Is the Case Method right for me?


Business schools can be separated academically into two separate categories: majority case-method programs and non-case-method programs. In the former category are schools like Darden, INSEAD, Berkeley Haas, UNC Kenan-Flagler and, of course, Harvard Business School, which pioneered the case method of MBA instruction by borrowing the Socratic dialogues used to teach at Harvard Law School. Schools that are non-majority-case-method incorporate more traditional lectures, team-based projects, and experiential learning, in addition to case-method classes. The average MBA program teaches 30% of its classes in the case method.

Case method courses are very different than traditional lecture-based classes. To prepare for a case method class, students are given a bound document (a “case”) presenting a roughly 10-page overview of a business problem faced by a team, firm, or industry followed by a series of quantitative and qualitative exhibits that an MBA might need to analyze the problem and find a solution. The goal of the case is to simulate as accurately as possible what it would feel like for the student to experience the business problem themselves, by placing the student in the role of the “case protagonist” from whose vantage point the story is told. The day of the class discussion, students normally meet with discussion groups to go over the study questions and try to anticipate where they believe the case conversation will go.

The actual class is a real pressure-cooker. The professor usually leads off by “cold-calling” (i.e. involuntarily selecting without prior warning) one student, often one specifically chosen for their relevant prior professional experience, and grilling them on what they would do in that situation. Other students are brought in to reveal different facts, challenge different perspectives, offer analysis, and argue out the correct course of action. Students need to be ready at a moment’s notice to agree or disagree with the other voices, forcing everyone sit on their edge of their seats, paying close attention.

Sometimes professors will reveal incremental data on what intermediate steps the actual case protagonist took and what results they achieved. The professor will then ask individuals whether this new information changes their perspectives and how.

Very often the case protagonist him or herself will sit in on the class (they find the conversations useful too!) and use the last part of the session to describe what happened, respond to individual students, and take questions. The result is a thrilling class experience where students develop intuition for handling emerging business problems, practice communicating their ideas articulately, and get comfortable leading through uncertainty.

The question is, is a case method program right for you?

Test Yourself

Below I’ve posed a dozen statements. If you disagree with the statement, give yourself 1 point, if you’re neutral 2 points, and if you agree 3 points. At the end, tally your score.

  1. I want to develop my public speaking skills
  2. I think reasonably quickly on my feet
  3. I want to be a general manager or CEO one day
  4. I am confident that I can teach myself finance out of a text book
  5. I have a “big personality”
  6. I prefer short stories to long technical readings
  7. I came to business school to learn
  8. I want to really get to know my peers
  9. I think diverse perspectives lead to better answers
  10. I not that excited to hear about faculty research
  11. The best way to learn something is to do it
  12. I want my peers to take class seriously

12-18 Points: Avoid the case method. Apply to schools that are majority lecture based like Carnegie Mellon Tepper, USC Marshall, UCLA Anderson, Vanderbilt Owen, Michigan Ross, and Oxford Said.

19-23 Points: Choose a program with a mix of teaching styles, including team and experiential-based learning. Examples for this category include Northwestern Kellogg, MIT Sloan, Duke Fuqua, Georgia Tech, SMU Cox, NYU Stern, and Georgetown McDonough. If you're still curious about case method classes, you consider trying out HBX CORe, which does a decent job at simulating the section experience.

24-30 Points: Apply to programs with a moderate mix (but not a majority) of case-method classes. Examples include Dartmouth Tuck, Stanford GSB, Columbia Business School, UPenn Wharton, and Yale SOM. If you're worried about case-method classes, you can dip your toe into subjects like leadership, ethics, and marketing, where the case method is easier to grasp, while sticking to traditional methods for learning finance and accounting.  

30+ Points: Definitely apply to majority-case-method program. These include schools like HBS, UVA Darden, INSEAD, Berkeley Haas, IESE, University of Western Ontario Ivey, and UNC Kenan-Flagler. Here is where you will really thrive.

The Eisenhower Matrix: A Five-Star General’s Application Strategy


Want to apply to business school like a master strategist? How about like a five-star general?

General of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, led the allies to victory in World War II not necessarily through the innovative tactics of Omar Bradley nor the personal ferocity of George Patton, but rather through superior planning. By staying focused on the most important tasks on his plate, keeping track of other tasks on the back burner, and removing unnecessary distractions, he developed what we know today as the Eisenhower Matrix.

