College Student

Snapshot of Harvard SVMP 2013: Case Study Method Magnified

harvardHarvard Summer Venture in Management Program – one of the most transforming prospective MBA programs a college student takes part in – just graduated its 31st class of business students this summer. As a graduate of this program, I acknowledge the tremendous honor and opportunity it was to join a classroom of students from around the country to learn the case study method in Harvard Business School.

About the Case Study Method

Pioneered by HBS faculty, the method is more than a century old and has continued to provide an innovative approach to classroom learning as students exchange perspectives and information from their various business backgrounds to tackle challenges confronting leading companies, nonprofits, and government organizations.

Students are expected to place themselves in the role of a particular decision maker as they read through their circumstances in leadership and identify the problem that leader faced. Given a total of sixteen cases during the length of the program, we analyzed quantitative and qualitative data to pinpoint causes and courses of action to address these issues. In this classroom dynamic, students teach each other while talking around 85% of the time.

The case study material was taken directly from the MBA curriculum, and even though professors have been teaching these cases for years, no case study results are the same as their previous classes. This is partly due to the fact that each student brings a different set of knowledge and experience to the course. According to HBS, their business school produces some 350 new cases for students each year. As an SVMP student, we discussed a minimum of three cases each day, which is certainly not uncommon at HBS.

The case study method peals away the usual barriers between domestic and international leaders of commerce, allowing students to learn from the experiences and decisions of these key figures. Aside from field experience, this is the closest students can get to hands-on learning without actually visiting the workplaces of these individuals and going through the motions of their role.

Any student interested in general management, consulting, finance, marketing, international business, or entrepreneurship can find numerous benefits from learning this educational approach to business. Even thought leaders outside of these disciplines can benefit from it. This is evidenced by the fact that graduate schools, particularly business institutions throughout the country and the world, use this method to study headline business leaders.

Business Leaders in the SVMP Program

Many of the leaders detailed in the case studies, have personally visited HBS to discuss their decisions and leadership. A good percentage of them are actual alumni. These leaders might sit in during class, listening as students discuss the advantages and disadvantage of particular decisions. Students are called on individually to present evidence concisely from the case to provide insight into the leader’s disposition and what direction would best suit the problems present.

Program Structure

To replicate the decision making experience and make it as authentic as possible, students operate with incomplete information under time sensitive circumstances to come to decisions. Often only given cases the day before, students might take a minimum of two hours preparing for each case that same evening and consult with their study groups the following morning to come to a consensus.

Students are expected to show up to class without researching the end results of the case, knowing they had an equal set of resources from which to synthesize information and suggest a solution. In this sense, the only advantages come from personal work experience and thoughtful analysis of case materials. Often there are no clear-cut answers and students within their own study group may disagree completely. In fact, students who are able to sway a considerable portion of their classmate’s opinion while supporting their stance in class are deemed to be the best scholars in their course section, thus reflected in their grade.

Overall, the case study method was exceptionally intriguing and exhilarating. We promptly began our mornings with our study groups around 7:00 a.m. and classes began at 8:00 a.m. continuing until 5:00 p.m. With small breaks in between classes, including lunch, the program was an intensive immersion into the life of an MBA student.

We discussed the perceived risk of certain decisions, the benefits of others, and even the 360 degree turnaround of Fortune 500 companies, celebrities, burgeoning entrepreneurs, and domestic and international financial leaders changing the pace and shape of our planet. Aldrich 108 was a campground of leadership immersion for the eighty-one students in the program.

Our class was collectively and individually encouraged and challenged by world-class professors, HBS alumni, students, and staff to achieve academic growth. For the purpose of highlighting the case method, I have not shared the other valuable elements of the summer program and the priceless bonds afforded by SVMP 2013. Yet, there is still certainly more to be said about the case study method itself, as it really takes a personal experience to understand the true intellectual growth and maturity that comes from such an engaging learning method.

Why the Case Study Method

The good news is that whether or not you attend HBS, pursuing a business education will give you exposure in varying degrees to the case study method. I highly advise that you look into this teaching approach further to see if it fits your learning style since it can play such a determining role in your business school success.

Certain schools combine the case study method with lectures and field experience, while the hallmark of an HBS education is the case study method. Admittedly, for those extroverted, self-challenging scholars like myself, you will probably feel right at home in a classroom where a good portion of your grade comes from participation.

Of course there will be other crucial determining factors to consider while making your business school choice; however, it is important not to overlook the case study method. The sooner you are familiar with this approach the better off you will be to make an informed decision.


Nicole ChacinNicole Chacin will graduate in 2015 from George Washington University with a degree in business economics and public policy with a minor in vocal music. She plans on getting a JD/MBA after college and dreams of working in health policy and administration. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference is the creative designer and co-founder of Chicago Boutique.

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