(Updated) I received an email from a prospective student asking about the Harvard Extension School’s ALM in Management program. He wanted me to compare the ALM in Management vs. a full-time MBA.
In my reply, I noted that I have never taken any ALM in Management classes. My ALM concentration was history. But I have followed the Management program since it was introduced and have a full-time MBA under my belt, and feel qualified to make some comparisons.
Harvard Extension School ALM in Management vs. MBA: Where the programs differ
From my point of view, while the ALM in Management has a price that’s hard to beat, it does not compare with a full-time MBA. Here’s where I think the ALM in Management program comes up short:
There is no cohort experience, vital for building a network that can serve you long after after the program concludes.The Extension School has made some moves to boost the sense of community and establish limited cohorts, a positive step.
- Even though many of the classes are similar to those you would find in a business school, the ALM in Management degree is technically not an MBA. It’s a liberal arts degree in management (!). This fact may cause skepticism among some potential employers.
- Many instructors are not Harvard faculty, and there is
no affiliation with the world-famous Harvard Business School(however, HBS faculty are now apparently allowed to teach HES courses, see below).
- While online classes are a lot of work for students, they are not a substitute for in-person learning experiences. Extension School students have complained about some of the deficiencies in the past.
- Some recruiters view any part-time business degree with skepticism.
- Among recruiters, the reputation of the school has been damaged by HES graduates who have omitted their Extension School background on their resumes. In some cases graduates have innocently followed the Harvard Extension School resume guidelines, but in many cases there have been deliberate attempts to portray themselves as graduates with a Harvard MBA or Harvard College degree.
In other words, it’s a mistake to assume the ALMM is like a Harvard MBA lite. That said, I think there is real value in some of the on-campus classes that expose students to important business concepts. There are takeaways that can be brought back to the workplace, or help students shift their careers in a new direction. For students who cannot enroll in a full-time MBA program, ALM in Management classes are an attractive alternative.
2020 Update: At one time the ALM Management faculty list did not have any faculty with Harvard Business School affiliations, but that has now changed, as the example below demonstrates. It’s a great development, and an opportunity for ALM Management students to study under HBS faculty.
See also: Harvard Extension School success stories from the past year
22 thoughts on “Harvard Extension School ALM in Management vs. full-time MBA”
Hi, I am currently working on my management degree with the Harvard Extension School. While it is indeed different to an MBA (I did one some time ago) and is not intended to compete with a typical business program, there are some precisions needed in your coments:
A) Network: the HES is very active and you get the networking alumni advantage. In fact I am in a HES networking event as I write this.
B) Instructors are Harvard Faculty.
C) Harvard does not grant 100% online degrees. You are required to take 1/3 of the progem ON CAMPUS; otherwise, you do not meet graduation requirements.
D) Harvard Extension School is one of the 12 Harvard Schools of Harvard University. So the degree is granted by Harvard University, and it is on Liberal Arts, not on business. Also, as candidate and as alumnus you enjoy all the the benefits of students from any of the other 11 Harvard Schools such as Busines School, Law, etc.
It is a mistake to compare both. First I suggest to understand what you are looking for. If you want to have the MBA tag on your resume to get a job in business or a raise, while you may still get some of that, this program may not be a right fit for you. This is about Management, a wider concept than just business. Now if you are looking for the Harvard experience, quality, faculty, benefits, networking, and a quality MANAGEMENT program, this will probably do
Hello Israel, thanks for your comment. Regarding your statement that instructors for the Harvard ALM In Management are Harvard faculty members: Could you elaborate? The last time I looked, most of the instructors were not Harvard faculty, but rather a mixture of Harvard affiliates (including professionals working at Harvard or research associates) as well as faculty from other local universities such as BU, Tufts, etc. It was also my understanding that Harvard Business School faculty are forbidden from teaching at the Extension School. Has this changed in the past few years?
There was a course taught at the Extension School by an HBS Professor Emeritus while I was there.
