Harvard’s Online Biz Program For Undergrads Goes Global

HBS Professor Janice Hammond taping a CORe segment for her course on business analytics

HBS Professor Janice Hammond taping a CORe segment for her course on business analytics

After a pair of highly successful pilot runs, Harvard Business School is now opening its online program in business basics to students worldwide. The school also is inviting admitted MBA students to enroll in the program as a pre-MBA boot camp experience, particularly for non-traditional admits or those who need more basic quant work before showing up on campus.

All told, slightly more than 1,100 students have now taken the primer on the fundamentals of business called CORe (Credential of Readiness) program. In the first beta starting last June, the trio of courses–Business Analytics, Economics for Managers, and Financial Accounting–were open to only undergraduate students in colleges in Massachusetts and alumni. Some 600 students took the $1,500 two-month program. Harvard then tested the suite of courses out on 500 managers at nine different companies in a B-to-B experiment.

For the first time, HBS is now opening up the program–based on case studies and videos–to applicants worldwide, including adult learners who have been out of school up to 10 years, and students already admitted to the school’s full-time, on-campus MBA program this fall. Initially, the program was designed largely for non-business undergraduates who needed the business basics to give them a leg up on the job market when they graduated from college.

These latest changes could put the program in competition with more expensive Executive MBA programs which demand a greater time commitment from managers with 10 or more years of work experience. EMBA programs cover a lot more ground, of course, but Harvard’s imprimatur on this program of business basics could make it appealing to managers who otherwise would attend second-tier EMBA programs. CORe more directly competes with summer business programs for undergraduate students put on by such schools as UC-Berkeley and Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business.


In the initial beta, Harvard discovered that the program attracted a much broader group of students than expected. “We positioned it as a program for Humanities and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) majors,” explains Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX, the name of Harvard Business School’s online initiative. “We ended up getting roughly a third from the Humanities, a third STEM and another third from from economics, social science, and business undergraduates. That was the rough breakdown.”

Surprisingly, 20% of those who enrolled in CORe were graduate students, including students from medical and law schools, and even a PhD in natural science. Almost 20% of the students were international, and 40% were women. “When we opened up the website, we were thinking of only rising juniors and seniors, but we also opened it up to rising sophomores because that is the time when students are trying to get themselves in line for internships,” adds Anand.

Asked to grade how engaging the course materials were on a scale of one to five, with five being the highest grade, 80% of the first batch of students awarded a grade of four or five. On course quality, the approval number hit 86%, while the quality of the course instructors—all endowed professors who teach in Harvard’s full-time MBA program—won a four or five grade from 90% of the participants. “The results are very encouraging,” says Anand. “We are still in the early stages of this journey, but it is really exciting. We have high engagement from participants. We have an established revenue model and, most important, the program reflects who we are.”


Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX

Bharat N. Anand, faculty chair of HBX

HBS says it will now allow applicants anywhere in the world as old as the mid-to-late 30s to apply for start dates in February, April and June. The deadline for applications for the April 15th intake is March 25, while the deadline for the cohort that begins June 3rd will be May 13.

“In the summer group, we restricted it to Massachusetts enrolled students and kids of alumni,” says Anand. “In the fall, we restricted it to B-to-B. Now we are opening it up and it is available to anyone anywhere, up to ten years out of undergraduate. We are gradually increasing the eligibility. There are a lot of career switchers who want to understand business better, even entrepreneurs who have run their own companies but now want to run their firms more systematically. The number of applications we received from people who are 13 or 15 years out of college was fascinating.”

Anand says the cohort starting Feb. 25 will likely number 500 to 1,000 participants and will include a relatively small group of Harvard admits who will come to campus in September for their first year in the MBA program. Like many other business schools, HBS typically held a one-week program called Analytics to get incoming students up to speed on accounting and data. Harvard has decided to give those students who feel they need a jumpstart the option of taking CORE or coming to campus for the residential Analytics program in July or August. He expects roughly 20% of the next incoming class at HBS, some 150 to 200 students out of slightly more than 900, to take CORe this year.

“This is really getting our students to do the program so they are ready to take advantage of the full experience on campus,” believes Anand. “The bulk of the learning experience will now happen through CORe which was designed with these students in mind. The genesis of CORe was asking how can we create a wow experience online so they can get up to speed with the basics of data, accounting and economics before they come on campus. we are now closing the loop and giving admitted students the option of taking it in February, April or June.”

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