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HARVARD BLUES

What students at the world’s top-ranked business school think it’s doing wrong

Reuters/Adam Hunger
Not all happy customers.
This article is more than 2 years old.

Harvard’s business school might be the most prestigious in the world, and it certainly has a daunting list of prominent alumni. Even so, it turns out some students aren’t completely happy with the experience and education they get there.

A survey by the school’s student newspaper, the Harbus, of about 100 students found that a surprising number wouldn’t suggest that a friend or colleague attend.

Students were asked to rate how likely they would be to recommend the school from one to 10.  The school had a net promoter rating of 51, calculated by totaling the scores of promoters (scores of nine and 10) and subtracting the totaled scores of detractors (scores of one to six.) The Harbus also published the full spreadsheet of responses.

The students seemed to be having a pretty good experience themselves, and many were extremely positive in their comments: ”I absolutely love the school,” one student wrote in response to a survey question. “I feel like I am getting a management education every day just by observing how the school runs itself.”

The most common rating was a 10, by a substantial margin. And statistical career outcomes are pretty good, to say the least: Three years out, the school’s graduates out-earn those of any other business program, averaging $179,910.

But a few things came up often enough to seem like legitimate problems for the revered institution. Many cite the program’s expense as an issue, unsurprising when tuition alone comes to $58,875. Other complaints are about the instruction and culture of the school.

We reached out to HBS for a comment on the survey, but didn’t hear back. We’ll update if get a response.

The culture

While many mentioned their classmates as a highlight, others described an atmosphere that makes people “incredibly insensitive.” A particularly damning comment:

It’s like high school. A lot of people are fake and arrogant. I feel like HBS has turned me into a person that I don’t recognize and don’t like.

Others confirmed some of the manifestations of the class divide at the school that were detailed in a New York Times piece on a secret society of wealthy students known as “Section X” (paywall): especially, that the school’s social life is centered around expensive, booze-laden events and extravagant trips.

Finance and consulting pressure

Students also described pressure to stay on mainstream tracks at the business school. ”It sucks to be different here,” one student wrote. “If you don’t want to go into consulting or finance, go to Stanford.”

This was one of a number of students who had a negative experience in pursuing a career outside of what has long been the post popular track at Harvard. It’s worth noting that both fields have declined somewhat as a career choice since a peak of 65% of the class in 2008. But still, they’re up from last year, and students seem to feel pressure to conform.

Academic complaints

You wouldn’t expect to hear complaints about a lack of rigor from one of the most difficult schools in the world to get into. But such complaints were surprisingly common.

“Make academics more rigorous,” one student wrote. “People are simply here for a vacation, which really makes me feel sorry for all those people who wanted to get in but could not.”

Others expressed a desire for higher level quantitative course options, or more specialized training in career fields.

Of course, any institution is going to see criticism in an anonymous survey, and HBS should be heartened by the praise its students offered as well. But there are clearly areas to improve.

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