The journey to an MBA program is different for everyone. For current Harvard Business School students Annie Portland, Danny Marquez, and Niko Stahl, taking the online Credential of Readiness (CORe) program was an integral part of their decision to pursue a graduate education.

In a recent Facebook Live event, HBS Assistant Professor Jonas Heese sat down with the students to talk about their motivations for enrolling in CORe, their transition to the MBA program, and their thoughts on what makes the HBS experience unique.

If you weren’t able to tune in for the live discussion, check out a full recording of it below:


The conversation covered a lot of ground and offered valuable insights for prospective business school students. Here’s a look at some of the key topics addressed by the panel.

FROM CORE TO THE HBS MBA

Motivations for Enrolling in CORe


For all three students, the decision to enroll in CORe stemmed from a desire to broaden their understanding of fundamental business concepts and terminology. Stahl and Marquez came to the program with backgrounds in engineering, while Portland was in the process of transitioning to a new role at an education company.

Stahl said he was considering an MBA, and that CORe offered a chance to test the waters of business school.

“CORe was a way for me to explore business before diving into an MBA program,” Stahl said. “[It was] a way to evaluate if an MBA program would be the right thing for me.”

Marquez said his motivations for enrolling in CORe were similar, adding that he saw a benefit in supplementing his technical background in the oil and gas industry with practical business knowledge, regardless of whether he decided to pursue an MBA.

“I wanted to know how to communicate effectively with people from the finance team and think about things with a different perspective than just solely through a technical engineering lens,” Marquez said.

How CORe Served as Valuable Preparation for the MBA Program


The students agreed that CORe’s combination of video content and interactive exercises was an engaging way to learn vital business concepts and prepare for graduate school.

For Portland, the way that CORe leveraged the case method to examine real-world issues faced by companies was particularly beneficial in laying the groundwork for further education.

“Real businesses showed me that a concept on paper that I might find a bit dry and foreign was actually really applicable and easy to understand,” Portland said.

On a more practical level, Stahl said CORe gave him a baseline understanding of financial terminology that he carried into his first year of the MBA program.

“I’d never taken an accounting course,” said Stahl, who previously worked as a software engineer. “Just getting that familiarity with the concepts was super helpful, especially once you start an MBA program and you’re sitting in a class with people who’ve spent the last four years in investment banking.”

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The Decision to Pursue an MBA


A common thread among the panelists was making the decision to pursue an MBA after taking time to self-reflect and explore the benefits of a graduate degree.

Portland said she hadn’t initially planned to go to business school, but her experience in CORe helped her determine that she was ready to take the next step in her education.

“Going through CORe and having time to reflect on my experience and see the value that I got out of it helped me decide I was ready to spend the time and effort to apply to business school,” Portland said.

For Marquez, speaking with former and current business school students about the advantages of being immersed in an educational setting was instrumental to his decision.

“One reoccurring message that I got was that it was a transformational experience,” Marquez said. “Not only from what you learn in the classroom, but because of the people you’re surrounded by.”

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Advantages of the HBS Experience


A major advantage of the Harvard Business School experience, according to the students, has been learning through the case method in the classroom.

Stahl, whose previous coursework was primarily lecture-based, said examining HBS cases has given him a framework for breaking down a complicated problem and determining a course of action.

“The case method has been a really good way to not only learn something in textbooks but to really apply it to the experience around you,” Stahl said. “To help you with that necessary step of really extracting the things that matter in a real-world situation.”

Beyond participating in case discussions, the students noted that being part of a section—a group of 90 students who complete the required curriculum together—has been highly formative during their time in the MBA program.

“It’s a very attainable way to get to know such a wonderful cross-section of HBS,” Portland said. “I’ve learned so much both inside and out of the classroom from them.”

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Advice for Prospective Business School Students


Weighing the option of business school requires a great deal of introspection, the panelists said.

“Be really honest with yourself about why you’re applying,” Portland said. “Understanding what drew me to the MBA and what I hoped to get out of it made all the difference.”

Marquez highlighted that it’s also important to understand the areas where you excel and where there’s room for you to improve before beginning your MBA journey.

“Dig deep for what your strengths and what your weaknesses are, because through school, you’ll have so many opportunities to enhance your strengths and allay some of your weaknesses,” Marquez said.

DETERMINING YOUR NEXT STEPS

If you’re considering business school and are in the process of figuring out the road to get there, the insights shared during the Facebook Live discussion can help you gain the perspective needed to decide your next move.

Are you interested in exploring what CORe can do for you? Learn more about how the program’s three-course curriculum can develop your business intuition and prepare you for the rigors of the MBA classroom.

Matt Gavin

About the Author

Matt Gavin is a member of the marketing team at Harvard Business School Online. Prior to returning to his home state of Massachusetts and joining HBS Online, he lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he held roles in content writing and social media. He has a background in video production, and previously worked on several documentary films for Boston’s PBS station, WGBH. In his spare time, he enjoys running, cycling, exploring New England, and spending time with his family.