On one axis, the question is asked whether a task is important – as in "how essential is this task to mission victory?" On the other axis, the question is asked if the task is urgent – "is this task time sensitive and does it have a deadline coming up soon?" Tasks are arrayed on this matrix according to the answers to these two questions.


Eisenhower would start with tasks in the top left box and accomplish them immediately. His goal was always to keep his top left box as clear as possible. He would then move to the bottom left box and quickly delegate those tasks to his subordinates. These were tasks that needed to be done, just not necessarily by the General. His key contribution here is picking the right person to accomplish the task, and following up to make sure it is completed. He then moved onto the top right box and decided when in his schedule he would get to these important, non-urgent tasks. If he didn’t plan them correctly, these tasks could quickly become urgent and fill up his “Do” box. Finally, if any tasks fell into the bottom right, he would simply cut them out of his calendar completely. His time was simply too important to be spent on things that did not add value.

We recommend building two Eisenhower Matrices during your application process. The first is for your GMAT study regimen. While your GMAT score is just a single data point in the over-all application, it is a necessary component and in part determines the strata of schools where your application will be competitive.


The second is for your MBA application process itself. Applying for your MBA is a marathon, and if you don’t sequence your priorities correctly it is highly likely that you will not sequence your work correctly. For example, filling out your application forms and asking for letters of recommendation before developing a narrative almost guarantees that whatever you produce will lack the thematic clarity and focus of a good application. It’s the equivalent of filming a movie without first writing the script. Another pitfall is to do the same before you decide whether to hire an admissions consultant and which one. Starting on applications before finalizing both decisions can lead to a lot of wasted effort before the consultant can find and fix the flaws in your story, and refocus you on higher-value parts of the story.

HBS 2+2 Deadline is April 10


Harvard Business School is the most prestigious business school in the world and its MBA is the golden credential of the working world. And there is no better way to get admitted than through its 2+2 program!

The 2+2 program allows students to get a delayed offer of admission, which they can use after going out and working full time for at least two years. Since most HBS students come in with 4-5 years of work experience, this program allows you to get a jump-start on your career, or to have the best fallback option of all time should you decide to take some early career risks.

The 2+2 admissions process is truly unique. We have a ton of experience helping college seniors prepare for this exciting opportunity. Let us help you!

Should I Write Waitlist Letters?


Many candidates on the waitlist wonder if they should write letters to the Admissions Committee or if they should stay quiet. Essentially they are asking if they should take an active or a passive approach to the waitlist experience. Our advice at Ivy Admissions Group is emphatically to take an active approach by sending in letters to the Admissions Committee; here is why:

1. There is no downside

Even if the Adcom truly doesn't want to hear from you in any capacity, there is no chance that they would penalize you for thoughtful, respectful, and infrequent update letters informing them of important updates and affirming your commitment to staying under further consideration. If such a strategy can only be helpful or neutral, you have an opportunity for upside with no downside and should absolutely take it. People would wait years and spend tens of thousands of dollars to be accepted to a top MBA program -- on the other hand, the investment it takes to write these update letters is quite small.

2. Prevent your application from becoming stale

Your application will be reviewed in comparison to the submissions in subsequent rounds against applicants who will all have three additional months to grow in achievements and qualifications -- becoming, in essence, three months more qualified and impressive than you. The Adcom has already read your application and taken a pass on you, so it's likely that when it comes to filling interview slots (for those waitlisted pre-interview) or spots in the class (for those waitlisted post-interview) they will almost entirely draw from the fresh candidates. You are competing for fewer spots than you think and need to stand out. 

3. Stay ahead of the competition

Many of the deferred and waitlisted candidates will be mounting influence campaigns by writing update letters and having mentors contact the admissions deans (many of whom their mentors will know personally). Silence in this environment is a huge comparative disadvantage.

4. This has worked in the past

We've seen empirically that those who use their time on the waitlist to examine, correct, and redeploy their narrative using the techniques we discuss on this website have a far higher acceptance rate than those who refrain from sending in email updates.   

5. This strategy is in-line with the words of the letter

Some schools state explicitly or implicitly that no further materials will be added to your file as you wait on the waitlist. Usually Adcoms say this because if they didn't, they would be flooded with low-quality material from desperate candidates, making their job unmanageable. When we work with waitlisted candidates, we always develop personal improvement plans that figure out what you will want to tell the Adcom has improved about your candidacy in a few months time, and then work backwards to find the steps you need to take in your personal and professional lives to make that happen. Even in the unlikely case that the Adcom won't consider important new facts about your application, waitlist letters will still keep your name on the top of the waitlist manager's mind so that when the Admissions Committee turns to her for help in filling the last few interview invites, she will propose your name.

