How to read and prepare an HBS-style MBA Case

 HBS is among the most prolific producers of Business School case studies

HBS is among the most prolific producers of Business School case studies

MBA classrooms all over the world use cases to teach. Each case tells the story of a business problem from the point-of-view of a “case protagonist.” Cases ground a future conversation about what the protagonist should do, and the goal of that conversation is to arrive at some insight that students can use when facing similar business challenges in the future.

While many business schools write cases for use in their classrooms as well as others, all cases generally follow the same format: a page setting up the situation, followed by some pages of background historical information, a longer narrative of the problem, the decision to be made, and concluding with numerous pages of data and exhibits. The cases are short, but are meant to be comprehensive for the following case conversation. This makes the case conversation more realistic as business leaders often have to lead their firms through uncertainty and with limited information.

Sounds simple, right?

In fact, it’s deceptively simple. Cases end up being remarkably dense, making them much harder and slower to read than a Wall Street Journal article. Their stories open up a million doors, making it difficult to tell where the case conversation might actually go. Their data can be analyzed in a million different ways, each taking up valuable time that could be spent preparing for other classes or recruiting interviews. So how can you work smarter and prepare the case properly?

1. Know where the case fits into the curriculum

The first case in a class is a special introductory case meant to include and highlight all of the topics you’ll cover over the course. The last case is a capstone summarizing all of the concepts previously covered. Usually one or both of the two were previously used as the basis for a final exam. All the other cases in the sequence (except those meant to accommodate the personal schedules of visiting case protagonists) are meant to illustrate an incremental concept within a module. Look at the syllabus for clues as to what those concepts might be so that you can run the analysis before class. Examples might include calculating the appropriate WACC in finance or analyzing the 4 P’s in marketing.

2. Before you start reading, set a timer

Parkinson's Law states that work will expand to consume all the resources available to it. The same goes for cases. There is always another analysis to run; always more investopedia articles to read. Rather than allow the case to eat up your schedule, set a timer and “time box” your analysis. When the timer goes off, stop working on that case and move onto the next one.

Shoot to get your reading and analysis down to an hour or less per case by the end of first year. At the start, you’ll probably need to give yourself something closer to 90-120 minutes.

3. Get your bearings

Before you read the case cover to cover, skim it to get your bearings. First, read the entire first page, then the first line of each paragraph, and then all of the exhibits to orient yourself. Understand that cases are each meant to stand alone as a document, and so they include a lot of extra detail that anyone with Google can just look up for themselves. By skimming you can avoid the red herrings and focus on the details that matter. Ask: what is the decision that has to be made? What are the immediate causes of the central problem? And who are the stakeholders?

4. Skip historical background section

This is usually on pages 2-4. You can read it if you're personally interested, but it is almost never relevant.

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5. Develop a note taking system.

I’m a fan of 4-color pens. Here is my system: black is for all primary notes; blue is for organizing primary notes, taking secondary notes, and making revisions; red is for all names and contact information; green is for all to-dos and follow-ups.

As I read a case, I box all stakeholders and circle all numbers in red. I take notes to answer discussion questions in black. I note all questions I want to look-up or ask my discussion group in green. I save blue to write a summary of the case discussion and the major takeaways at the top of the first page of the case when there is only 5-10 min left in class.

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6. Apply any frameworks you have been given

Frameworks that get introduced in one class tend to make repeat appearances in the following classes. Most first-year classes spend the first half of each session drawing out these frameworks on the blackboard and then filling them in, fact by fact. If you’re just looking to make a quick "chip shot" comment in class, offering a piece of analysis to fill these frameworks can be a great way to do that. To calm your nerves and give yourself a lifeline in case of a cold call, fill in the full framework in advance so you won’t be caught off guard in the moment. If you’re gunning for a good grade and a next-level comment, don’t use the frameworks to answer "case fact questions" – instead use them to see further faster. Use them to see what the analytical conclusion will be and then be ready to make sense of it once it is revealed.

