Choosing an MBA Program: Is the Case Method Right for You?

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in MBA Admission

The case method was developed at Harvard Business School and has since been adopted by other top programs around the world. While the case method has proven its educational effectiveness, it’s worth considering whether it’s the right method for you.

Professors who use this method will assign a case, which is a write-up of a real-life business situation, including the information available to the decision-makers. You put yourself in the place of one of those decision-makers in order to analyze the data and come to a conclusion about the problem, its solution, and the next steps to be taken. Then you meet with your study group and share your findings. A good study group will question and challenge each other’s positions and thereby help each other learn.

The next day in class, the professor will call on students “cold,” asking them to present their case analysis. Because no one knows who will be called on, everyone in the class needs to be ready to present and defend the case. The class then discusses and debates the presentation while the lecturer moderates the discussion. Finally, your professor will summarize the key points of the discussion. Not every case can be “solved,” so there’s not necessarily any right answer. The process of reading, analyzing, presenting, and debating the case is the point.

Now that you have some idea of how the case method works, how can you know if it’s right for you? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Will you be able to read and process a significant amount of information on a weekly basis (up to three cases a week, 20 or more pages of reading per case)?
  • Do you like studying with a group, or do you prefer to work individually?
  • How comfortable are you speaking in front of a group and accepting public criticism?

Many schools still use the traditional lecture method, which you are probably familiar with from your undergraduate days. In other schools, lectures are alternated with case discussions. Sometimes one course will incorporate the case method while another course is all lectures. Still other schools incorporate consultation with actual businesses over the course of the program – the Kellogg School at Northwestern University is an example of a school that uses this “learning-in-action” method.

No method is necessarily better than another. There are a number of good programs that use all of these different methods, and you can get an excellent education at any of them. The question only you can answer is, Which one is right for you?


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