We take a hiatus from my CBS revelry to finish my recounting of my HBS visit which was a full month ago now. When we last left off, I was walking into the Technology and Operations Process Management class (or something like that).
The classroom (forget the building name now) was in the basement. But don't be fooled. The halls and facilities were immaculate. There were students milling about happily and conversing. The hallways were actually quite crowded as class was just about to begin. Everything was clean and comfortable and there were student mailboxes everywhere and free food (I think) on some tables. We entered a classroom and our student host introduced us to the professor who was very welcoming. We took 2 vacant seats near the front (all classes have assigned seats as per the norm at most b-schools I think). At the beginning of class, the professor introduced us to the rest of the class which surprised me. Then even more surprisingly, the entire class applauded! I was astounded by this. It was kinda strange but the unity of it all really made an impression on me. It was a good thing.
The class went on and I was surprised at how much everyone participated. There were probably 90 students in the class and for any given question, maybe 10 to 30 of the students would raise their hand. People really participated! The students were excited to participate and the professor really guided and steered the lesson. He would take the salient points and write them up on some cool chalkboards. I noticed that HBS even used some high-end, really thick chalk hehe. The students applauded whenever a fellow classmate made a good point and they all laughed whenever anyone goofed up or said something funny. Never was anyone condescending. I was really astonished and impressed. The community feel was definitely there. After the class, I would learn that TOP Management was supposed to be the most boring class! Yet I had a blast. I didn't even come close to nodding off (falling asleep) which is something that I've battled at every other class visit I've ever had anywhere else. I think this is attributed to the participative atmosphere and the insightful and sometimes humorous comments made by the students. At the end of class, the professor came directly over to me and my friend to ask us what we thought of the class! Amazing.
The classroom facilities rival those of any school I've visited. They are tiered stadium-seats like any other classroom but super nice and clean and large with great acoustics and tons of chalkboards. Each seat also has a voting panel so that the class can take impromptu votes at any time!
At the end of class, the Cluster held their end-of-week awards which is their way of poking fun at each other. For about 15 minutes, they handed out silly and hilarious awards like "person guilty for having a calculator with the most flair" and it was accompanied by a knee-slapping powerpoint presentation. I laughed my ass off. The class then voted on where to take their October cluster weekend trip. This generated a lot of open debate and almost caused a riot. I thought it was funny but some people were actually getting riled up which kinda put my friend off. It was probably the only negative (slightly) thing I experienced. All in all, the case study method at Harvard is unbelievable. I am a super fan!
Afterwards, our student host had to go meet some people (forget what) so my friend and I went back to Spangler cafeteria. We sat down with some random students for lunch that we recognized from the class and they were obliging. It was a good conversation and they were encouraging me to apply even though I said I thought my chances were slim. They insisted that they were all normal people but that wasn't necessarily true. For instance, 2 of the guys we were sitting with were an energy trader at a hedge fund prior to entering HBS and the other was an Olympic gold medalist on the national ski team. Normal guys huh? I don't remember what the third guy was but he was talking to my friend more while I was talking to the other two. I asked them about the "HBS douchebag" stereotype. They laughed and estimated that maybe 50% were douchebags and that it was probably even a conservative estimate. Then they followed that up by saying that there are all sorts of people in such a large class so you'll still find people you love hanging out with which is true. Afterwards, I told my friend that the "HBS douchebag" stereotype wasn't apparent at all. She said it's funny because she considered the students we sat with as "the douchebags"! Haha, I can see what she means by that but considering my undergrad alma mater, I guess I didn't really notice it (she went to a liberal arts school instead). I guess that means I am more immune to douchebags because I was around them so much already. Then we ran from lunch because we were late for the admissions info session at 2 pm.
We were stressed cuz we were actually 5 minutes late for the info session cuz we got lost. There were about 25 people there and the admissions officer was obviously a rookie. She was visibly nervous and talked extremely fast. No new info here (as usual) but she did mention that HBS was trending younger (in response to someone's question). This is an interesting trend because other schools (Wharton and Columbia are specific examples) who have also stated explicitly that they are seeing and accepting more early-entry candidates. At the end of the session, I lined up to talk to her and ask her real estate-specific questions. Unfortunately, there was a scattered line and three people actually cut in front of me! I was not going to make this an issue obviously but I was kinda staggered by their gall. I guess it is competitive to get into HBS hehe.
I felt bad for the rookie admissions officer because she said she had a meeting in 10 minutes and that she was going to grab a quick lunch from the Spangler cafeteria beforehand. Four other prospectives and I walked alongside her with our questions. I had a nice, brief, 2 or 3 question chat with her and then I let her go. Unfortunately, she stopped right in front of Spangler and the questions kept coming hard and fast from the other prospectives. Wow, these HBS prospectives are really motivated! She was so nice and such a rookie that she took all the questions and Spangler closed behind her and she couldn't even get her lunch. In the end she walked out late to her meeting without any lunch. I kinda felt bad for her that us ravenous aspirants overwhelmed her (not me specifically but you know what I mean).
Seconds later, my friend bumped into her friend who she recognized from high school who was there. He was a 2nd year and apparently turned down a private equity job offer to attend HBS. He was looking to become a portfolio manager for a very specific kind of fund and said that he's been networking like crazy and still hadn't found the job he wanted. He said he was definitely feeling the economic downturn but I have a feeling that he was being super selective. He seemed like a superstar.
Afterwards, we went to the HBS Co-op (aka the bookstore) and it was huge! Harvard Business School has its own bookstore which is the size of most university bookstores! Seriously. I could not believe all the merchandise they had. It seemed to be priced a bit higher than most other school's merchandise too. It was crazy how many shirts and pants and mugs and knick-knacks that they produced, but it made sense. After all, I'm sure all of the students are super proud and buy aparell for all their friends and family.
That was the end of our HBS visit. It completely blew my mind in every way possible. The campus and facilities were definitely top top top. The professor and case study method was unbelievably engaging and stimulating. I was entertained. The caliber of student body was amazing too... everyone seemed incredibly articulate, attractive, bright, and had perfect teeth. They all looked like their clothes were purchased yesterday. I cannot imagine a better b-school. Seriously. I gave serious thought to applying to HBS after the visit but in the end, the extra recommendation (3 instead of 2) and non-transferrable essays (for the most part) made me decide against it. I will say this, however. I would only give up my CBS admit for one other school, and that is HBS. I understand there are plenty of schools that are generally considered "better" such as Stanford, Wharton, etc. But for me, I would only trade CBS for HBS. But I don't have that decision to make and obviously I'm ecstatic about Columbia :)
Afterwards, my friend and I walked through Cambridge. What a nice town, really! Then we rested and met up with a bunch of her friends for dinner, one of whom was an executive for Teach For America. We called it an early night and then took a taxi to his apartment (where we stayed) in the Back Bay area of Boston, which was reallllly nice. Quite impressive. The small but intimate and high-quality apartments reminded me of Manhattan. We had some really good conversation and had a great night's sleep before waking up for brunch and catching a flight back to DC the next day. All in all, HBS rules, every other school drools (except CBS of course hehe) j/k.