For example, in marketing class I just took the summary slides that the professor showed us with the frameworks on them, deleted the text, printed them out, and took notes on that sheet. Because I did that, I would often understand earlier than my peers which channels were most profitable for a company to use, which price points to target, or which product lines to discontinue.

7. Only conduct hypothesis-based analysis

Even a short case has too much data to run all the numbers. Plus “boiling the ocean” is not how business leaders make decisions anyway. Instead develop 1-2 theories as to why the the business is facing the problem that it is and then run the numbers to see if you’re right. Or, if you think you know what the key takeaway from the case will be -- such as calculating beta for comparable financial analysis (see #1 in this list) -- run just that analysis.

8. Ask if you have any relevant experience worth sharing

Those comments tend to be memorable, bring the section closer together, and yield better grades.

9. Limit your notes to 1-2 pages, print single sided

They’ll need to be short enough to reference in the heat of the moment. You won’t want to be flipping pages back and forth either.

10. Remember that preparation does not end when class starts

Keep taking notes as the class goes on, either in a notebook or in the case. I print out my case notes in black and take notes by hand in blue. By taking notes, I can often anticipate where the class is going to go and cut it off at the pass with a great comment.

11. When there are 5 minutes left, begin taking summary notes

In blue, if you're using my method. See #5 in this list. That way you won't forget the lesson, either for the final exam or for use beyond.

12. Evaluate yourself

Ask how well you did at (1) finding the “big question” of the case, (2) identifying the key data, (3) analyzing that data correctly, (4) using that data to arrive at the right decision, and (5) communicating that decision logically and persuasively in class.

How to make the most of your MBA discussion group

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Case method schools often assign students to discussion groups of about 6 people to analyze cases before class. A good discussion group can really make your MBA experience by helping you make better comments in class, figure out challenging concepts, and work smarter so you can spend more time on networking or recruiting. Members of a well-functioning discussion group often also become close friends, share useful perspectives from their previous work experience, and can help one another in their respective job searches. Conversely, a bad discussion group is terrible. Imagine having to sacrifice an hour or more of sleep every day to sit with people who you don’t like and who aren’t helping you.

So what habits separate good discussion groups from bad ones? How can you make the most out of your discussion group?

1. Launch your team at the bar.

You are going to spend an hour of quality time every day with the members of your discussion group every morning. That’s often more than you’ll spend talking with any other friend you’ll have at school! The most effective discussion groups recognize that above all else they are social groups and treat one another as friends – attending each other’s parties, grabbing lunch together, and supporting one another at their club events. Therefore, before you get down to business, get to know each other first. Take turns going over each other’s life stories – and not just the resume bullets. For maximum effect, do so over a pint.

2. Set norms.

What time are you going to meet each morning? Where are you going to meet? Will you expect that everyone has thoroughly read the case, or are you okay if people skim it during the discussion? Will you communicate over email, GroupMe, or Slack? Having different answers to these questions is a recipe for tension. So make everything explicit! As you launch your discussion group, agree upon and write down the norms your group will use to operate. Perhaps the easiest way to arrive at these norms is to go around and discuss the teams each of you have worked on and what made them work well or poorly. You can also have a frank conversation about what behaviors piss each of you off.

3. Enforce norms.

People are going to be late to discussion group. So what are you going to do about it when it happens? If your discussion group does nothing you’ll create a new norm that it’s okay to be late. Soon people will be arriving so late that it impacts your work as a discussion group while others might stop coming all together. While it may seem like the nice thing to do is to shrug off infractions, the respectful thing is to enforce them. As you get your group norms, set norms about how to enforce them. Maybe you could have a norm that late people get their name written on a white board or that they have to bring donuts next time. Whatever it is, make sure everyone knows that when others are relying upon you, it is not okay to drop the ball.