Regarding your statement, “the last time I looked, most of the instructors were not Harvard faculty…” You wrote your post in September 2016 so it’s quite clear that you are not an ALM Management student and it begs the question: how do you check the credentials of ALM,M faculty? I’ve been an admitted ALM,M student since Jan 2016 (9-months prior to your post) and every instructor I’ve had so far were from HBS (BA, Acct, Econ), Harvard (BR, FA, Fin), and MIT (OB). So, what are you talking about when you say “the last time I checked?” I even disagree with the arguments that the author of this blog site has made but I do respect the author for being an –active– participant in the ALM program. It’s not easy to do (nothing at Harvard is easy) especially if you live outside the state. However, I do believe that if there is a qualifying voice about the ALM,M (or ALM,F) versus the Harvard MBA program, it should come from an ALM,M candidate (and not from someone comparing their non-Harvard MBA program to an ALM,M Harvard program that they were not accepted in).
Now, I know that many of the readers that visit this blog are curious about the ALM,M experience so what I write next is for them. First, it’s not easy to be admitted as an ALM,M or ALM,F candidate. These are the only two programs at FAS that requires a GPA of 3.3 or higher to graduate. All other ALM programs require a 3.0 to graduate. Why is the GPA requirement higher? I don’t know, your guess is as good as mine but I suspect that because a masters in management or finance from Harvard is closely tied (in optics) to the Harvard MBA program, the qualification to graduate is higher. Whether or not that is true is up for debate but the fact remains, you need a higher GPA to graduate from the ALM,M program. You will need to submit transcripts from your previous college and the usual personal statements. My admission requirement was partially based on passing the Harvard Business School CORe program (considered to be a pre-MBA primer for admitted Harvard MBA students. You read correctly: Harvard MBA students take CORe prior to year 1, MBA students (in my cohort) from MIT, Brown, Yale, Stanford, and Penn have taken this CORe, and if you want to get into the ALM,M (or ALM,F) program, you will have to take this CORe. There is a second path to the ALM,M program but if you want to see how you “stack up” against Harvard MBA admitted students, take the CORe). As an aside, if you, like me, take the CORe, be prepared to put in 12-hour days, six days a week (Friday was my recuperation day) for three months. Not only do you have to pass all three classes, you have to pass the final exam. Then you have to wait two months to get your results (totally nerve racking). Make no mistake: this is a “weed-out” program. If you do pass and you or someone else needs your transcripts, you will have to reach out to Harvard Business School to get it.
Second, every class you take is identical to the class requirements of the Harvard MBA program. Every. Single. One. Every class that I have taken is on the Harvard MBA course requirement list. Nothing more to say here.
Third, the cohort and community you develop is up to you. As a matter of fact, this is the only academic difference between the MBA and ALM,M programs at Harvard. Like most traditional MBA programs around the country, there is a full-time residency requirement. Why? One reason is because most MBA students only have 1-2 years of working experience and the MBA residency requirements forces inexperienced professionals to collaborate in close quarters. Masters in management programs, on the other hand, is primarily geared towards professionals with 7-10 years of working experience. Believe me when I say that this type of student profile makes the program harder for the ALM,M student. Some of my classmates are already in senior leadership positions in their industry. The upside is that you learn so much more by having, for example, a Pepsi Co. executive as your classmate.
Third, the ALM,M program requires a 1/3 residency requirement. This is non-negotiable. This is hard. You will not sleep during your residency visit. Get over it.
This last thing I’ll mention about my experience is the access to the one club you’ll want to join: The Harvard Graduate Consulting Club. It is open to all graduate students across Harvard University. You review case studies and compete against teams within the club and against a similar club at MIT.
You will always have people debating the merits of the ALM,M program at Harvard. But you will never have ALM,M, Kennedy Grad students, or other FAS grad students debating this among themselves; we’re all to busy trying to graduate from our respective programs. And when we’re done, we’ll all walk across the same stage together wearing our Harvard class rings.