Conclusion: A low cost investment, if you know what to say!


Ultimately, the call is yours. The base-level odds of getting into an MBA program off the waitlist is pretty comparable to the program's acceptance rate overall -- which is to say, pretty low. By putting you on the waitlist, the admissions committee is telling you that you are "good enough" to be admitted, but that there was something off in your narrative that made them hesitate. Writing (high quality) waitlist letters is a relatively small time investment to make that can have big effects on your candidacy. The key is to identify what was wrong with your narrative the first time around, develop content that actually fixes those shortcomings in your storytelling, and improve the facts of your candidacy along the dimensions where the Admissions Committee found were weak. Getting help on these last three dimensions is where admissions consultants can be quite helpful.

Reminder: Last Chance to Apply to Stanford GSB in 1 Week!


Stanford Graduate School of Business - "GSB." With a mind-blowingly low 6.1% acceptance rate, GSB is the most uber-exclusive MBA program and one of the most exclusive degree programs in the world. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, its graduates are famous for pursuing careers in  entrepreneurship and technology, and its program is famous for its emphasis on soft skills in classes such as "Touchy Feely" and student-led programs such as "TALK."

What does it take to get into GSB? In short, something beyond the sterling credentials required of HBS and Wharton: a compelling personal inspiration story (ideally one in which you can be vulnerable) and a strong personal narrative explaining what change you want to make in the world. This is why the Essay at GSB is so critical to scoring an interview and getting an offer of admission. Let us help you with yours! We know what it takes -- not only do we help people get into GSB annually, we got in ourselves!

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HBS Round 3 Closes in 7 Days!


Harvard Business School is the most prestigious business school in the world and its MBA is the golden credential of the working world. The student body at HBS is the largest -- about 935 per class -- giving students access to an incredible diversity of peers and ensuring that every professional interest group has a critical mass to organize. HBS is also able to create intimate experiences by organizing students into  ~90-person sections in which all classes are taken in the first year. HBS is also the leading practitioner of the rigorous Case Method of instruction, and its cases are standard fodder at business schools around the world.

The admissions committee is looking for students who will live up to its lofty mission of "educating leaders who will make a difference in the world." Despite its large size, only 11% make the cut. If you want to be among them when HBS closes its Round 3 Application in 7 days -- reach out to us to make sure that you are doing everything in your application to maximize your chance of admission!

Wharton Round 3 Deadline on March 27 -- Make Sure You're a Culture Match!


Wharton, the old lady of the top-tier MBA programs, the bastion of finance, and the pride of Philly, has its Round 3 Deadline in one week, on March 27, 2018. Whartonites pride themselves on the bonds they build in Pre-Term, and the toolbox of quantitative skills that the school issues to each student through its rigorous, yet flexible Core Program covering the following disciplines:

  • Accounting
  • Ethics
  • Finance
  • Macroeconomics
  • Marketing
  • Management
  • Microeconomics
  • Operations
  • Statistics
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Wharton has an incredibly strong culture, and many applicants fail to gain admission because they do not show a good culture fit in their application. Don't let this mistake happen to you! Let us give you a Final Check of your application before you click submit to make sure that you're communicating all the right messages.

The Pros and Cons of a Dual/Concurrent MBA Degree


An increasing number of business school students are now completing their MBAs as part of a dual degree program that will award them another graduate school degree. Popular dual degree options include JD/MBA, MD/MBA, Master of Public Health/MBA, Masters of Public Policy/MBA, and all sorts of other MA and MS programs from education to electrical engineering. But what are the pros and cons of these programs? 


Another brand name school on your resume

Attending the Tuck School of Business in Hanover, NH gives you all the access and prestige of Ivy League Dartmouth College. Attending as part of the dual degree program at Harvard Kennedy School, just a bus ride away on the Dartmouth Coach, would give you access to the resources and network of Harvard University as well. If you're only as good as the last school you attended, dual degree programs are excellent opportunities to pump your resume full of brand names and broaden the alumni networks to which you have access. One friend of mine completed the dual program at MIT Sloan and HKS and went to work in China, where his boss inevitably introduced him to clients as "our new hire from Harvard."

