Harvard Business School Evolves

A leadership change will lead to changes in the makeup of student body in the upcoming academic year.

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Nitin Nohria celebrated his first anniversary as dean of Harvard Business School on July 1, making it a fitting time to reflect on the considerable changes underway at the venerable b-school. From major innovations to its curriculum and shifts both subtle and major within the class of 2013 profile, to huge surprises—some might say upsets—in M.B.A. admissions, the past 12 months have been anything but business as usual.

While curriculum tweaks and overhauls have taken place almost across the board at elite M.B.A. programs, the innovations ushered in by Nohria are particularly progressive. Given Harvard's position as a leader among the business school community, I'll highlight some of the key changes that the school has made, which stand to further alter the business school landscape in the future as other schools follow Harvard's lead.

In perhaps the most significant change, HBS has opted to reduce its dependence on the case study method of teaching, which has been in place since the 1920s. The changes will also impact every single M.B.A. candidate as well as the majority of the school's faculty.

"We think now is the right time to act to take the Harvard Business School M.B.A. Program to the next level," Nohria said of the curriculum changes in an alumni bulletin this spring. "The case method will always be a central part of what we do, but we're now at a point in history when we can do some really interesting things in the field. Both methodologies—case and field—are absolute complements," he added.

[See U.S. News's rankings of Best Business Schools.]

In order to prepare self-aware leaders for a global economy, this fall all first-year students will take a yearlong Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development (FIELD) course offering small-group learning experiences that are experiential, immersive, and field-based.

According to Youngme Moon, senior associate dean and chair of the M.B.A. Program, the FIELD course "ups the ante" in three key content areas: leadership, globalization, and integration based on experiential learning. Self-reflection, hands-on learning, and teamwork are the process skills that unify the three content areas and define the FIELD experience.

[See other schools that are reinventing their M.B.A. programs.]

The curriculum isn't the only thing that will look different at Harvard this September. The school made headlines last month when it revealed that women will constitute 39 percent of the class of 2013—its highest percentage ever—and that there will be substantially fewer candidates from the fields of finance and consulting.

[See which business schools are trying to shatter the glass ceiling.]

The Wall Street Journal cites preliminary figures from Harvard admissions, which notes that about 25 percent of the 919 students in the class of 2013 are from finance industries—including private equity, banking and venture capital—compared with 32 percent last year. Meanwhile, students with manufacturing backgrounds make up 14 percent of the class of 2013, up from 9 percent in the previous year.

Deirdre Leopold, Harvard's managing director of M.B.A. admissions and financial aid, explains in the WSJ that the school doesn't "run with quotas or targets." Rather, Harvard seeks to compose a diverse class that can contribute to the overall learning.

The talk in admissions circles this year has been that the type of applicants that were typically accepted weren't admitted and those presumed to be "sure things" faced unexpected disappointment. However, as an admissions consultant, in my view what we're seeing are surface "shifts" that are helping Harvard refocus more clearly on its founding principles. This is not a program where a certain profile or pedigree is guaranteed admission. It's a place that seeks out incredibly ambitious, world-changing leaders of all stripes.