4. Be open about goals and weaknesses.

Your discussion group will likely be curated to have a diverse set of skills between the lot of you. Take inventory of what those skills are and manage your conversations to bring those diverse perspectives in. Groups that don’t do this often isolate their conversations to the area of shared experience (see picture below). Rather than assume that the finance guys will lead all of those case conversations, ask if someone else wants to learn this skill and try taking the lead.

5. Use “Case Captains”.

More on this in another post (stay tuned!), but in short, divide and conquer the work. With constant demands on your time from a million sources, you need to look for every way to work smarter, and not harder.

6. Facilitate to expose diverse perspectives.

 When you manage your group for diversity, you gain access to the group’s full knowledge, rather than that tiny piece you have in common.

When you manage your group for diversity, you gain access to the group’s full knowledge, rather than that tiny piece you have in common.

Pause every so often to note whose perspectives have been missing from the discussion. Did they see things in a different way? Constantly challenge what others are saying and look for weak points in your analysis. It is so easy to speak from common views and experiences, but when you do your analysis loses so much depth. Look at the graph at the right. When we speak about what we have in common, we only cover the tiny overlapping area. When you manage your discussion group to take advantage of its diversity, you get the insights from the entire footprint.

Will you make it to discussion group? Click here to get your Odds of Admission.

How Admissions Committees Evaluate Candidates - The Problem with "Odds Threads"

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Countless MBA blogs allow applicants to post their admissions profile for others to evaluate their chances of admission at different MBA programs. Usually the criteria asked for will be something like the following:

  • GPA
  • Undergraduate Institution
  • GMAT Score
  • Past employers
  • Extra curriculars / activities
  • Certifications
  • Volunteer work

These “odds threads” fundamentally misunderstand several key parts of the admissions process.

Problem 1: They confuse checkboxes for sliding scales.

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The trouble is that these forums breed the belief that the more “extra” someone is in each of these categories, the better chance they have at admission. Someone with a 4.0 GPA must have a higher probability than someone with a 3.8 and 790 better odds than a 750, right? Not quite. This is because applications are evaluated in a two-step process.

The first step is the sorting. The first four criteria in the list above are “check box” data fields. The admissions committee looks at these criteria first to run an initial screening of the candidate pool. The goal from this initial screening is to sort candidates as “highly competitive”, “competitive”, or “not competitive” for admission at that particular school.

A highly competitive applicant will have a GPA and GMAT that is at or above the business school’s overall average, earned a degree from a school well represented from among the student body, and worked at a firm that either places well at the school or (ideally) recruits a lot of MBAs from that institution to return. A competitive candidate will have most of those criteria. An uncompetitive will have few or none. Once this sorting is done, the top category is fast-tracked, and middle is evaluated, and the bottom is dropped.

The second step in the process brings us to Problem 2

Problem 2: They ignore the key selection criteria of Narrative

Since there are far, far more “competitive” candidates than a school has spots to give in a class, the admissions committee needs a second screening to further winnow the class down. This second step evaluates a candidate’s Narrative. Admissions committees want to admit students who have great personal stories, who are going to make the most of their spots in the MBA class to accelerate their career trajectories, and who will change the world for the better. Once you make it through the first screen, regardless of GPA or GMAT, the best story wins.

Put another way, passing the “checkbox” criteria mentioned in Problem 1 will get the admissions committee to listen to you. The narrative is how to convince them. If your narrative lacks focus, clarity, simplicity, credibility, specificity, emotion, logic, values, and everything else we put into our narrative work, even an 800 GMAT score will help you – you will be denied.

You’ll notice that our MBA Odds Form asks for something not included on the list I pulled from the blogs above: personal narrative. Your personal narrative is the single most important factor for determining whether you will be admitted to an MBA program, offers the single biggest return on your time investment, and is the only part of your application that you control 100%.

