We shared our review on the HBX CORe program and then followed it up with an interview with the Executive Director of HBX (read it here: Harvard online certificate courses are not just for MBA degree aspirants). We thought it would be fitting to complete the series by finding out what past participants of HBX CORe had to say.
In this article, three Indian students who attended the HBX CORe program talk about their initial expectations, program format, application process, challenges, what’s good, what could be better, and the final exam.
MBA Crystal Ball: What’s your qualification and professional background?
Priti Vakil: I am a Senior Account Director at Level 3 Communications. I joined the team in 2016 after having been with multiple major global solution providers, integrating technology into operations to drive new revenue and profitability. My experience is in developing managed solutions, optimizing technology applications and creating software defined, orchestrated networks.
Asit Das: I am an engineer (B.Tech) specializing in Computer Technology. I possess close to 13 years of experience working in Supply Chain & Advanced Planning in ERP.
I spent close to seven years with Oracle and have been with Stryker for the last four years. I am also involved in the digital transformation program for Stryker.
Gaurang Manjrekar: I am a technology consultant for a big four accounting firm in New York City. I am part of their advisory practice for the financial services division. I work with financial clients which are mostly banks, asset management, and insurance companies to provide advisory solutions to solve business problems that arise in the technology and operations space.
I am also the founder of Football Paradise and the co-founder of Liverpool FC 360, blogs focused on European football and Liverpool FC, respectively. Occasionally, I write for Liverpool FC as well as for the Liverpool Mumbai Supporters’ club.
MBA Crystal Ball: When and why did you start thinking of gaining a formal management qualification?
Priti Vakil: Enhancing my finance, business, leadership and strategic thinking skills with my clients was a key driver. The ability to understand, collaborate and use best practices in these decisions and within my organization were critical to my success. This led me to explore various options in the current market. There were a few limitations in my case based on school brand and reputation, geography, full time vs. part time commitment and other work responsibilities. However, gaining a global perspective and having a method of study that resonated was a critical factor.
Asit Das: I had been thinking about gaining a formal management qualification since 2008, but at the time I was pursuing an aspiration in Indian Administrative Services and chose to continue on that path.
Gaurang Manjrekar: I come from a fairly technical background as I have an undergraduate degree in Electronics Engineering and a Master’s in Information Systems. My primary motivation for taking HBX CORe was to capitalize on the traction that both of my football blogs have recently gained. With 200,000 fans, I knew I had built a good fan base, but I wanted to make it more robust, sustainable, scalable, and financially viable – and I had no idea how I should proceed further!
Moreover, I was at a stage where I wanted to be exposed to a pre-MBA course; one that will introduce me to the fundamentals of business. To that effect, HBX CORe was perfectly aligned with my goals – there is no better school to start your business education with than Harvard Business School!
MBA Crystal Ball: What were the different (online and offline) options you considered? What were the pros and cons of each option?
Priti Vakil: There were several options at the time, and while I explored the industry specific classes from independent firms, the business programs were on platforms such as EDx and Coursera. These Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) didn’t hold the accountability and engagement that I was looking for. They also did little to encourage the social engagement of our peers from the global community. While the free classes (a pro!) had a diverse area of study and a significant number of major universities participating such as MIT, Harvard, Berkley, Sorbonne, IIT Bombay and UPenn, they lacked the interaction and grasp of content that HBX offered. They also had low class completion rates. I started 2 classes and finished them but my third and fourth were harder complete.
Asit Das: I have taken few courses with Edx, like Operations Management and Big Data, as they were free, and I felt they would give me a good understanding of the topics.
After taking HBX, I realized how high-quality content backed up by thorough research and the case study method helps in learning about business fundamentals. And working through different exercises, practice questions and discussions with such a vast and diverse group of students helps more than anything to get a solid foundation, as people are sharing their experiences. Valuation of the course is definitely one such aspect that is on people’s radar while taking courses like this. I haven’t taken any course offline so far.
