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HBS Online CORe (Credential of Readiness) — A Reflection

Updated: Aug 30, 2022


DISCLAIMER: This piece is my personal opinion and I am not asked or paid for by HBSOnline.


Less than two years back, I was constantly hearing about HBSOnline CORe (called HBX CORe then) on LinkedIn. Some of my connections took it, and they had really nice things to say. I checked out the syllabus and found it interesting. The course is comprised of three subjects: Financial Accounting, Economics for Managers and Business Analytics. For detailed syllabuses, check the following links: FA, EfM and BA. As the syllabuses indicate, there are 7 modules in Financial Accounting, 5 in Economics for Managers, and 5 in Business Analytics — totaling to 17 modules. What intrigued me was this idea of “case-based” method of teaching — where important concepts are explained via case studies on real businesses. I felt that the tuition fee was a bit steep. Also, it was difficult for me to get my employer pay for it, as I work in a technical field and this certificate isn’t exactly technical. I decided to apply anyway and figure along the way. The application was fairly simple and one can finish that in about 10 minutes. The admissions committee is mostly interested in knowing a bit about you and your motivations of taking CORe. After a couple of weeks, I received an admit letter. I was very excited, but I still didn’t think it was worth the money. I had the option to defer it few times, so I did exactly that for 15 months! Crazy, I know!


Anyway, in September 2018, I was trying to move out from the technical team and get into the strategy team. It needed convincing a lot of people at very high levels in my company, and a certification such as CORe would have helped tremendously. I also realized that a tuition fee raise was planned from 2019. If I couldn’t join October 2018 cohort, I might have to pay 300$ additional for subsequent cohorts. Also, October 2018 cohort was an extended cohort, i.e. the duration of the cohort was 17 weeks, which is the most relaxed cohort. There are CORe cohorts of 8 weeks too, the other end of spectrum, which I can imagine being very difficult to manage. Even the extended cohort takes up about 10–15 hours per week. 8-weeks CORe is probably twice as challenging as Extended CORe. With extended CORe’s duration being 17 weeks, it fits well with “A Module Every Week” schedule.


In short, a bunch of reasons made October 2018 cohort very attractive to me, so I paid the fee and enrolled. Around mid-October the course began. I noticed that the total cohort size was about 900, with participants split into two sections. There was a Facebook group too to allow participants to casually discuss the course. From the interactions there, I realized there was so much diversity in the cohort. Not just in terms of race, gender or nationality, but also in their education, work experience, and motivations to pursue CORe.


Over the next 17 weeks (+2 weeks for winter break during end of December), I completed all of the 17 modules. Completing a module involves going through the course material as it is presented (you can’t skip ahead), answering in-module questions, going through “cold calls”, providing your reflections and rating reflections from peers and then passing the module quizzes. Module quizzes have 20 multiple answer style questions, with moderate difficulty level. I haven’t personally experienced this, but scoring below 50% doesn’t meet the passing requirements for that particular module. For whatever reason if one cannot finish the module on time, the course automatically assigns a score of 0. The participant still has to finish the module to appear for final exam and get the course certificate.


Talking about the course material itself, the difficulty level perceived is very subjective. Financial accounting was most difficult for me, while Business Analytics seemed the simplest. Having an engineering background helped, I guess. Material presentation is highly systematic and the later modules reinforce the understanding of earlier modules. I felt that Economics for Managers was a little verbose at times, but that’s just the nature of the subject. For me cold calls were the most interesting feature of the course. During a cold call, a question would appear on the screen, and the participant is given 1-2 minutes to answer the question. These questions are situation-based and one has to put his/her executive hat on to answer the question. Thus there are no right or wrong answers.


On January 8th, 2019, during the middle of our cohort, HBX rebranded itself as HBSOnline to raise awareness of its online courses. I always associated HBX brand with Harvard Business School, but apparently, the rebranding of HBX to HBSOnline improved the perception, even if it wasn’t lacking. As per this article, rebranding has led to a huge spike in enrollment.


At the end of it all, there will be a closed-book final exam.This final exam will be proctored and will be taken at a Pearson approved testing centers. (A side note about testing center: I was constantly distracted by loud conversations between the test administrators. And some of my batch mates shared anecdotes about their computers freezing midway during the exam!). The whole thing may sound scary but its not too bad. HBSOnline provides you course summary kit, and a set of practice exams which are good representatives of the final exam. Now, this is my final exam experience — and the format may change in the future. For all three subjects, I had to answer 45 multiple choice questions in 60 minutes. The difficulty level is slightly higher, but everything is covered in the syllabus — no surprises.

Few weeks after the exam window ends, CORe announces the results. As per the CORe guidelines — Final grade is comprised of 50% final exam score, 33.33% quiz scores average and the remaining 16.67% comes from participation. For computing quiz score average CORe drops the lowest score in each of the three subjects and then average out the remaining ones. The mechanism to calculate participation grade is (intentionally?) kept vague, but some aspects are made clear by the program coordinator. Like sharing articles (still recommended) doesn’t count, but reviewing other student’s reflections and helping out peers in “Peer Help” section is highly encouraged.


A lot of participants, including I, initially hoped that by completing CORe, they will be given preferential treatment for MBA admissions at Harvard Business School. If you were under a similar impression then sorry to disappoint you, but that’s not true at all. As per my understanding, HBS does appreciate a participant taking initiative and completing CORe. But this is neither necessary nor sufficient to get admit to the school. Even if you have the “High Honors” grade! As you have heard more than thousand times, that MBA admissions committee looks at your application holistically. I have this feeling that the committee notices if you mention HBSOnline CORe but they are probably more interested in how your professional and personal life has changed after CORe. So, make sure you do cover that in your MBA application.


After completing the HBSOnline CORe, one can do a lot of things. I for one, used my experiences at CORe and the brand of Harvard Business School to move laterally within my company. That was one of my objectives in taking the course. You can also choose to do other courses from HBS Online. The complete list of courses offered by HBS CORe can be found at this link. There actually is a past participant discount. You can find all of the information on that here.


So, what’s the final word? I strongly endorse HBSOnline CORe and I felt it’s worth the money spent. If you manage to get your employer pay for it, that would be icing on the cake. But before you go enroll, have a plan to put it to better use than a LinkedIn badge.


That will be all from my side. You can follow me on Twitter / LinkedIn to get updates on stories like this. You can also support my coffee drinking habit here ;)

NOTE: This article originally appeared here!


July 2022 UPDATE: I recently completed my MBA from Harvard Business School. While completing HBSOnline CORe didn't play any role in me getting in, what it did help me realize is that getting an MBA is beneficial for me, and I can do well in the class.

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