Landing Your Dream EC Schedule

Rory Finnegan, Editor-in-Chief

Professors, administrators, and students share advice and recommendations for EC course selection.

Students arrive at Harvard Business School with little say in how their first year will look academically. It is called “Required Curriculum (RC)” for good reason: all students face the same three-case days, seek help from finance-savvy peers across sections or in their discussion group, and hear from the same impressive guest speakers in the exact same classes.

For some, this lack of optionality is refreshing thanks to the shared experience it creates. However, not everyone enjoys the rigidity of the first year. Those who miss choice look forward to the second year at school – known as the Elective Curriculum (EC) – which affords the freedom to craft individual schedules from a course catalog boasting 100+ options. That is before taking into account the classes HBS students can cross-register in, across Harvard graduate and undergraduate schools and universities such as MIT, and the option to pursue independent studies. Yet after a year of requirements, the idea of choosing everything can seem daunting. We chatted with professors, current EC students, and the MBA registrar team to help demystify the course selection process and learn about favorite classes.

Course Selection

“The registration process for EC year has a number of components,” Nicole Margalit, who works on the MBA registrar team, shared. “It all starts with a pre-registration period, which opens on April 4 – we recommend students rank 40 courses.” The point of this period, and the importance of ranking upwards of 40 courses, is to generate demand data, which the registrar collects and shares back with students to give them a better sense of which classes are generating the most interest. After that, a follow-up window enables students to adjust their rankings based on the data. These rankings are then used to determine initial seatings in classes, and shared with students in mid-August. “You have the chance to go back and adjust over the summer if you want, too,” Nicole reassured me. There is one more opportunity to adjust after the initial class placements in August; students can participate in two rounds of add/drop with the final round occurring at the beginning of the Fall term. Both Nicole and the dozens of EC students I polled emphasized the importance of using the add/drop period. “It’s the best way to get a feel for what classes you like,” Kate Kleinsman (MBA ’23) shared.

Nicole also shared with me more about how students are placed into various courses. “Each student will rank individual preferences in our course selection tool, called EC Toolkit. Placements are done via a lottery that uses a snake draft. Each student is randomly assigned a number, and then the system goes through rankings, starting from the student assigned number one. It then goes back in the opposite direction, starting from whomever had the last number.” 

There have already been rumblings among RCs seeking ways to land the perfect EC schedule. In reality, there is no way to game it, no matter how carefully you consider your rankings. There are always going to be some courses that are more popular than others, and there are only so many seats in a classroom or hours in a day. As Nicole put it, “You will get some of what you want, but not all of what you want. Our aim as a program is to provide a portfolio of offerings that is broad, has a lot of variety, and is innovative.”

Her single most important piece of advice was to put in the time now – both to understand how the ranking tool works, and also to have a clear sense of which courses you would most like to take. “The research part of it and the introspection is really important,” Nicole said. “Use all the inputs available to you. Right now, you still have EC students around to talk to. Attend the events put on by SA and our team to hear from those ECs. Talk to faculty – both your current RC professors and EC professors you want to get to know. Take a look at the course catalog, and read both the descriptions and the course evaluations to better understand how your predecessors experienced it.”

Current EC students shared similar advice about how to prioritize courses based on what they have most enjoyed. “Take classes that other students are excited about because it makes for much better classroom discussion,” one shared. Another had a contrary perspective: “Don’t just sign up for what’s popular. Sign up for what you are interested in.” Most of the ECs I polled agreed that it is useful to consider how courses might fit together. “Take a mix of classes for capstone knowledge and pure enjoyment,” said one. Several suggested that talking to current ECs was the most useful thing – and that RCs shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions, even of ECs they don’t know as well. Another common piece of advice was to think about the skill gaps you want to address. Jose Sarmiento (MBA ’23) suggested “choosing based on future skills that you’ll need in 10 years instead of right now.” Finally, EC students encouraged exploring outside of traditional courses. “Try to take some classes that are not case-based – especially in the second semester, when you may be getting tired of cases,” Sebastian Cisterna (MBA ’23) offered. Bill Leigh (MBA ’23) recommended “cross-registering for at least one class. I loved my time at MIT, where I expanded my professional skills and network in meaningful ways.”

Four Favorite Courses

Leveraging recommendations from current students and data on how quickly courses filled during the 2022-2023 academic year, we’ve selected four much-loved classes to share here, plus a non-comprehensive list of additional favorite courses to consider. 

Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports (BEMS)

Designed for students pursuing a career in film, TV, music, publishing sports, or other sectors associated with entertainment, this class draws from far beyond that pool – perhaps due to the celebrity case protagonists who sometimes show up on campus, or Anita Elberse’s charismatic teaching style. It might also be the “great discussions we have about the ever-evolving worlds of media, entertainment, and sports.” If nothing else, this class serves as a reminder that you can learn about business and have fun at the same time. And also, as Professor Elberse told me, “that there are great careers beyond banking and consulting for Harvard students. Or just that there are great courses to take about topics other than banking and consulting, before you opt for a career in banking or consulting. I have nothing but love for the future bankers and consultants out there, though!”

Crafting Your Life (CYL)

When asked what draws students to her class, Professor Leslie Perlow referenced an article by an HBS alum, Charles Duhigg (MBA ’03), published in The New York Times shortly after attending his 15th reunion. It was titled “Wealthy, Successful and Miserable.” It is a desire to avoid that last part – “miserable – that has made Professor Perlow’s class popular year after year. “HBS students, especially post-pandemic, want to live their best lives. And they are motivated to figure out what that means for them,” she told me. The course doesn’t promise answers, but it does provide tools and tactics to help ECs navigate what lies ahead. Students especially enjoy hearing from frequent alumni visitors, who come to class to share what they have learned since graduating. “The class connects you with a community of alumni that are willing to share their experiences related to career paths, life with a partner, the role of money, and more,” Sebastian Cisterna (MBA ’23) shared. Plus, classmates stay in touch long after graduation – “once the class is done, you become part of the LIFEr community.”

Launching Tech Ventures (LTV)

As the title suggests, this is a course for aspiring founders, joiners, or VC investors. Jeffrey Bussgang, a professor for the course, noted that while the enrolled student base tends to be a pretty sophisticated group of startup types, “tourists are also welcome.” LTV is popular for a number of reasons, including its recently-written cases that allow students to dive into the current startup landscape and the way “founders leap out from the pages and attend in almost every session to share what they did and why,” according to Professor Bussgang. One of his students described the “great mix of cases and workshops” as a reason why they enjoyed it so much. Another major reason to take the course? Relationships. “Students have met their cofounders, lead investors, mentors, and managers in the class,” Professor Bussgang shared, mentioning also the faculty, LTV alumni, and case protagonists who engage in students’ career journeys. The class provides a network that could turn out to be priceless.


With 11 to 13 sections of 60 students each, almost all ECs will take “Negotiation” at some point during their second year. One current EC described the class as “maybe the most useful of all HBS courses, while still fun and a light lift.” As Professor Kevin Mohan, who teaches one section of the class, shared, “We all negotiate all the time in our business and personal lives.” The course covers the basics of negotiation as developed by “giants of the profession” over the last 30 years, but the reason most students love it is because of the way it prepares them for the real world. “We put students in the driver’s seat and let them negotiate, so each student is their own ‘case protagonist’ most days,” Professor Mohan said.

Other classes that come highly recommended from current students are listed below. As a note, course offerings vary from year-to-year, and not all classes listed may be available next year.

  • Business and Geopolitics
  • Business Analysis and Valuation Using Financial Statements and Big Data (BAV) – “BAV is the single most important class you can take at HBS. It’s not a cakewalk, but the skills learned and the concepts are so important to general management.”
  • Capitalism and the State
  • The Coming of Managerial Capitalism
  • Corporate Financial Operations (CFO)
  • Creating Brand Value – “It provided a new lens to the economic value of building a brand.”
  • Elections and Campaigns (ECME) – “ECME was the most engaging class I took at HBS. My classmates were passionate, the guests were amazing, and the professor inspired an incredible tone for the classroom. Applying our business knowledge to a new context was also rewarding, and showed the versatility of our education.”
  • Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism – “It was the most interesting way to look at history that I have ever experienced. The class has a little bit of everything: history, geopolitics, macroeconomics, leadership, ethics, and even personal life drama.”
  • Leadership and Happiness – “This is not a case-based class which is refreshing. Arthur Brooks is a great speaker and the topics in class will help you to navigate your next steps in your life and in your organizations.”
  • Managing Human Capital – “The Professor was incredible, the content was very interesting and universally relevant, and the speakers were great.”
  • Managing International Trade and Investment (MITI) – “Led to some of the best quality discussions at HBS.”
  • Private Equity Finance (PEF)
  • Strategies for Value Creation (SVC) – “An RC class everyone should be asking for.”
  • Transforming Education Through Social Enterprise (TESE)
  • Venture Capital and Private Equity (VCPE)
  • War and Peace

As this list illustrates, dozens of courses across diverse fields are dubbed “favorites” by HBS students. So while you may not get every single class on your top ten list, it is easy to understand why students look forward to the academic adventure of EC year.

Rory Finnegan (MBA ’24) is originally from New Jersey. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in poetry writing in 2018. Prior to HBS, she worked in consulting and CEO communications in New York.