Gaurang Manjrekar: I had only considered online courses due to my work schedule – mainly other open courses online, like Coursera and Udemy. However, since I’ve had a bad experience with completing any of their previous online courses, I decided to give HBX an attempt.
MBA Crystal Ball: What made you pick HBX CORe over the others?
Priti Vakil: HBX has built the technology platform from the ground up to engage and allow each student to voice their thoughts, voice how each principle learned via the case method applies to their work environment or their company. I sought to learn via the Harvard case method and learn from my cohort that comprised participants from all major areas of the globe. There is peer help and interactive questioning that forces you to reflect, think about the principles in a new light, and apply them immediately to your real world problems.
For HBX, I applied and was accepted into the inaugural Disruptive Strategy with Clayton Christensen first. That class was one of the best online experiences I’ve ever had as it truly set up each weekly module in the case methodology and we dug deep into the problems facing different organizations and worked to solve their challenges. The positive experience of this class led me to apply for CORe.
For HBX CORe specifically, HBX has integrated all three fundamental classes together so your learning is comprehensive, collaborative and integrated with the principles of Economics, Financial Accounting and Business Analytics. These classes, in my opinion, go hand in hand and structuring them together like you might have in a semester in B school, is brilliant.
Asit Das: While I was considering taking HBX CORe, two things enticed me: the quality of the course content and the belief in Harvard Business School’s brand.
Gaurang Manjrekar: Partially same as previous answer – HBS Brand, lack of motivation to complete online courses, commitment towards HBS and strict deadlines.
MBA Crystal Ball: Describe your application experience.
Priti Vakil: The application experience was very straight forward and stress-free. HBX makes it very simple to apply and express interest in joining the cohort. All basic information is required: Contact, Education, Work Experience, and Essay but it also requires some aptitude to answer the assessment questions. Responses are received within 2-3 weeks upon which you pay for the classes, if accepted. The fee was significant enough to gain my commitment to succeed and finish the course, but it was not unreasonable.
Asit Das: Very methodical and systematic. Especially unique were the thought-provoking questions like, “Why do I want to take up this program and what value do I think it will add for me?”The application also asks you to share your LinkedIn profile, kind of ensures that credible students are applying to the program. The admissions team of HBX screened through each application. I was lucky to have been accepted for the program –I do know a few people who were not.
Gaurang Manjrekar: I don’t quite remember the exact application experience here, since I’ve done several other courses after that and filled out many applications! But I do remember it was a pretty seamless experience with one essay.
MBA Crystal Ball: Describe a typical week when you were managing the program as well as your work.
Priti Vakil: The program is very transparent in the weekly commitments the classes require from hours invested, projects, quizzes, etc. It’s up to you to ensure that you start the class early in the week and did not procrastinate to the night before the deadline. At the HBX ConneXt in May 2016, Janice Hammond, the HBX CORe Business Analytics Professor, put up a heat map showing when students work. The analysis showed that those students that evenly distributed their course work, did exceptionally well and were more likely to pass with high honors.
For me, I started out fairly distributed in the course with about 2-3 hours a day. I did find that as travel and work projects got more involved, it was harder to maintain the weekly distribution and weekly quiz grades if I didn’t start early. Maintaining approximately 2 hours a day was the best formula.
Asit Das: For me, the period when I was taking this program was tough. I was travelling a lot at that time, so I always had to hurry and take up the program at the last hour. The program modules had a timeline to finish,along with quizzes to complete in time. I also realized people who were regular at the start and spent the time on the platform everyday were very comfortable in completing the assignments and quizzes. My advice is to be disciplined and regular, and if you know the period is going to be a busy time for you, don’t sign up for the program during that cohort.
Gaurang Manjrekar: I had set expectations with my manager about managing HBX along with my work at EY, and therefore, had a hard deadline at 5-5.30 every day. I could easily manage my time in the evening after office hours. Likewise, the weekends were also completely dedicated to HBX.
