Not Just "Math Camp": HBS Prematriculation Programs

The Admissions Committee’s ability to shape an MBA cohort out of the enormous pile of qualified applicants is truly an art form. “We admit a group of incredibly capable and…diverse people every year,” says Brit Dewey, Managing Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid. “The richness of diversity makes the experience at HBS.”

But along with diversity comes varying degrees of preparation. The only absolute requirements for admission are an undergraduate degree, standardized tests (GMAT and TOEFL), and completion of the application.
Enter HBS’ pre-matriculation programs, which Melissa Trotta, Director of the Analytics Program and Assistant Director of MBA Academic Affairs, describes as “a portfolio of products designed to make the most effective experience for candidates to begin HBS.” Programs include the online finance and accounting tutorials, the five-week Pre-MBA program designed for international students (54 participants), and of course, the two-week Analytics program attended by 132 members of the Class of 2003.

The first students to arrive on campus were the Pre-MBAs, who had a full five weeks to become accustomed to life at Harvard and to learning via the case method. Students were taught by outside experts in writing, business English and presentation skills. They also took part in a few mock-case discussions.

A few weeks later, on came the Analytics group. The program is designed for “students who think they are the only ones from an unconventional background to see that there are others,” Trotta said.

Chris Bardon (NH) concurs. “Socially, the interactions there really alleviated the anxiety associated with the start of HBS. We realized that we were all `weirdos’, given our unique backgrounds in medicine, the priesthood, engineering, or the military.”

What exactly is Analytics? For those of us who did not attend, Sava Marinkovich (NG) paints a picture: “I’ll put it this way-imagine going through Foundations with only two sections, but you stay in the same section and you sit in the same seat and you have social events all the time. Take the worries about finding a study group out (you’re assigned one the first night), and you have Analytics.”

The program has three segments: Quantitative Analysis, Accounting and Corporate Finance. While it is not intended to introduce students to concepts, it is designed to help them apply what they may have already learned in the classroom context. Nate Kring (NE) says, “I found that (Analytics) really attacked my weaknesses and did a good job of setting a solid foundation in accounting and TOM in particular.”

Trotta acknowledges that “analytics is intense-it’s a lot of work.” Kring agrees. Academically, I found it to be very challenging. I learned more in two weeks about accounting and finance than some in a regular classroom setting have learned in an entire semester.”

By all accounts, the faculty excelled. Bardon reports that Sam Hayes (finance), Frances Frei (TOM), and Jake Cohen (accounting) were “absolutely great…Jake made even boring old accounting entertaining. Frances was tough but really helped us to understand the socialization process of HBS-what types of behavior were appropriate, etc.”

Marinkovich says of Hayes, “this guy sits on the Board of Directors at Tiffany’s, gives advice to CEOs, and then comes to our class to explain to us what Return on Equity ratios mean in the most simple terms possible. THAT is someone dedicated to HBS students.”

Aside from the terrific academic experience, it appears that Analytics attendees have the added benefit of gaining a leg up on the rest of us in the social realm as well. Trotta says that while “academics are the focus…you see lots of great friendships that develop at HBS from the pre-matriculation programs.”

Frances Frei, who works with Sam Hayes to head up the academic portion of Analytics, adds that one of the main benefits she sees from the program is that students quickly learn to help each other. She attributes this “gift” to Sam Hayes, who she says “sets up an environment where participants are thrown into the deep end and they have no choice but to help each other and give as much as they can.” Frei has noticed that this indoctrination sticks with Analytics attendees, who are often among the first in their sections to set up student run review sessions.
Frei sees a consistent pattern in Analytics attendees’ attitude toward the program: “They start out resentful at having to shave off another two weeks from their summer. People look around and wonder, `Why am I here? I’m smarter than these people’.”

Bardon says, “I even wrote letters to the admissions committee trying to get out! I was convinced that I didn’t need the education and with two weeks and $2500 I could have a pretty nice Hawaiian vacation.” Then Frei says that all that changes by the end of day one, at which point students think, `oh my God.’ “They’re no longer resentful,” she says. “But they think everyone else is smarter than they are and they contemplate dropping out of HBS. At the end of week one, students realize that they will not need to drop out. And by the end of week two, they say `thank you, thank you, thank you.'”