harvard business school online acceptance rate

Last Updated on December 13, 2022 by

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You need to earn a passing grade in CORe and a B or higher grade in microeconomic theory or economics of business course, without letting your overall Harvard cumulative GPA dip below 3.0.

Eligibility: Before enrolling in any degree-applicable courses, you need to possess a four-year, US regionally accredited bachelor’s degree or its foreign equivalent. You cannot already have or be in the process of earning a master’s degree in management or a related field. The CORe credential cannot be more than three years old at the time of application.

Online education passed a major milestone in January of 2019. That month, Harvard Business School announced that they had rebranded their five-year-old online course platform to link the school’s name with the platform for the first time. Formerly marketed under the HBX brand, the school will now offer their courses under a new brand, “Harvard Business School Online,” complete with a new logo.

Two reasons made the move by HBS remarkable. This step marked a landmark event in the history of online education and received broad coverage in the business press. However, a more controversial second aspect relates to the findings of a study the school conducted revealing that the online program should have received more extensive coverage but didn’t. Everyone interested in online graduate management education needs to understand both aspects of this milestone.

HBS Online: A Milestone for Distance-Based Education

First, there is only one Harvard Business School. In all of graduate management education, no university brand commands the power, respect, and prestige of the Harvard Business School brand. To that extent, Harvard Business School’s rebranding heralds a significant milestone that acknowledges the legitimacy of online education.

“Harvard Business School just signaled a huge shift in online education with a simple name change,” wrote Business Insider. “The name change, and Harvard’s willingness to lend its name to the platform, signals that online learning is entering the mainstream.”

Dr. Joshua Kim, the director of digital learning initiatives at Dartmouth College’s Center for the Advancement of Learning (DCAL), wrote “the rebranding of HBX to Harvard Business School Online is a signal that online education has well and truly arrived. For those of us in the online education game, Harvard Business School rebranding to embrace online is a great development.”

Inside Higher Ed added that “online education is now so widely accepted by faculty members and prospective students that there is ‘little risk associated with extending the Harvard Business School name to the online offering,’” quoting Jason Simon, a partner with higher education marketing consultants SimpsonScarborough. Indeed, HBS may have concluded that they no longer had much choice. Simon told the publication that if HBS didn’t attach its brand name to their online courses, the school might risk losing prospective online students who perceive HBS might not be “active and engaged in the online learning space.”

Career Advantages of the Harvard Business School Online Courses

A second, underreported aspect concerns controversy over surprising the results of a study commissioned by HBS disclosing the career benefits their students attribute to the school’s online courses.

By taking the equivalent of only three undergraduate business courses marketed under Harvard’s brand, a significant percentage of the HBS Online students appear to have achieved career results typically obtainable only through entire graduate management degree programs. Such results include:

  • 25 percent of the respondents said they received a promotion or a change in their job title
  • 53 percent said they received more responsibility in their jobs
  • 30 percent said they transitioned to a new field
  • Half received more attention from recruiters

These are the very results that applicants to most MBA’s, specialized business master’s degrees, and non-degree executive programs want to attain through their enrollment. Such curricula require a minimum of at least a year of graduate management education—not merely three undergraduate courses.

CORe: Harvard Business School’s Credential of Readiness

At the time of this writing, HBS had not yet made the complete course of study available online. So, it could not be precisely identified which HBX courses the 1,000 students polled for the sample actually took. However, more than half of HBX’s 40,000 online students were enrolled in their Credential of Readiness (CORe) program, meaning that accurate random sampling should have resulted in at least half of the sample’s completion of the same three courses.

About a third of each Harvard MBA class typically has not taken college courses in principles of economics, economic statistics, or financial accounting. Harvard’s program traditionally required such incoming MBAs to take all three undergraduate courses in-person during a special late-summer seminar series at HBS. Completion earned students the school’s Credential of Readiness: the CORe certification. In 2014, Harvard repackaged the three CORe seminars into courses available online and shortly afterward, the school placed this online package on sale to the public as a certificate program.

CORe is Harvard’s version of the pre-MBA undergraduate courses most business schools call “foundation” courses. Most schools require students to complete several such courses—sometimes at substantial extra costs—before they permit entry into some or all of their MBA curriculum’s business core courses.

Will HBS Online’s CORe Curriculum Reduce Management Degree Program Enrollments?

Some observers have expressed concern that the public would perceive an alternative credential from an institution with one of the world’s most powerful university brands to have a higher value than degrees from some graduate programs. They suggest that Harvard’s online CORe program could diminish enrollment at tier-2 and tier-3 MBA and MM (specialized masters in management) programs below those ranked among the top 50.

In summary, their argument asks why anyone would commit to at least a year of study, in some cases costing $30,000 or more, from one of those MBA programs given Harvard Business School Online’s alternative. This alternative allows the student to take the equivalent of three undergraduate courses for only $3,600, receive career benefits comparable to an MBA degree, and display the Harvard Business School brand on their resume and LinkedIn profile. When students could pursue the latter option, they ask, who would bother with the former?

Of course, these observers fail to acknowledge that the most significant result—a promotion—was not achieved by roughly three-quarters of the sample. This “acid test” outcome involves one of the most compelling drivers of applications to MBA programs, but in the HBS Online sample, most students did not achieve this result. The proportion of promotions seems too small to justify concerns about large numbers of students enrolling at HBS Online instead of MBA programs like these.

Furthermore, any AACSB-accredited MBA program can equip graduates with the knowledge, analytical skills, and professional connections that far exceed what students will receive from the equivalent of these three undergraduate classes. Students who don’t pursue business degrees after the three CORe courses will fail to learn the most crucial concepts taught in management education.


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