MBA Crystal Ball: What challenges did you encounter? How did you deal with them?
Priti Vakil: My biggest challenge was time constraint. I wanted to throw myself into every week, every topic and every discussion, but found that time was a key factor because I didn’t want to fall behind. Workload, meetings, clients, and family commitments were other factors. I found a happy balance that allowed me to succeed in each. HBX also provided visual reminders and progress bars that kept the modules timelines front and center.
Asit Das: For me, clearly, workload and travel stress was the biggest challenge. I somehow had the fire to complete this and honestly struggled a little bit to complete the program. It was worth the struggle, I would say.
Gaurang Manjrekar: As a technology consultant, my travel schedule was set at flying on Sunday evenings and returning on Thursday nights. However, in September 2015, one of my start-ups, LFC 360 was nominated for the annual Football Blogging Awards held in Manchester, UK – an event which extended my travel to three continents and five time zones in the space of the 12 weeks I was enrolled in HBX CORe. I had neither predicted nor prepared for an erratic travel schedule like this when I signed up for CORe. But good support from my manager, family, and friends gave helped me navigate through this tough time.
MBA Crystal Ball: Describe the final exam experience.
Priti Vakil: Like all things HBX, the final exam was transparent in nature for me and the team really worked with the cohort to provide key study material, application of case studies, real life applications, and analysis of the information. It was taken in an independent testing facility and the HBX team worked with Pearson Vue if any issues arose. It was three hours long applying one hour per subject. While the timing can seem tight, it is sufficient for the multiple choice computerized tests.
Asit Das: The final exam was cool. I was confident about the concepts, as they had been explained very well. A few questions were tricky and my lack of solid revision led to this. But overall a very satisfying experience, especially when I was reflecting on how much I had learned in the past 10-12 weeks.
Gaurang Manjrekar: The exam was at a Pearson centre near me, and HBX had prepared me well with its test exams. Moreover, the course was so well designed that the content ‘sticks’ with you. Review didn’t take time, and the final exam was a thorough reflection of the 10 weeks of HBX.
MBA Crystal Ball: What were your expectations before joining? How many of these have been met?
Priti Vakil: My expectations were very high. I learn visually and actively. Listening to video segments may illustrate the learning principles and key ideas behind the topic, but I needed to actively learn by applying the material, reflecting, discussing with peers, raising alternate problems where those ideas could be applied and collaborating on solving those real world issues. These were all met in the interactive platform that HBX has built.
Personally, it has helped me understand how businesses grow, how they are measured, what strategies they should implement to generate profits and revenue, and how they can lead their industry with varying processes and principles. This has helped my career progress and my understanding of the ecosystem evolve to where I have been able to chart my successes better.
Asit Das: My expectations were:
1. Networking with some diverse, great and creative minds.
2. Concept understanding.
3. Application of the concepts in my day-to-day work and what’s happening in the news.
4. Certificate from HBS / HBX.
For me all of the expectations were overwhelmingly met, and I look forward to setting much higher expectations for myself.
Gaurang Manjrekar: I had very specific intentions of joining HBX. I wanted to gain a good understanding of economics and accounting.
MBA Crystal Ball: What were the best parts of the program? Was there any specific subject or professor you enjoyed learning from?
Priti Vakil: Honestly, all three were fantastic in their own domains. These classes are taught by very articulate and accomplished Harvard Business School Professors. A personal favorite was Economics for Managers with Professor Bharat Anand, because in my world, it describes how the world works. Financial Accounting with Professor V.G. Narayan was more than relevant for me, because it was the language of business. If you don’t have a business background, it can be taken for granted how much financial accounting rules day to day decision making. I studied Bio-engineering at Texas A&M University and didn’t focus on business until the relevance became eye opening and impactful!