In short, if you were to plot out the probabilities on each of these checkbox criteria, you would not see a smooth upward sloping line, but rather a step-function as candidates are first sorted, then evaluated individually on their narrative story, the quality of which has a more random distribution.

Problem 3: They focus on the wrong things

 Remember this version of you from your college essay? Cut it from your MBA application.

Remember this version of you from your college essay? Cut it from your MBA application.

Remember your college application? Remember how you talked all about your community involvements and extracurricular activities? That silly essay about your love of track & field and how it's a metaphor for your leadership style? Many people who submit profiles for evaluation devote as much real estate to their hobbies as their actual work experience. This is a huge miscalculation because while business schools care a great deal about your work experience, they care almost nothing about your hobbies. Here’s why.

First, strategically, whereas the admissions criteria for college (and law school for that matter) are retrospective (i.e. they ask what have you done to “earn” or “deserve” a spot in the class), business school admission criteria is prospective (e.g. what will you do with this opportunity?). This is because an MBA is an entirely elective degree. Whereas you need a JD to practice law, no one needs an MBA to practice business. Therefore, any good application needs to explain what the candidate will do with the degree on their professional journey, and even insinuate what negative consequences will befall them if they don’t obtain it. The answer to this question lies in work experience and narrative, not in your free-time hobbies.

Second, tactically, extracurriculars are just not as valuable to business schools. Colleges (especially elite colleges) really value the community experience and look for students to take leadership in this important area. That’s why they give steep scholarships to athletes, and little admissions boosts students who will round out difficult-to-fill community positions (such as oboe players in the orchestra). Talking about your extracurricular activities on your college essay made sense because you had something of value to offer to the school. In contrast, the whole point of business school is to secure an internship and later a full-time job offer. Almost all extracurricular activities in business school exist to advance that goal. For example, the finance club meetings will either be to network with prospective banks or to tutor students on building models in excel. Playing the oboe at business school gives you a lot of money in a worthless currency.

In your MBA application, your work experience is king. Give it the real estate it deserves.

If you want an honest appraisal of your Odds of Admission, check ours out here.

How many schools should I apply to – and which ones?

One of the most frequent questions we get from our clients and those who ask us for their odds of MBA admission is “How many schools should I apply to?” School selection – both the quantity and tier – is an incredibly important part of one’s application strategy and one that all applicants should invest a good amount of time considering early in the process.

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Categories of Schools

We recommend that you think of school selection like building a portfolio of personal investments. By investing your time in a number of different schools across different categories, you can decrease the esoteric risk of being denied at any individual school, pit financial aid offers against one another, and ultimately make a more informed final selection. For this reason, we recommend applying to no fewer than six schools, two from each of the following categories:

Stretch

Your stretch schools are your dream schools. These are the kinds of schools that you would drop everything and pay double price to go to if you could simply because their prestige, network, resources, and education would have an absolutely transformative effect on your career trajectory. The trouble is that these schools are normally difficult to get to for anybody and your admissions profile puts you in a rather uncompetitive camp. You should still apply to these schools! The admissions committee will still read your application. They are people too, and if you have a personal narrative that moves them or stops them cold, they may fight to make space in the class for you depending on the depth of the rest of the applicant pool.

Adding these schools to your portfolio is like buying the stock of risky tech companies. If things go well, the payoff is unbelievable. Plus, if you didn’t apply but later found out that you would have been admitted, wouldn’t you kick yourself about it? Personally, I would always rather the school say no to me, than for me to say no to myself. You can apply to these schools as a Hail Mary on your own at the end of the cycle, or if you want better odds you can engage with a consultant who has specific expertise at that school (much like how we do for HBS).

Reach

These are schools that you would be delighted to attend and where your profile is a little more competitive (e.g. two or more of the following is true: your undergraduate institution is better represented in the student body, your GPA is at or above average, your GMAT is at or above average, or your current employer is a major recruiter at the school). These are the schools that you are realistically targeting and which you will spend the majority of your time (either on your own or with a consultant) working on.

