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Harvard HBX CORe Review | Worth it or not

Harvard HBX CORe Review

It made academia sit up and take notice when it launched as a beta version in June 2014. Some believed the ‘classroom of the future’ had arrived; others, at a loss for words, called it ‘reality TV’ in education. Most of all, this technological phenomenon had Harvard Business School (HBS) revelling in its own achievement.

Harvard’s online learning initiative broke all the rules. HBX Live, a component of the HBX initiative, has been creating quite a buzz. It is broadcast from a television studio, where Bharat Anand, faculty chair of the program, addresses a high-res video wall that contains the live images of the students taking the class. A futuristic, virtual classroom that brought students together, from all over the world, to take a Harvard-designed program in business – in real time.

Anand might as well be angling for an Emmy, for as his students register their virtual presence, he strolls around the studio, talking, moderating, tossing questions and facilitating discussions while a roaming camera captures his every move.

Virtually smashing through the clutter in the online teaching space, HBX CORe (short for – Credential of Readiness) is an 11-week, self-paced, pre-MBA program (150 hours) that provides a foundation in business. Consisting of three modules – Business Analytics, Economics for Managers and Financial Accounting – it aims to make you conversant with the language of business.

The technical wizardy used to deliver the course is jaw-dropping – it replicates the interactive nature of a classroom while also being engaging, vibrant and exciting – the USP of this course is that it is centred around HBS’s famed case-study approach to teaching, the biggest plus for those paying $1,800 for the program.

According to an HBX representative, “Under the umbrella of HBX, there are three learning models, or platforms: HBX CORe, HBX Live and HBX Courses. Though HBX has experimented with using HBX Live for a variety of purposes and will continue to explore how to best integrate Live with other HBX offerings, it is not a major component of CORe.”

Who is it aimed at?

HBX CORe was initially designed as a primer for candidates enrolled at HBS for its full-time MBA program. Its fancy price tag notwithstanding, it was pitched as boot camp for students whose academic background did not prepare them for a business education and who would be brought up to speed with those who did, so that they would not be overwhelmed by the rigorous MBA program.

An integral element of HBX CORe is the high degree of interactivity it introduces to online learning. Each 5-minute video that peppers the course is backed by the instructor calling upon students at random to answer questions – mimicking a classroom.

Students can also create profiles and ask and answer each other’s questions on discussion boards. At the end of 11 weeks, students take a 3-hour, computer-based exam at a designated test centre, and are assigned one of the following grades – fail, pass, honors and high honors.

Is the Harvard HBX CORe worth the time & money?

Being a Harvard-designed course, HBX CORe delivers on its promise to prep you in basic business concepts. At the end of a very intense 11 weeks, you will be fairly conversant with business jargon and able to communicate with peers and other professionals on an (almost) equal footing.

Since the course uses Harvard’s signature case study-based approach to learning, it gives non-MBA candidates a taste of HBS’s powerful, hands-on teaching methodology. It may not be a mainstream HBS program but HBX CORe does carry the ‘Harvard’ tag, even if obliquely, and for many that’s reason enough to sign up.

Those who have taken the course say it is packed with videos of professionals from the business world, which makes it very relatable. What’s more, the interactive platform is fun and keeps students riveted throughout.

And here’s the thing about the HBX certification. It is by no stretch an MBA degree but, unlike platforms like Coursera, you can include it on your resume. If you pass with ‘honors’ or ‘high honors’, so much the better!


What the naysayers say

The cynics call HBX CORe a cash cow packaged in slick and convincing marketing. By pitching it as a primer for students enrolled in an MBA program, any MBA program, they enjoy a dual advantage.

Pre-MBA students at Harvard are more likely than not to take the HBX course, while students enrolled with an MBA program elsewhere but who also take the HBX primer become social ambassadors for the ‘Harvard’ brand. And we know just how powerful ‘social’ is as a marketing tool today.

The HBX catchphrase is, well, very catchy: ‘CORe can make sure you’re ready to contribute (to the MBA program) on day one.’

Then, realizing late that there may be a bigger market waiting to be captured, HBX made another pitch. It no longer aimed at ‘pre-MBA’ candidates but also at any and everyone starting their careers. Emphasising the ‘universal’ nature of the course, they suggested that all young professionals would benefit from it.

While there’s nothing wrong with selling an educational program with slick marketing, guard against getting overwhelmed by the ‘Harvard’ tag. Critics point out that the course is not selective or exclusive enough, with only 15 per cent applicants being turned down, mainly because their application forms were not filled out properly.

Also, the course holds little value in terms of leverage in the real world. While apt to mention on your resume, it will not earn you any brownie points during recruitment interviews.

Finally, HBX CORe simply does not give you the networking and career opportunities that you get from a full-fledged MBA program.

Sum and substance

Harvard is not pitching the HBX CORe as a substitute for an MBA program; only a supremely engaging and very enlightening introduction to business.

So if you think you will benefit from enhanced business knowledge and can afford the price tag, it could be a good investment.

In contrast, if you are looking for a solid time-tested qualification with a measureable career impact and proven RoI, this may not be the one for you. Skip the excitement and stick to the boring traditional degree.

Read these related posts:
Harvard online certificate courses (Interview with HBX Executive Director)
Indian applicant who rejected the Harvard MBA admit
Which MBA program beats Harvard MBA in value
Harvard may not be the best MBA for you

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 | Image: source

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

8 thoughts on “Harvard HBX CORe Review | Worth it or not”


    This is definitely NOT a substitute for an MBA program, but rather a great dose of business basics for those who never had the opportunity to take courses in accounting, economics and financial analysis. It is something of a Pre – MBA that can help your chances of getting into a very good MBA program because 1) if you do well, it could allay any concerns by admissions that you’ll have trouble with Quant work, 2) it shows your keen interest in business, 3) there is a transcript and a brand that will make your application stand out. The HBX program may be similar to the UVA and UNC programs you cite, but of course the HBS imprimatur means a lot here in terms of your resume, whether to eventually apply for an MBA or not.

    • Good points. But it won’t be correct to take it up, in the hope that it’ll improve the chances of a top MBA admit. There are other more impactful ways for applicants to improve their profile.

  2. Hey! Sumeer, Anugya here. I am doing BBA program of first year student at Jamia Milia Islamia University. I have applied for sustainable Business Strategy program in HBX but haven’t completed the application yet because I got confused what if my BBA degree got collapse with this HBX program. Will it affect my BBA degree as I am an under graduate applicant? Should I complete the application? Kindly, guide me I need your help regarding this program.

  3. heyy. I’m chitrashee, currently pursuing Law from Institute of management Studies noida, is it good for me to apply for this program? will this help in my career as corporate lawyer?

  4. Hi,
    I am B.Com and working as an accountant in Saudi Arabia.
    Can this course i.e. CORe improve my position in the job market?

    Please do advise.

  5. Hi Sameer sir,

    I am having a history of 8 backlogs and relatively poor academics.
    But that was due to my lack of maturity at that time as all backlogs were in first year.

    I recently got admitted into this Core program.
    I am targeting medium level bschools in north america.
    Along with a good gmat score can this credential really improve my chances of getting an admit in a top 50 bschool in north america.
    Can an improvement of grade in this program strengthen my application by any chance.

  6. Thank you for this piece,
    I am currently completing an MBA in “some school” with no reputation like Harvard; is it advisable I do the CORe program to boost my resume? just to have HBS on my profile? It will cost me almost a million bucks in my own currency.


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