HBS Core or MBA Math: Do’s and Don’ts for MBA Applicants

MBA applicants often ask us if they should create an “alternative transcript” to bolster their profiles for admissions purposes. Every top MBA program expects evidence that the applicant can handle the analytical coursework of the business degree. Taking an additional math course, such as HBS CORe or MBAMath, can be an ideal way to demonstrate to the admissions committee that the applicant can do the work in the program. 

“Applicants should make the maximum effort when competing for seats in top business schools, because you know for sure your competition is,” shared Margaret, Senior Consultant on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

Like any facet of the MBA admissions process, deciding whether and what type of ancillary course to take is strategic. “Different things are right for different people,” shared Beth, a former Kellogg Admissions Officer and current Senior Consultant on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

When to consider HBS CORe or MBA Math

An MBA applicant has a lot to juggle all at once: applications, testing, and professional work. We don’t recommend taking ancillary courses just because you have time or money to burn because there’s always an opportunity cost; for example, we want our clients to focus on quality essays, career progression, and other priority areas.

Applicants should consider taking an ancillary course only when absolutely necessary. We often recommend the right-fit course if a combination of the following apply:

  • Low GPA from college such as under 3.2
  • Low quantitative score, about 70% or lower, on the GRE or GMAT
  • Fundamental math classes such as Calculus or Statistics from college were lower grades such as Bs or worse
  • Humanities or liberal arts majors with no or little high-level math exposure in college
  • Only took Calculus and Statistics in high school but not since then
  • Work in nontraditional fields outside of finance or without quant-heavy work responsibilities
  • On a waitlist and need every little push to get off of it
  • Any of the above apply and also aiming for a top 25 MBA program

Request a free consultation from a SBC Principal to get guidance on if we recommend an ancillary course
for your scenario.

Here, we outline factors to consider:

HBS COReMBA MathUniversity Extension/ Accredited Program Courses
Graded (yes/ no)NoNoYes
Application requiredYes but almost all get acceptedNoNo
Grading equivalentHigh Honors (best 15%), Honors (second 15%), Pass, FailReport exam scores as proxy for gradesActual grades shown on transcript
Grading criteriaScores and participation: 75% quiz/ exam scoring and 25% participation and peer helpThe MBA Math transcript lists lesson scores but does not combine them into an overall grade. Combine the lesson scores to compute an overall average.Exams & homework
Time commitment7–20 hours per week, 150-hours total20-40 hours75 hours 
Cost2250*$149$800-$1000
DifficultyHardEasyMedium
Duration8 to 12 weeksFlexible1-3 months
Curriculum FocusInteractive, case study based, covering business analytics, economics, financial accountingSelf-paced lessons in finance, accounting, economics, statistics and spreadsheetsPre-MBA mathematics include linear and matrix algebra and differential calculus
Best known forGain a basic understanding of business concepts or as a taste of the MBAEasy, quick, cost-effectiveCredible & Graded with transcript
Not ideal forProving analytical readiness to top MBA program admissionsShowing advanced analytical readinessLimited time scenarios
Fun factCORe members are all part of a Facebook group and there are moderators from HBX as part of the group.Some MBA programs either require or recommend MBA Math to their students. Kellogg and Booth are the only top 10 MBA programs on the list who encourage MBA Math for prep although it’s not for evaluative purposes for admission.This is the original alternative transcript option, started long before the other two.

Request a free consultation from a SBC Principal to get guidance on if we recommend an ancillary course
for your scenario.

Trends around MBA Readiness Courses

The imperative to demonstrate quantitative readiness has become more prominent in recent years. MBA programs have attracted a broader array of students, often from non-traditional backgrounds, professionally and academically. Applicants who had limited math exposure in college need to find other ways to show they can handle the quant coursework.

Across our client pool, those with liberal arts college backgrounds have tripled in the recent seasons. A genuinely holistic, diverse, and balanced student class is what every top business program seeks to recruit. But non-traditional applicants must still demonstrate they can thrive in the analytical educational environment of a top business school.

Many MBA programs have become test-optional, and that trend has placed more emphasis on other ways to show analytical rigor. E-learning is a new and exciting frontier in education playing out in MBA admissions through ancillary or replacement coursework.

HBS Online CORe

Launched in 2014, HBS Online Credential of Readiness (CORe) is an innovative idea for providing a Harvard education to many students. The course is pricey and demanding. Students learn a lot, but it’s still a correspondence school that yields a certificate without actual grades or transcript. The HBS CORe used to be called HBx CORe, which replaced the former pre-MBA analytics program (aka “math camp”) for the poets and artists admitted to HBS or anyone looking to brush up ahead of their first year.

According to the former HBS Admissions Officers on our Stacy Blackman Consulting team, the departments running HBS CORe view it as targeting less competitive learners than the actual HBS MBA student population. The CORe facilitators rarely interact with the HBS MBA education team. For HBS MBA admissions, typically, only accredited classes are considered, and we don’t believe that CORe is accredited.

To date, we estimate that 35,000+ have taken CORe, and many have since matriculated at top full-time, two-year MBA programs such as HBS. But the HBS brand attached to this online CORe course may be an illusion. If you are looking at HBS CORe in terms of an immediate payback that will give you an increased chance of getting admitted to the top 10 US MBA programs, think again.

Most of our SBC team won’t recommend HBS CORe to our clients, but some applicants come to us having already taken it. “If someone is already applying, I don’t think CORe does as well as an easy substitute for the hard quant classes, such as those from UCLA / UC Berkeley extension,” Beth shared with our SBC team.

An exception to consider…

But there is some value to the HBS CORe for those planning well in advance for the MBA. As Beth noted, “If an applicant is coming from a very non-traditional background, it might demonstrate that they have a sincere interest in pivoting towards business. Or if someone wants to test the waters, (“Would I even enjoy the topics taught in an MBA?”) or planning far ahead in what they could do to get ready for an MBA, maybe this is something they could work on.”

Young professionals should be convinced that they will value the HBS CORe experience because the time and cost investment is high.

MBAMath.com

MBAmath was initially designed for admitted MBA students. Per the founder of MBAmath, the average completion time for the population of mostly admitted students is 25 hours, with a 10/90 range of 10-45 hours. Applicants needing quant prep would tend to the higher end.

MBAMath is the least expensive and also the least rigorous. “I’ve had clients fly through and complete it in one week,” Beth shared with our SBC team. “You can repeat the modules until you get 100% on the quizzes (the MBA AdCom knows this). I find it is good for people who have some quant on their transcript, but maybe aren’t using math in their job. Or they had a dip to a B/C grade in a college math class. This works for applicants who want to show that they’ve taken a refresher.” 

Meanwhile, Dione, a Senior Consultant on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team, shared,

“Taking a university business math course is one of the best options for mitigating concerns about an applicant’s math/quant skills and knowledge. For clients who have either been unwilling or not had enough time to take a class, then MBAmath.com is a fast and affordable option to mitigate concerns about quant (but it’s not a “cure all.”) We tailor our recommendations according to the applicant’s transcript, work experience and test scores.”

UC Berkeley / UCLA Math for Management extension classes 

Berkeley and UCLA offer college math classes, such as Math for Management, through their online extension programs. The courses result in an official transcript with grades. You have to complete it over a several-month period (you cannot cram it into a week), and it involves homework. The cost is $800 – $1000, and you must finish within six months. It’s a big commitment and is the best fit for applicants in specific scenarios.

Request a free consultation from a SBC Principal to get guidance on if we recommend an ancillary course
for your scenario.