HBS Loves the Case Study Method

Case Study Method

By now, many MBA applicants may have heard of something called the Case Study Method. Even so, you might not know exactly what it is. At Harvard Business School, the case method is a teaching approach where students analyze and solve real-world business problems with incomplete information and many uncertainties. It’s an intense discussion format and one that requires students to communicate with sensitivity about potentially challenging topics. This immersive learning experience provides valuable insights into the thorny issues facing today’s corporate culture. 

If you hope to attend Harvard Business School one day, read on to learn more about the case method and all its virtues. 

Curious about your chances of getting into Harvard Business School? Contact us to talk strategy with a free 15-minute advising session with an SBC Principal Consultant.

Why Does HBS Love the Case Study Method?

HBS is not the only elite business school to use this teaching style; UVA Darden and INSEAD do, too. But it did pioneer the practice more than a century ago. The reason it remains popular today is that the case method does an excellent job of building several core competencies, such as:

  • Critical Thinking: It encourages students to examine difficult issues from multiple perspectives. Likewise, it helps them identify underlying beliefs and biases that may influence their decision-making process.
  • Decision-Making: As future business professionals, students must learn to make informed decisions based on limited information under uncertain settings. 
  • Problem-Solving: By working with classmates during group projects or class debates, students practice identifying potential solutions for diverse challenges facing an array of organizations.

No doubt, the case method creates an environment where learners can build strong communication skills with their peers and professors. 

By debating pressing issues within today’s rapidly evolving business landscape—such as navigating digital transformation or addressing sustainability concerns—MBA candidates are ready for leadership roles upon graduation from Harvard Business School.

case study method

Encouraging Student Participation During Class Discussions

Harvard Business School’s case study method emphasizes the importance of student involvement in class. It’s not a setting in which extreme introverts will thrive! Professors create an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their perspectives on complex business scenarios voluntarily or through cold calling. 

During a case discussion, students are tasked with:

  • Analyzing incomplete data: Students must evaluate available information and identify gaps that may affect their decisions.
  • Weighing pros and cons: As future managers, students must consider various factors such as financial implications, employee morale, legal issues, and public perception before making a choice.
  • Fostering collaboration: Group discussions allow students to exchange ideas with peers with different backgrounds and experiences. This helps broaden their understanding of the subject. It also promotes teamwork skills essential for successful leadership roles.

Including real-life scenarios into the classroom prepares aspiring professionals for tackling challenges they will encounter throughout their careers.

As HBS student Lauren Buchanon explains in the video, “Being in the case setting, you realize how valuable everyone else around you is, how valuable their opinions are, and the importance of being a good, active listener.”

Yeah, But Are HBS Case Studies Real?

HBS case studies are based on real-life business situations. However, they often include fictional elements to protect confidentiality and enhance learning in a structured educational setting.

If you’re curious to see a case study for yourself, know that they aren’t easy to access due to copyright restrictions. However, you may find summaries or excerpts of select cases on HBS Working Knowledge. Alternatively, current college students might have limited access through their university’s library if they have an agreement with Harvard Business Review.

In the current climate, topics such as the future of AI, gender equality, and corporate culture are more important than ever. By exploring these issues in class discussions, Harvard Business School provides its students with valuable insights into how companies can navigate challenging situations while promoting open communication and inclusivity.


With SBC’s All-In Package, we’re turning No’s into Yes’s by teaching you how to build the type of application that competitive MBA programs want to receive. Learn how to remodel shortcomings into strong points, write compelling essays, strategize for admission tests, ace interviews, and be the strongest applicant you can be. Reach out today to learn more about all of our services. 

Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot of the expertise on our consulting team:

SBC’s star-studded consultant team is unparalleled. Our clients benefit from current intelligence that we receive from the former MBA Admissions Officers from Harvard HBS, Wharton and every elite business program in the US and Europe.  These MBA Admissions Officers have chosen to work exclusively with SBC.

Just two of the many superstars on the SBC team:
Meet Anthony, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, where he dedicated over 10 years of expertise.

Meet Andrea, who served as the Associate Director of MBA Admissions Marketing at Harvard Business School (HBS) for over five years.

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