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EC Course Selection Starts Now

Two exams down, summer jobs have been found – so what could possibly prevent the outbreak of Ultimate Frisbee and Soccer on Baker Beach?
You’ll hear a lot about it in the coming days and it is, of course, the process of choosing courses for the second year at HBS. This is a somewhat daunting procedure but one which will soon have the entire RC discussing Ws, Xs and Ys, Cross-registration, Field Studies and ISRs, as well as who the favorite Professors are and which courses have the heaviest workload! Fortunately, the end result will be one where the majority of students get most, if not all, of the classes that they choose.

So don’t stress out too much. However, it is important to adhere to the deadlines and make sure that you do your research early.

The basic process is that all students must rank their preferences from a list of courses that will be taught next year. Although most submit a list of 15-20 courses, you will have an opportunity to select up to 30 from a list of over 80 offerings covering everything from Accounting to TOM. Once everyone has submitted their preferences, a computer program will allocate to each student (as fairly as possible – and based on a complex logic with which you will soon become familiar) a total of 10 classes per student.

There are, however, a few extra wrinkles to the process. Namely, that approximately 50% of the class chooses to work on a Field Study or Independent Research and 20% chooses to Cross-Register for courses at other schools in the neighborhood (such as KSG or MIT Sloan).

A Field Study is an opportunity to work in a team (typically three or four students) whereas Independent Research is for individuals. Each team works together with a Faculty supervisor to conduct research, carry out thoughtful analyses and prepare a report and/or final presentation. Topics might be anything from the preparation of a business plan, writing a case, or working with external sponsoring organizations.

My personal suggestion on how to approach the process is set out below but you may also wish to read what other members of OB had to say on the subject (see below).

o Decide whether your focus is on breadth or depth across the 10 different subject areas (academic departments). For example, do you want to take a lot of Marketing Courses and no Finance, or a little of everything ?

o Read up on the course descriptions and then talk to as many people as you can (students and faculty) to understand the differences between offerings. For example, what is the difference between Corporate Financial Engineering (CFE) and Corporate Financial Management (CFM)? Should you take Entrepreneurial Finance (EF), International Entrepreneurial Finance (IEF) or both?

o Consider whether you want to pursue a Field Study, Independent Research or Cross-Register. All of these take extra effort to co-ordinate but the results can be worth it.

o Be aware of the extra options – a sixth course, auditing, and half-courses.

o Watch out for whether a course is paper-based (20 classes and then a paper) or exam-based (30 classes + Exam) and whether this plays to your strengths and interests.

o Make sure you comply with all the deadlines. The best courses fill up and you cannot rely on the Add-Drop process at the beginning of each semester to get a seat. So do your research early and often.

Some Helpful Advice from Anonymous Members of Section OB

How to Choose Courses
o Your top five picks are critical. Research a ton and use them wisely. Find out who the best professors and the best courses are, and estimate demand to maximize your top five. Next five are not so important. Your interests and goals may change six months out, and the good news is that field studies and add-drop DO provide flexibility.

o Choose courses based on the tactical skill set you want to leave HBS with (reading a balance sheet, understanding performance measurement systems, etc.) and the general areas you want to grasp (macro-economics, real estate, private equity, etc). Then find out who the “must have” profs are.

o Take account of the Professor rankings from prior years. In particular, stay with the ‘great’ professors where you can. If you had told me (before the EC year) that I would look forward to a Friday afternoon tax class, I would have shot myself. However, for those who take Hank Reiling’s class, you’ll know what I mean.

o Add it all up, make the call, and don’t stress. You can’t go too wrong in the second year.

Field Studies and Independent Study
o A great opportunity to work directly with a professor and start applying the theoretical frameworks to a real world problem.

o From someone who did one ISR in the Fall and two in the Winter: I have loved them all. Plus, doing them makes my schedule that much better! I didn’t have class on Mondays or Tuesdays all year, and I will only have one exam. This worked out really well for me, as I wanted to visit my [significant other] a lot. Overall though, I don’t think I would have done it if I didn’t have a reason to leave campus so often.

o To do an ISR you have to be okay with working a lot on your own and only interacting with one professor (vs. a whole class), so be prepared for that.

Paper Based or Exam Courses
o The more you can balance the two the better but this should be a secondary criteria.

o In undergrad, I used to love writing papers. I always enjoyed the process, and took great pride in the product. However, after spending five years prior to HBS expressing my thoughts in PowerPoint and short e-mails, I found that writing papers had become a bearish task. It was definitely good to get back into paper writing mode, but it was painful. My advice, be very careful about how paper course / field studies (with major writing components) you take. They are much more work than they initially seem.

Regarding Add/Drop
o I had a great experience with add-drop this semester. Basically, I dropped 3.5 courses that I had signed up for and have ended up relatively happy with the courses and field study I ended up in. I was able to switch into Negotiating Complex Deals, despite it being double-oversubscribed and my not being on the waitlist. What’s interesting is that I took three out of four of my top ranked courses in the fall and LOVED them.

April 26, 2004
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