HBS electives – how to impress the machine, not the humans…


The HBS electives wheel of fortune...

The HBS electives wheel of fortune…

Summer is slowly coming to an end – my life as a second-year HBS student is about to start. Those who think that after having spent one year at HBS there are much less uncertainties concerning the upcoming year are wrong. It’s mid-August, and I have no idea what to expect from my upcoming academic experience.

The first year at HBS is composed of a mandatory program for all; the second year is one of elective courses. Each student gets to compose his own scholar program from scratch, choosing between more than 100 courses (113 to be exact – find an overview HERE). And this only includes the courses offered at the business school. Students are allowed to cross-enroll in other courses at other programs at Harvard or nearby MIT.

The HBS algorithm...

The HBS algorithm…

However, spaces are limited. And as always, there are the popular courses and those that are less in demand. To align capacity with demand, HBS uses a simple allocation algorithm to assign courses to students. Each student gets to enter a list with the courses he/she wants to follow. The algorithm will then assign the courses to the students according to the priority given to them. As such, if you want to be sure to be enrolled in the popular HBS course “Authentic Leadership Development”, you’d better fill the top of your list with all the different time-slots available for that course. Doing so will increase your chances of getting enrolled to this course, but then might decrease your chances of being entered into another course (as those will thus be ranked lower in your list). Moreover, one has to consider the quality of different professors teaching the same course and avoid overlapping time-frames for different courses. Quite the headache.

Even dean Nohria doesn't get a say in the electives allocation...

Even Dean Nohria doesn’t get a say in the electives allocation…

It is interesting how, once accepted to HBS, the school lets algorithms decide on things like course allocations and FIELD 2 destinations (read more about FIELD 2 at HBS HERE). The whole application process at HBS seems focused around people judging on your profile and competencies. A straight 800 GMAT score alone is not a criteria for acceptance. Nor will perfect essays or grades. Not something a computer can decide on. However, once accepted at HBS, it seems that HBS considers its students as a bunch of equals. A top-notch academic performance in your first year at HBS will not get you a VIP treatment for the course selection for your second year. As such, HBS did not want to create additional competition between students in that field. Or do they just want to avoid the additional headache of having to screen the students over and over again?

Anyhow, here we are. Mid-way in August. And the HBS algorithm has not yet opened up its secrets to the 900 students who will start their EC year (Elective Curriculum) in just a couple of weeks. As such, I have no idea yet of which courses I made it into. Nor do I have an idea of what my weekly schedule for the coming year will look like. And to be honest, I feel the time has come for me to know.

Not only do I want to know what courses I will have, but I also want to know about my class schedule. When am I expected on campus and when can I plan other activities or trips? Did I manage to trick the algorithm into getting me my top choices? And will I have any of the top professors at HBS?

The algorithms of HBS seem as unpredictable and secretive as the admissions process at HBS. I guess only time will clarify…

Enjoy what’s left of August!

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2 responses to “HBS electives – how to impress the machine, not the humans…

  1. Pingback: HBS breaks – Work hard OR play hard | HBS Times

  2. Pingback: Second year at HBS – last but not least? | HBS Times

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