The 60-hour Shopping Spree

Man with shopping bags“This is exhausting.” 

“I’m so confused. I don’t know what’s going on.”

“This is awful.  I feel miserable.”

No, these students are not describing the management consulting interview process, nor are they lamenting multiple three-case days in a row //  Though problematic in their own right, they do not compare to what should be one of the most enjoyable times of the year—EC Course Selection and Add/Drop.

In fact, the reason why the process is so miserable is in part due to the high expectations that students have for the ability to select their own courses.  In the EC year, students finally get the opportunity not just to imagine doing what they always wanted to do, but to structure their curriculum to achieve those goals.  Unfortunately, to the detriment of the student body, the Add/Drop period is much too short and too complex.  Challenges in the process not only add undue strain to the beginning of the year, they force many students to follow the herd and not fully explore their true passions.

What goes wrong?

First, and most understandably, students do not receive all of their top choices for classes.  This is to be expected.  However, students are then given two class days to shop for potential alternatives if their schedules do not turn out to be all that they hoped for replica watches.  In reality, since each class is taught every other day, students are actually given one chance to explore each course, and if flights to Boston are cancelled due to a hurricane, that period might be even shorter.

Shopping in and of itself is a challenge.  Because of overlapping class schedules as well as norms regarding leaving in the middle of class, the number of courses that students can effectively test is limited.  Add to that the fact that half of the first class is dedicated to logistics, and the amount of time that students get to actually experience a class is limited to non-existent.

If students then want to actually switch classes, they have to use “the tool,” which requires three case studies, multiple advanced degrees, and a self-help line to figure out.  In fairness, HBS Academic Services is extremely helpful and quick to respond to questions about Add/Drop.  They are in fact the only reasons that Add/Drop functions as well as it does.  However, it does not change the fact that the process requires from us a significant portion of our most valuable possession: our time.

How do students respond?

To deal with the complexity of the situation, students turn to what they know best.  Instead of experiencing classes for themselves, students turn to their friends, classmates, and prior course reviews to determine what to take.  They take courses with high average survey scores or that their friends recommend.  But what happens to the courses with low average satisfaction scores but a high variance?   What about the courses which many students may have been unhappy with, but were life-changing experiences for others?  These are the courses which a student is potentially missing out on.  These are the courses which a student will never have the chance to experience.

In his opening remarks at the beginning of the school year, Professor Tom Eisenmann described the evolutionary benefits of herding.  He went further to describe that one must decide which herd to follow, and whether to be a wildebeest or a gazelle.  Many HBS students however are neither.  A herd has yet to form for them.  A longer Add/Drop would allow students to best figure out their own path, and to form their own herd if necessary.  It is this freedom which will enable every student to achieve the most from an HBS education.