If any of you prospective students are considering and ALM,M (or ALM,F) degree, do what I did and reach out the existing and alumni students on LinkedIn. I interviewed at least 10 grad students and even sent out Starbucks gift cards for spending time with me. Talk to employers. Keep in mind that many of the ALM,M students are already in management positions and so, try to talk to hiring managers that graduated from the ALM,M program. Anyone who thinks that this ALM,M program is “lite-weight” is sorely mistaken and I challenge them, at the very least, to take the HBS CORe for a quick dose of reality. Even the HBS CORe has tough admissions requirements so let’s see if the naysayers can get into that prerequisite pre-MBA/pre-ALM,M program.
Important to note: I cannot speak to the quality of the other ALM programs at Harvard. I believe that the author of this blog mentioned that they were an ALM, History graduate. Maybe his program was “lite” in comparison to other graduate History programs around the country. Maybe he had professors that were not Harvard faculty and maybe that’s why he made some assumptions about the ALM,M program. I read his comments (and others) so I’m here to set the record straight. You can take your ALM,M degree into any office in the world with your head held up high: you competed with the very best at Harvard and you’ll have the skills (and transcripts) to prove it. All of your professors will be from HBS, Harvard, or MIT (or some combination of that. My FA class was co-taught by two professors, one who graduated from Harvard and one that graduated from MIT Sloan).
To those naysayers that care about brand recognition of schools who are probably thinking “yeah, the Harvard ALM,M program is probably the best school he’s been admitted to so what does he know?” Well, naysayer, prior to being admitted to Harvard, I was accepted to, and completed, a program at MIT in 2015. I’m currently a paid TA at MIT Sloan. And, there are several MIT graduates that I know that are in the ALM,M program. One of them is in my cohort.
If you think you can handle the rigor of the ALM,M program, apply. You will not regret it. If you are here to criticize the ALM,M (or ALM,F) programs, let me see you get accepted first. If you are just looking for a good read then I hope you enjoyed my post.
See you on campus.
Look on the Harvard Extension School website. Go to the list of courses, click on the description, and the instructor’s name and academic affiliation will be listed.
This statement is incorrect. The last time I checked (today) on the first page of ALM in Management courses on the HES website, the list of faculty includes some Harvard professors with faculty appointments as well as professors from the University of Munich, Bentley University, University of Michigan, Ca’ Foscari University, and several consultants. They are surely highly educated and very good at what they do. Some are no doubt leaders in their respective fields. But they are not Harvard faculty members.
This statement is also incorrect. Taking a look at the first class listed on the HES ALMM website, BIOT E-208: The Application of Management Principles in Biopharma: A Case-Based Course, I could find no similar course on the Harvard Business School course list (http://www.hbs.edu/coursecatalog/). Many other classes are surely unique to the HES program, just as the B School will also have its own specialized electives and other courses taught by its own faculty.
This is an unnecessary put-down of Harvard MBAs and other students all over the world in full-time MBA programs.
Look, no one is saying that the ALMM program isn’t hard. I can’t imagine doing an MBA and holding down a full-time job at the same time. You and your classmates should be proud of meeting the admissions requirements, and I wish you the best of luck in seeing the program through to the end and walking into Tercentenary Theatre for commencement.
But when you make false statements like the ones above, and put down people in other programs, it reflects badly on you and harms the reputations of the Harvard Extension ALM in Management program.
No one is putting anyone down, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, especially the Harvard MBA program. It has earned it’s legacy, end of story. I’m simply stating the facts; agree with what you want, disregard the rest. Every class that I have taken has been taught by the aforementioned professors and as soon as I’m done typing my response to you, I am going to study for my Finance final, taught by yet another Harvard Graduate alumni.
Just a quick note to you: this BIOT E-208 class you speak of is not a ALM,M required or elective class. As a matter of fact Biopharma is not even in the ALM,M requirements list (which is publicly listed on the HES website. Btw, why are you listing a science course anyway? Weird comparison, don’t you think? You may have glossed over it but I’ll say it once more: I can only speak to the ALM,M and ALM,F concentrations. I have no idea what any other ALM major has to take or which management classes they take to complete their degree requirement). This BIOT E-208 that you are looking at is –NOT– what an ALM,M (or ALM,F) student has to take so if you want to make that type of apples-to-oranges comparison, then be clear that that is what you are doing.
