Eat your spinach and get to know Popeye: Choosing classes for your second year at HBS

Snigdha Sur
Jul 24, 2017 · 7 min read
From the DailyMail

In the past few days, many HBS first-years have emailed me to ask one critical question:

What classes should I be taking second year?

As someone who cared about the academic part of HBS, here are a few tips to make second year more academically enjoyable. Even if you don’t want to focus on the academic part of your $200k masters degree, class is a great opportunity to meet people you wouldn’t have otherwise and you’ll end up spending at least some time on it, so why not choose more intentionally?

Side note: So you can decide for yourself if I am completely qualified or unqualified to give this advice. I was a former consultant. At HBS, I spent most of my time outside of class at Shad, helping run the Entrepreneurship Club with Marc Escapa, planning social events for Section D, watching movies, and grabbing dinners with friends. I got academic honors both years.

If you want more personalized advice, shoot me a note, and I’ll ask you a few more questions about what you’re trying to get out of your second year.

First, the resources:

The entire course catalog: http://www.hbs.edu/coursecatalog/
The class sorter helps you sort by student reviews, scraped by prior years here [if you need access, shoot me an email].

0. Ask yourself: What do I want out of my HBS experience?

If academics doesn’t really matter, you can stop reading here. If you care a little bit, ask yourself what good looks like. Is it filling gaps from year one, such as being able to be more comfortable with modeling financial statements? Is it being able to test the hypothesis that you want to go into industry [X]? The below are general guidelines that are most helpful coupled with you knowing about what you want first so you can say, “yea, that might have worked for her, but I don’t need that, OR, I’d rather do Y instead.”

1. Eat your spinach: Pick subjects that will be more difficult for you to learn on your own or outside of HBS.

For me, this meant doubling up on finance and business history. My spring and fall semester looked like this:


My favorites = ** [something I learned a lot from / would have found more difficult to learn somewhere else]

Fall:

BSSE**: Building and Sustaining a Successful Enterprise [Derek van Bever]: Just the other day, when I was listening to Kara Swisher’s Recode Decode, Kevin Systrom, CEO of Instagram, mentioned Instagram’s “job to be done.” The BSSE framework is a powerful one and the class itself could replace first-year strategy. Starts slow but chock full of evergreen theories applicable across your career, any company you want to join or start, some of the most troubled companies today, etc.

BEMS: Business of Entertainment, Media, and Sports (fka SMICI) [Anita Elberse] As a media nerd, I did this for the content. Prof. Elberse is also known to invite all-star guests, such as DJ Khaled, Maria Sharapova, and more.

ESM: Entrepreneurial Sales & Marketing [Mark Roberge] Spinach class. All companies have to sell something, so it’s quite critical to understand how to focus on revenue, product, or marketing.

EGC**: Entrepreneurship and Global Capitalism [Geoffrey Jones] Want to know why Apple might have learned its tricks from the first multinational corporation in the world, Singer (of sewing machine fame)? Why might you feel guilty wearing Coco Chanel’s brand? What does the Swedish Match King have to do with Uber? Why is it that Christians tend to invest more in ‘green’ entrepreneurship?

Power & Influence [Julie Battilana] Soft skills spinach class. Understand why the myth of the ‘American dream’ works or doesn’t work today. Good moment to reflect on the power you may or may not have / based on context. Could be replaced or complemented with ALD [Authentic Leadership Development].

Entrepreneurial Finance** [White/Nanda]: Lots of term sheets and thinking through start up financing. Extremely useful to many HBS founders. White also lets you pitch to the class and get feedback! During an election year, White, former campaign manager for Romney, did bonus explanations on the elections.

January:

IFC LA: Hollywood: Distribution and Marketing Challenges in a Digital World [Henry McGee] Great way to work on micro-projects with digital media companies such as YouTube, etc. on the West Coast. Prof. McGee also lines up incredible people to meet.

Spring:

CVCR**: Creating Value through Corporate Restructuring [Kristin Mugford] One of the most rigorous AND rewarding classes I have ever taken. Don’t know what distressed debt is? Why do retailers go bankrupt more often? You’ll learn this and much more. High devotion and high expectations = Prof. Mugford. Getting to know her is a huge plus.

