuition and then guarantees the same tuition of the community college at UK after obtaining your associates degree.

This option allows optimal financial gain with the low cost of tuition and allows me to maintain my current 30 hour work week that nets (after taxes) approximately $9.000 yearly (1 month sick/leave included).

As I have stated each of these options are viable but they all have unique rewards at varying degrees. You might notice that option 1 is based on want while option 3 is based on financial need. Option 2 seems to be a good middleground, however it seems as if I am more financial secure with option 3.

I am curious to your input, please do not be shy in your response!

Follow-up question:

If I decide on any of these options would I be eligible to transfer directly to Harvard after my associates degree with exemplary grades?

I have heard a ridiculously small amount have been accepted to Harvard as transfers (30 to 40 a year).

I was wondering if they would request prior ACT scores or my high school transcript.
If they did I’m pretty sure that’s not a viable option; I currently wouldn’t be accepted.

The Harvard MBA says:

An excellent (and detailed) question.  While it is definitely easier to get into HBS if you did your undergraduate work at Stanford/Harvard/MIT, many of my friends made it in despite going to less renowned schools.  Heck, many of those schools were less renowned than the University of Kentucky.

I think that the correct answer depends on your particular situation.  If your family is independently wealthy, and affordability is not an issue, you should move to your dream city and attend the University of Illinois.

If money is a major issue, you should attend community college and then transfer to the University of Kentucky–where you finish college is more important than where you start (how many people remember that President-elect Obama started off at little-known Occidental College before transferring to Ivy League Columbia University?).

If you can afford it, starting and finishing at the University of Kentucky is a good middle ground–the in-state tuition is probably affordable, and you won’t have to rebuild your social network halfway through your college experience as you would if you were a transfer student.

I wouldn’t spend too much time investigating the possibilities of transferring to Harvard after your Associates Degree–you can bet that they’ll be looking closely at your high school record and your SAT/ACT scores.  It’s a long shot regardless.

What I would recommend is that you focus your attentions on figuring out how to do something remarkable.  While you can get into HBS from any undergraduate institution, the bar is certainly higher if you’re not coming from an elite research university.  You really need to stand out, and the best way to do this is by doing something that really catches people’s attention.

To do this, I strongly recommend checking out what my friend Cal Newport has to say about how to make yourself outrageously impressive without having to become outrageously hard working.  Cal’s blog, Study Hacks, is a great place to look for college advice.

Good luck!


  1. tdc
    Posted November 10, 2008 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but I have to disagree on your advice. High school seniors should always go to the college that offers them the best opportunities regardless of cost. Look at it from a simple NPV or IRR perspective. Better universities lead to better, higher paying post-graduation employment opportunities. This would, theoretically, better position the questioner for HBS. (This ignores the multifaceted aspects of the MBA admissions process for simplicity purposes.) Factoring in increased earning potential, even without a Harvard MBA, undoubtedly results in a higher NPV & IRR.

    I speak from experience. I put myself through a well-known, near-Ivy using need-based aid and covering the rest with student loans. It’s been 10 years since I received my undergraduate degree and I am far better off than if I attended one of the schools in our state system (discloser: NY does not have the best state university system). Could I have gotten here going the other route? Possible but it would’ve been far more difficult and highly unlikely.

    The questioner may think he is mortgaging his financial freedom, but that is short-sighted thinking and excludes the future benefits he or she will gain.

  2. Posted November 11, 2008 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    There is certainly a lot of debate on the topic of choosing schools. The two approaches I encounter most frequently:

    Approach #1: Go to the school with the best possible professors. You’ll be exposed to the most cutting-edge results in the field.

    Approach #2: Find the school that offers the best fit on a number of factors, including size, teaching attention, location, student body attitudes, etc.

    There are arguments for each. (Though I think too many students are a priori dismissive of the first approach.) And they each have a different impact on the economics…

    For those who choose approach #1, this typically comes down to going to their state university unless they can get into an Ivy-caliber private university. It throws out of consideration the huge slew of second tier private institutions.

    For those who choose approach #2, all of those expensive second-tier private institutions become a possibility.

    The result: Approach #1 is less touchy-feely, but for most students, more frugal. Approach #2 is warm and fuzzy, but will likely end up costing you more.


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