Asit Das: It’s really difficult for me to pin-point any specific part of the program as best. It was a great package, which I embraced, and I have started seeing its benefits. Accounting and Economics for Managers were great, as they gave some great insights about the nerves of business. I loved among all, Professor Bharat Anand. I am a big fan of his and kind of consider him an idol. His teaching style and the way he presents was something out of this world. I would love to take up more course specific to Economics for Managers, as that is an area which would go very well in my top interest area of Strategy.
Gaurang Manjrekar: I loved many aspects of the program, and it is hard to pinpoint one. The course is well-designed, and the case study methodology implemented throughout the course helps in gaining real-world perspective on all the concepts. Not only do you get to know the underlying theories and fundamental principles of business, but they are also backed by real-world applications and implications. Listening to insights, problems, and perspectives faced by professionals in multiple companies – small and large, across different industries – helped a lot in developing a holistic understanding of the material. It was a fantastic experience!
Another aspect which I loved and cannot emphasize enough is the fact that HBX CORe does not feel like a virtual program. It sounds strange, but I’ve already been to two meetups with the NYC group and we are planning to have a third one soon! I’ve gotten the opportunity to get in touch with some fantastic people from across the globe.
MBA Crystal Ball: What are the top 3 things about the course that you’d like to change?
Priti Vakil: While the program is well planned and some cohorts do offer varying program lengths, my request would be to offer a longer program time to allow more active learning, reflection and social engagement on certain topics.
Asit Das: 1. More live events.
2. More interaction with Professors – open forum kind.
3. Bundle of case studies covered at the end (at least the names).
Gaurang Manjrekar: Hectic! I found the course to be a bit demanding from the perspective of time-commitment required. I found it really difficult to allocate time away from office hours, and having any free time to myself for the duration of CORe.
A smaller cohort would also be excellent to maintain HBS’ brand value.
MBA Crystal Ball: What should other candidates know about the program before they join?
Priti Vakil: HBX is a one of a kind experience that truly has the Harvard Business School name and brand behind it. They have taken the learning principles and case methodology to a new technological platform with social learning and active engagement. It’s a win – win, for the school and for the aspiring student.
Asit Das: Candidates shouldn’t take the program just because it is delivered by HBS in the case-study style. They should be clear if it will help them in their career and how. They should go through the course content and index thoroughly to understand the expectations. And most important, the time commitment has to be thought through. This is not like other online courses, which can be brushed aside at times but still completed – one needs to be committed and passionate to succeed in the program.
Gaurang Manjrekar: Have fun! To make sure you’re getting the most out of the program, you must engage and involve yourself with the material and the cohort. It is a fantastic platform designed for you to learn and grow. The content is well-structured, and the course is well-paced for you to learn experientially. You will be exposed to tons of quality content and will be provided an equal amount of practice. Make sure you make the right use of it!
A few things you should remember to get the most out of the course:
First, understand that CORe will demand time. Time management is the most essential skill required to gain the most out of the course. Make sure you allot a good amount of time that you can invest into the course on a daily basis. From my experience, I’ve noticed that it is equally important to get your loved ones on board – it can be your family, your relationship, your best friend, or your manager at work. Make sure you clearly communicate the time commitment you’ll need to complete CORe.
Second, you must understand the real objective behind taking CORe. You can complete the coursework quickly if you wish or instead spend a good amount of time going through the material. The entire value lies in completely immersing yourself into the coursework provided so that once you have completed the course, you’re equipped with the right toolkit to tackle business problems in your life. Remember that even though this is an introductory course, it goes well beyond the basics. Take advantage of the amount of content provided by soaking in as much as possible.
Third, learn from your cohort! These students are hand-picked from diverse backgrounds with a vast range of work experiences and an excellent educational background. Make complete use of the peer help section to interact with and learn from each other.
Last but not least, there is a good chance that there are a few people in your region who are part of your cohort. Reach out, make a connection, and you’ll be amazed to see the amount of quality work that people are doing in addition to managing HBX. Good luck, and have fun!