Thank you for listing the HBS course catalog. Every single class that I have taken thus far is identical to the courses in that list. Every. Single. One. (If you are currently a Harvard student, I’d be more than happy to show you my transcript, my instructor list, and my grades, right now, no questions asked). I’m extremely proud of the classes I’ve taken and the professors that taught them. So, I said it earlier and I’ll repeat it again just in case someone missed it. I’ll even put it on a separate line so it can stick out:
Every instructor I’ve had so far in my ALM,M program has come from HBS, Harvard, and MIT Sloan.
Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, whomever you are, I don’t know if you ever attended the ALM program or if you are an outsider looking in. Every ALM,M student has the same access to the registrar’s registration tools as I do. If you are in the Harvard network, I will give you the class ID of the classes I’ve taken and you can read my professor’s credentials for yourself. Maybe, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, you mis-read my earlier post to say that every instructor at HES is from HU, HBS, and MIT. That is not the case for any school. Even HBS and Sloan has many instructors from outside of HBS and MIT. But, just in case you didn’t get it the last two times I mentioned it; every single class I have taken so far was taught by HBS, Harvard, and MIT instructors.
Every. Single. One.
Doubt it? Let’s meet. I will show you my transcript and for every professor that you can find –on my transcript– that has not taught or attended HBS, HU, or MIT, I will pay for you $1,000. That’s $1,000 for –each– class that you can find on my transcript that –does not– have a professor from one of those schools or is alumni of those schools. However, if my transcript, in it’s entirety, does not reflect a HBS, HU, or MIT professor or alumni, then you pay for my next ALM,M class.
If you agree, we can do this in the “light of day.” You can meet me at the registrar’s office and I will have them pull a copy of my records right there, with you standing next to me.
Let’s take this a bit further (because I really don’t want to pay my tuition for the fall term). I will put enough money into my Bitcoin account to cover “the bet” and give you the public key so you can confirm that the funds are there.
You see, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, I am dead serious about my earlier post as well as this one. I actually hope you take me up on the bet. I would live-stream our meeting and post a link so we can put this useless debate to rest. I’ll check this feed in a couple days to see if you are game… I really should be studying for finals now.
P.S. To @ilamont, I just learned that you are the administrator of this site and also an ALM graduate. Earlier, I believed that you we’re neither. My apologies for the mistake; however, I stand by every single comment I made earlier, especially: it’s best for an ALM’M (or ALM’F) degree candidate to debate the comparisons between our program and HBS. Aside from that, this is a great site… thanks for keeping the conversations going.
The line: However, if my transcript, in it’s entirety, does not reflect a HBS, HU, or MIT professor or alumni, then you pay for my next ALM,M class.
Should say… in it’s entirety, does reflect a HBS, HU, or MIT…
It’s late and I’m tired but I wanted to make the correction because I really want Mr. or Ms. Anonymous to pay for my next ALM,M class.
Brah, you just got owned. Normal people would admit they were wrong and apologize. Maybe even try some self reflection.
Not you. You just double down, move the goalposts, and to top it off. make some crazy challenge involving bitcoin and live streaming.
You sound more like Trump university material than someone who goes to Harvard. Seriously.
@Anonymous sounds like a disgruntled MBA candidate that paid 6-figures only to fail out. Clearly spent nearly an hour on his/her response with the attempt to minimize an entire legitimate degree-granting school of Harvard. Says a lot about their character… Society would be much better without him/her. Grow up, child.
Forgot to mention this child mentioned their BitCoin account. Child, please….no wonder you failed out of MBA of HBS….
Stumbled on this and wanted to chime in. I’m an ALMM grad currently working in management/software consulting.
From my experience at HES, I would say the education was greatly positive and concisely focused on material with valuable management/workplace relevancy. Courses (taught by a mix of Harvard/HBS and affiliate faculty), were high quality; some mandatory ones (e.g. Org. Behavior), I found to be a bit overkill – but the degree curriculum was overall very strong.
I don’t think there’s denying that ANY Ivy league MBA would be preferable to an ALMM one-on-one, but I believe that starts to change as you add technical skills into the mix. Many students enrolled in the ALMM come from solid STEM backgrounds, and are simply looking for a quick “in-and-out” business education. The ALMM provides this, possibly better than any other option currently available given its significant flexibility.