BAV**: Business Analysis and Valuation [Charles Wang] Probably one of the most useful classes I took to better understand public markets. Your final is a stock pitch, so you’ll be able to really understand 10ks and how to run your own analysis and form a BUY/SELL view. I now know why I would be careful with NFLX stock.

Negotiation** [Kevin Mohan] Exceptional. Allows you to get in multiple reps of negotiation. Hands-on.

Scaling Tech Ventures [Eisenmann / Rayport] If you’ve already had a lot of exposure to TEM and startup cases via Entrepreneurial Finance, you may not need this class. That said, it was great getting to know Eisenmann and Rayport, as well as the students interested in entrepreneurship, better. It was also the inaugural class, so may change a lot next year.

Arts of Communication [Tim McCarthy] Not necessary if you feel fairly comfortable speaking publicly or did speech & debate / Model UN, etc.

Cs50 for MBAs [David Malan] Helpful overview and much more pared down version of the classic CS50 on edX. May have convinced me to do a coding bootcamp this summer.

IP: Raj Kapoor: The Socialist Showman [for EGC / Goeffrey Jones]

Audited CMC**: Coming of Managerial Capitalism [Tom Nicholas] Fantastic business history class. Difficult to get in. If you can’t, aim for getting into EGC and audit CMC.


2. Pick classes where you want to get to know the professor.

The beauty of HBS is getting to the know the people. Peers will stay with you but it’s often far harder to meet up with professors once you leave. Spend some time with them. They’re incredible people.

Classes I didn’t get a chance to take but heard great things about [both content and professor]:

  • ALD
  • Brand Strategy for Millennials with Youngme Moon
  • Reimagining Capitalism with Rebecca Henderson
  • Founders’ Journey [fka Founders’ Dilemmas] with Shikhar Ghosh

3. Relax some constraints.

Pick your number one class wisely and don’t get too hung up with not getting it. I ended up getting almost all the classes I wanted because I ended up relaxing some constraints. I picked SMICI/BEMS as my top class and CVCR right after it. There is some movement across semesters on preferences but unfortunately you have to take your best guess at who are today and what you might want in the spring. That said, NOTHING is a dealbreaker. Almost everyone I know ended up happy with the majority of their courseload.

Use the demand results. The results told me that my current preferences translated to not getting into Negotiation with Mohan in the Fall. So I ended up taking Negotiation with Mohan and Exley in the Spring, which was easier to get into. Adjust your choices.

Results after round one

4. Don’t do an IP for an easy grade. It’s a lot of work.

I ended up writing a case on Raj Kapoor because I wanted to see more cases on the business of Bollywood, which is as old as Hollywood. But it was a labor of love, involved long hours of writing, reading, searching in Baker/Widener libraries for maps and books, and the like. Write a case if you really love it. Similarly, do a research IP for a company if you really want to. It’s much harder to hold yourself accountable to an IP schedule and far easier to get lazy (especially in the Spring) than reading a few cases a week for a curriculum someone else has taken the time to develop.

5. Don’t max out your credits, just because.

Probably one of my biggest regrets. If I could have redone it, I would have stuck to 15 each semester. It’s important to be bored and have those chunks of time to think more creatively.

6. Try something you won’t be great at.

For me, this was CVCR. I didn’t come from the world of finance so it was utterly scary to be in a room full of PE and finance folks who knew what they were talking about. But this forced me to learn way more and eventually find my voice, too.

In conclusion…

I got a lot out of my HBS academic experience. Popeye spent years telling us kids to eat some spinach so we could get strong and [win the girl*] [*insert your own goal here]. But I also think one should pick classes because of the people you think you’ll get to know: both the professors teaching as well as the peers who will self-select into the class.

HBS in its second year will be more similar to college. You won’t be in a room for five hours participating in a required curriculum with everyone else. You’ll have to deviate from shared experience and choose your own path in an open field. The beauty of it is that there isn’t one right answer, but the anxiety is in feeling that you don’t know what yardstick to compare yourself to with others anymore.

Stop comparing. You’ll be fine.

Good luck. Hope this was helpful. And shoot me a line if there’s anything you’d like to add.

Snigdha Sur

Written by

writing on coding, tech, bollywood | diversifying media so that we can see ourselves in what we consume | formerly @ HBS, McKinsey, Otter/Chernin

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