Grab

A grab school is not a safety school. It is a school where you would want to do, where your profile is competitive in most or all of the categories previously mentioned, but where your odds are still less than 50%. They are there for you to grab, if you can. Adding Grab schools to your portfolio does two things. First, if you’re sure that now is the right time to go to business school, helps give you the certainty that you will get in somewhere. Second, because you are a more desirable candidate to Grab schools, they will likely be more generous to you in financial aid. Suddenly if the cost of tuition for a grab school is 50-75% less than a Reach school, you’ll be a lot more excited about them. Also, getting money from one Grab school can help you in negotiating financial aid offers from other schools, but more on that at another time.

Run the analysis

Let’s run the numbers. If we believe that a person’s profile gives them a conservative baseline chance of admissions of 15% for Stretch schools, 25% for Reach Schools, and 40% for Grab schools (and for the sake of argument that there is negligible covariance between the applications), then the odds of being admitted to at least one school are the following:

Portfolio of 4 Schools: 1 Stretch, 2 Reach, 1 Grab – 70%

Portfolio of 6 Schools: 2 Stretch, 2 Reach, 2 Grab – 84%

Portfolio of 8 Schools: 2 Stretch, 3 Reach, 3 Grab – 93%

Conclusion

Which schools fit into each of these categories will depend on the unique admissions profile of the individual student. If you want our help in sorting, feel free to get your odds here.

How to succeed in the HBS/HKS Joint Degree Program

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Commonly known as “Jointees,” the students in the joint degree programs at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business school are united in their desire to affect change in both business and in government. Their experience moving between two Harvard schools presents a unique set of opportunities and challenges, and each year the third year jointees pass on their wisdom to the classes below them. Some of the piece of advice agree, others conflict, but they are all born out of three years of lived experience.

Work on improving your influence – The “core curriculum” at HKS and the “Required Curriculum” at HBS both help you understand and analyze problems on the firm, industry, and systemic level. However, you be successful, you still need to convince others how to change, the benefits of change, and the imperative to change. Use your time outside of class to grow in this area.

Speak to the unconverted – once you have learned how to solve global challenges and have developed the tools to be convincing, make sure to break out of the echo chamber and speak to those who do not agree with you. That’s the only way to make change.

Take "fierce control" over your education – You only have three years to explore two schools in which someone could spend a lifetime. Don’t count on the distribution requirements to show you everything worth exploring. If you find yourself over committed, talk to HKS professors about not submitting assignments. After all, grades here really don’t matter.

Invest in people – People are what will make your educational experience and people are what you’ll take away from the school after you graduate. Determine who you want to stay friends with in 10 years, and spend time with them!

Don’t be a bleeding heart – The rest of HBS will expect you, as a jointee, to be a bleeding heart, always reflexively advocating for government regulation and against business enterprise. Don’t fall into that trap. As soon as you do, people will anticipate your opinions, see your views as biased, and stop listening to them. By instead trusting that others will fill those roles early in the term, you can save your credibly (and that of all jointees) to advance social arguments later on when the lines are blurrier and the stakes are higher.

(or) Be a bleeding heart! – Someone has to do it.

Be proud of your story – Own it and learn to tell it well.

Make special time for other jointees – they will be your best partners, champions, friends, and resources.

Save your ammo for the last third of class – some of your peers at HKS will villainize the private sector and some at HBS believe that government is unnecessary. Jointees know that the public and private sectors need to work together (and with the non-profit sector) to tackle the “great challenges” in the world. You usually only get to make one comment per class session, so save your airtime for the end so you can correct your peers when they say otherwise.

Pick your PAE client carefully – As a Master in Public Policy (MPP)* candidate you’ll have to complete HKS’s thesis-like Policy Analysis Exercise (PAE) in which you will work with a client to deliver a policy deliverable. Pick someone who communicates clearly, understands your limitations, and will value your work. If the work is interesting, the client relates to your post-graduation goals, and the experience broadens your personal network, that’s a plus.