Diverse network in two career fields

Attending a world-class MBA program will give you a robust network of business leaders across traditional private sector industries such as consulting, finance, and technology. Adding in a dual degree program in public policy will also give you access to leaders across local, state, and federal government, as well as diplomats, non-profit leaders, and academics. As more of the world's challenges become interdisciplinary, individuals who can straddle the line between the public and private sectors will be the ones best able to capitalize on the opportunities. Or, if you plan on going into a technical field such as quant hedge funds, distressed equity, healthcare management, or hardware start-ups, having colleagues from programs in mathematics, law, medicine, and computer science will give you an incredible leg up against the traditional MBA competition.

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Efficient use of time (completing two degrees in 1 fewer year)

Almost all dual degree programs allow you to complete two degrees one year faster together than you could if you did them separately. For example, a JD from Yale Law School takes three years while an MBA from Stanford GSB takes two. Separately, it would take five years to complete, but together you can complete them in four. If you are gung-ho on attending two different programs already, completing them in a dual degree program is a much more efficient use of your time. You'll pay one fewer year of tuition, and get back into the working world making a good salary one year faster.

Balanced curriculum

Business Schools teach students how to lead others and develop processes that will make their organizations more efficient. Government Schools teach students where to lead and inspire them to spend their lives tackling the most difficult challenges of our times. Other graduate programs confer specialized knowledge that will prove invaluable in gaining the credibility to lead experts.

More opportunities for honors and scholarships

An often overlooked benefit of graduate school is that it provides you with the opportunity to apply for scholarships. These are ostensibly for money, but often come with great prestige as well -- the kind that would look good on your resume. Many scholarships, however, do not accept applications from MBA students, so a dual degree gets you around that. Also, if you apply to schools that confer graduations honors for GPA, theses, or other work, going to two schools gives you two bites at the apple.

Flexibility on when to apply

Not everyone knows exactly what they want to do when they arrive at business school. As you settle in for your MBA at MIT Sloan, you might decide that you actually are drawn less to the engineering, technology, and logistics disciplines of MIT and more to the pubic sector work of government and non-profits. Fortunately the dual degree program at Harvard Kennedy School lets you apply to HKS in your first year at Sloan. And vice versa. Say that you are going through the core curriculum at HKS and decide that you're much better suited to consulting. You can apply to MIT, add in an MBA, and then be better positioned to recruit for McKinsey or BCG.


Tuition cost and opportunity cost of work

Getting another degree is an amazing opportunity, especially if you can save an year of time and tuition when doing it in a dual degree program. However, when compared to doing a solo-MBA, the added cost of another year of school (in the case of a three-year program) can be daunting. You'll have to pay ~$60k of tuition and fees and forego one year of salary at the starting MBA rate ~$125k. That's a large chunk of money to make up over the course of your working career. Of course, MD and JD students who have already prepared themselves for the long-slog of school see the marginal cost as relatively lower and the benefits of the additional MBA on their future careers is great.

Unintegrated program means extra work of building your own path

Unlike integrated "joint degree" programs where academic deans have established well defined pathways for pursuing two degrees, often bolstered by a steady pipeline of concurrent degree students who can help show you the way, unintegrated programs mean that you have to fend for yourself. If you're not the kind of go-getter who can coordinate with two different sets of graduation requirements and two different registrar offices, this option may be a little stressful.

Takes time away from your MBA cohort

Depending on when you sequence business school in your dual degree program, you may not graduate with your MBA class or spend much time with them after the core curriculum part of the degree is over. This can be a serious downside considering that the network is a key part of value proposition in MBA programs.

Shuttling between campuses

If you decide to do a concurrent degree at two different schools, it is likely that you will have to pack up your apartment and move at least twice in a three year period (notable exceptions include the dual degree program between MIT Sloan and Harvard Kennedy School). For ex-consultants, living out of a suitcase for three or more years might not sound so bad, but for the rest of us this can have a negative effect on quality of life. Even if you decide to pursue two degrees at the same university, graduate school campuses are rarely co-located and so even if you keep your apartment, you still will have to shuttle back and forth across as variable commute (notable exceptions include programs between Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School, which are located just across a walking bridge from each other). Of course, if for some reason you would like to be in two different cities over the course of your study (e.g. to be close to two different sets of family, you didn't get into the desired program in your #1 city and are using a dual degree to form a back-up option), this can be a blessing.