That said, there certainly is no replacement for a full-time Ivy MBA (larger firms especially seem to like these) … but ultimately it’s really up to each individual to make best use of their education. The ALMM, when used properly, can be as valuable as you want to make it… just my .02.
Hi there, I´m sorry I did not reply to your comments before.
I do not think it is worth to get into details on who the professors are, etc. I believe in today´s context, the key is to know what are each of us is looking for. In my case, I am not seeking credentials, but quality learning, and the flexibility to build my own program while following my own interests. After 20+ years of global working experience, and having made it to the top of Corporate America ladder in Billion Dollar companies (and having one Engineering title on my back, one MBA, two Corporate Executive Programs, amongst more than a dozen top trainings in multiple countries), what I am looking for, only HES ALM can offer it.
One additional comment: ALM demands to pass three courses with a demanding GPA, in order to be eligible (yet it does not mean automatically accepted. And I challenge anyone to try). Meanwhile, a typical MBA bases acceptance on past requirements. So, in short, the ALM is about what you can deliver as opposed to solely on your background or pedigree, which in my experience having been in HR all these years, this is pretty well aligned with what real companies want from employees.
My advice to anyone: figure out what you want to accomplish, and then seek the program that aligns the best to it. There is no comparison between both programs and avoid similar frustration to what Kerr discuses on his classic paper “on the folly of rewarding A, while hoping for B” ( btw, I learned about Kerr in one of my ALM clases).
And there is no need to lie to employers. If you want your HBS degree, go to HBS.
Cheers to all!
Hi. First and foremost, ALMM is a Harvard degree. Do you think Harvard would stain it’s solid reputation by granting degrees without merit?
Why get an ALMM instead of an MBA? For me it was simple, I was in my 40’s with over 20 years of IT experience; an MBA would not have offered me the management experience needed to lead 30+ direct reports.
Besides, as a senior leader in an firm, an MBA would have not provided greater financial stability — the type you seek with an HBS MBA.
I have a BS in Computer Science from Columbia University, so I was not looking for an easy degree. I looked and found a degree that was useful for me.
To say that an MBA is better than an ALMM degree is incorrect and misleading.
Yes, the application process is different between the two; I will dare say that ALMM has a tougher application process.
I wear my ALLM ring with pride, as it was not an easy journey.
Technically, there is no ALMM (Master of Liberal Arts in Management) Harvard degree. There is an ALMES (Master of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies).
I am glad that the ALMES satisfied your personal/professional needs, and you wear your ALMES right with pride.
It just feels like that those who incorrectly assert that their degree is an ALM in Management/Software Engineering/Government/etc. do not have as much pride in their HES degree.
That is why I am very impressed by @ilamont, who wears his ALM in Extension Studies loud and proud.
You raise an interesting technicality, and I checked it out. The school does use the term “ALM, Management” in marketing on this page:
But the school is also very careful not to use “ALM in Management.” I checked out the archives from years ago, and the samples I saw call it a “Management Graduate Program” in marketing, but when they list the formal name of the degree it’s always something like this:
I would also like to note that while I do clearly and proudly state I am a graduate of the Harvard Extension School on this blog and LinkedIn, I have never used “in Extension Studies” to label my degree. I have a long explanation here, but it boils down to the official guidelines stating if a graduate lists the name of the school (e.g., Harvard Extension School) instead of “Harvard University” there is no need to add (what I believe to be an) inaccurate qualifier “in Extension Studies” to the name of the degree. On the other hand, for graduates who insist on stating “Harvard University,” the guidelines state “in Extension Studies” should be included in the listing as follows:
The University of Pennsylvania’s College of Liberal and Professional Studies (LPS) offers a bachelor’s degree that, like HES, is intended for working professionals.
In Fall 2019, UPenn began offering a bachelor’s degree fully available online… the Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences. There are 2 ways one can be admitted into the degree program.