Pick your PAE partner carefully – You can only use this trick to do half the work if your partner is reliable.

*Note: joint degree candidates between HKS and Tuck, Wharton, Stanford GSB, and MIT Sloan can transfer to the MPP to the Master in Public Administration degree, which does not have a PAE requirement

Be open to random talks and new experiences – there are so many of them at Harvard. Say yes to a few of them each week – especially those at other schools you wouldn’t otherwise explore.

Advice for HBS from the graduating class

The HBS experience is brought to a close at the end of the second year with an event called “Bridges.” Students return to their original classroom to the seat where they sat on the first day, to reconvene as a section and reflect on the journey they all have just completed. The time leading up to bridges also affords second-year “ECs” to pass along wisdom to rising first-year “RCs.” Here is a collection of some of the best advice we came across:

Ditch imposter syndrome – many people at Harvard suffer from imposter syndrome; they worry that they were admissions mistakes. The truth is that life is too short for such self-doubt and that no one really “deserves” the benefits of the program. Instead of worrying about cosmic fairness in your admission, focus instead of living your life so that you are worthy of the gifts you are give.

Whiteboard your priorities – The currents at HBS are strong. Career events are geared to push you towards consulting and investment banking, the social hierarchy pushes you to rack up large bills drinking and traveling, and the curriculum implicitly pushes you to value higher paying jobs. If you don’t set your heading before you embark on your HBS journey, they will take you out to sea. To keep yourself on track, purchase a white board and stick somewhere in your apartment where you will see it every day. On the whiteboard, write down your 1-3 priorities for the coming year. As you consider whether to attend a lecture, social event, or weekend trip, check the opportunity against your criteria. If it doesn’t match, then decline with confidence.

Timebox your activities – If you plan on spending one hour on a case, pull out a stop watch and set it for 60 minutes. When it goes off, wherever you are in your reading or analysis, stop! There is always more work to do, more things to read. If you don’t put open-ended tasks into boxes they will eat up all the time you’re saving for other valuable activities.

Don’t put anything off – Your calendar next week may look more open now but it will become just as busy as your calendar this week. If you can avoid it, don’t push that coffee chat or phone call into the deceptively open future in order to buy time now. If it’s not worth doing now, instead ask if it is ever worth doing at all.

Roll over your IRA into a Roth – this is perhaps the most valuable advice you will get while you’re in graduate school!

Embrace unlearning – we all come with prejudices and misconceptions. Lean into experiences where you find your view challenged and when you find that they are wrong, change them!

Remember: companies exist for more than “shareholder value” – It's fashionable to advance Milton Friedman’s “property view” of corporations: that they exist solely for the enrichment of the owners, and that management should prioritize that objective above all others. Some of your classmates will believe that this opinion is accepted fact. This is not true! While management has a duty to maximize shareholder value in the event of a sale (in which case no “long term” interest can credibly exist), they have broad legal berth to exercise their own judgement in determining and attaining the objectives of a company. Furthermore, investors agree. On average, holding times for stocks are about two years, and the price tracks to earnings over 10 years, evidencing compelling market long-termism. In fact, if you analyze earning calls, short-term concerns are almost always brought up by the management, not the investors. Don’t let this myth perpetuate in class... or in the boardroom!

Hack your calendar in Year 2 – While you don’t get to choose any of your classes in Year 1, you have total flexibility in Year 2. The administration will say that it is not possible to get all your classes on either Monday/Tuesday (“X” Days) or Thursday/Friday (“Y” Days”) in the second year, but it is! Just look for International Field Courses between terms and Independent Projects.

Don’t let Harvard define you – You are so many more things. Harvard should just let you become more potent expressions of them. Plus, it’s always refreshing to read a speaker’s biography where HBS is mentioned only in passing at the very end.

Is the Case Method right for me?

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.