Do Harvard MBAs value cooperation, or is it a cutthroat classroom experience?

I’m in the process of applying for the Harvard 2+2 MBA program. I will graduate with B.A. from Purdue University next year. While Purdue is a large state school, I can say that I’m a well-rounded and competitive applicant. (I’m only saying this so you understand my perspective- not to garner any type of attention.)  Anyway, I’m running into a roadblock. When I visited the campus and stayed with a friend this spring, I got the vibe around Harvard that everyone had at least some sort of an ego. Whether or not that is true, it was just my experience exploring the undergraduate side of things. Does the same hold true for the business school? Is co-operation valued, or is it a more cutthroat classroom experience?

The Harvard MBA says:

I chose this question because it’s representative of a lot of questions that I get.  Many of you seem concerned that unless you go to an Ivy League school for undergrad, that you won’t be able to get into HBS.  That’s simply not true.

While it is true HBS accepts more students who did their undergrad work at Harvard than any other university, Harvard grads only make up a small proportion of HBS students.  In fact, the majority of HBS students did not go to Ivy League schools for their undergrad years.

Don’t get me wrong–all other things being equal, going to an Ivy League school will help you get into HBS.  But all other things are seldom equal, and if the choice is between going to a state school, or going to an Ivy League school and bankrupting your parents, I know which one I would choose.

This same concern about snobbery comes through in the question about student attitudes at HBS.  There is no doubt that HBS students are arrogant.  The school practically encourages it.  But it is also true that HBS students are generally more well-rounded, and a reasonable number of us are actually decent human beings.

When I was in school, one of my friends produced a shirt for the entire class that read, “HBS 2000: Leaders of the New Millenium.”  Another mutual friend remarked, “Yeah, that shirt is fine, but I don’t think you should wear it down in Roxbury. [one of the rougher, working-class neighborhoods in the Boston area]”

The truth is that (at least when I was in school) HBS students are generally very supportive of each other.  “Sharking,” which consists of tearing down a fellow student during class to score points for yourself, is definitely frowned upon, and the “Sharks” who make a habit of it tend to be ostracized by the other students.

Ironically, HBS and HBS students are actually more supportive than Harvard University’s undergrad program, which is famously indifferent to whether or not you graduate.  My wife earned her BA from Harvard, and constantly marveled about how differently (and better) HBS treated its students than her undergrad alma mater.

One Comment

  1. Posted June 29, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I love it!

    The “big ego” HBS student makes a t-shirt claiming to be the king of the world. The “small ego” HBS student says, “fine but just don’t be seen wearing it” (as opposed to “perhaps you should achieve something before making such a proclamation”).


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