1.) Traditional application process
2.) Prove your way in. You can enroll in 4 classes without applying and, if you can maintain a 2.7 GPA with no class grade below a C, you can get admitted.
This 2nd option is not dissimilar to HES’ undergraduate program, which requires you to take 3 classes successfully prior to admission.
So now there is another Ivy League option to getting an undergraduate degree, with potentially more flexibility than HES… since UPenn’s program is fully online, with no residency requirement. And, for some folks, getting a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences may be more preferable than getting a Bachelor of Liberal Arts in Extension Studies… potentially.
Also, the HES bachelor’s degree entails 32 classes costing between $1840 to $2840 per class.
UPenn’s program entails 30 classes costing $2296 per class.
Finally, one correction. In my previous post, I said UPenn’s program has no residency requirement. That is true, but UPenn does require you to spend just 2 weekends on campus.
Thanks all for lots of interesting points and enlightening discussion. A CORe student here, with an ambition for a business master’s degree afterwards. I live in Texas so HBS MBA is not an option for me, hence, I am considering the Extension School’s Management master’s degree.
Quick question to anyone who may have an answer – I was wondering about the residency requirement. What is the easiest way that I can satisfy that, as someone who lives in Texas, has a full-time job and 2 little kids? Are there intensive weekends or something like that which lets me fly to campus, spend the weekend there over a weekend and satisfy that requirement?
Any insight is highly appreciated!
Hi Frank, did you check the Extension School website? They have FAQs that directly address the residency requirement.
Ok. I think I can put some of this to rest as I am only one of a handful of people I know that graduated from both the precursor to the ALMM at HES (CSS 1 yr full time) as well as HBS. And then I went back to HES for another year as well.
I know people want to hear that HES and HBS are somewhat comparable. And I also know that most people here believe that they are smart enough to get that drawing this comparison is silly.
That latter category is flat-out wrong. The truth is that you will get an incredible education at HES about 20% of the time, 30% of the material I learned was interesting enough to remember and the other 50% is crap.
At HBS you get an incredible education 110% of the time.
BUT. WHAT. IS. MISSING. FROM. THIS. THREAD. IS. THE. VERY. OBVIOUS. QUESTION. OF. WHAT. IMPACT. THIS. HAS. ON. YOUR. CAREER.
After HES, yes you can say “I graduated from Harvard”. However, what you will quickly learn (especially if you are in the northeast) is that every other fourth person also did. And THEN you will be hit with the realization that everybody assumes you went to HBS.
TRUST ME. The years in between having graduated from HES (and having actually enjoyed most of it) and HBS sucked because I spent 20% of the time explaining how I learned business mgt at Harvard but not at HBS.
THERE ARE A ZILLION GREAT SCHOOLS. My advice – if you can’t get into HBS (THIS IS OCTOBER 2020 COVID POST) SAVE YOUR BLOODY MONEY.
INVEST IN A HBS EDUCATION.
DO NOT INVEST IN HES EDUCATION IN LIEU OF HBS. It isn’t comparable.
YOU WILL HAVE A NEGATIVE RETURN ON YOUR MONEY
Now….to be contrarian – if you find yourself with a stack of money, no responsibilities and plenty of free time, then by all means, head down to Harvard Square. Harvard – in both sides of the Charles River – is a magical place regardless of the school
Wow, thanks for sharing! This is indeed a rare perspective. A couple follow-up questions:
– Which program did you participate in at HBS? The MBA is the most well-known but I know two or three people who went through the AMP at a later stage in their careers.
– Why did you go back to HES for another year?
– For the 20% of HES education that was incredible, what were the standout areas? For the 50% that sucked, what made it so, generally speaking?
Why are there 18-20 year olds comparing themselves to seasoned professionals? Likewise, why are senior level employees and managers concerned with how a 19 year old views their accomplishments? HES degree candidates often come into this from the industry… many of them from companies like Microsoft, Google, Booz Allen, McKinsey, etc.
Folks should tread lightly and not be quick to discredit HES. Nobody WANTS to discredit the accomplishments of Harvard College students, but they shouldn’t focus too much on the fact they chose a more traditional path. The outliers are often the ones that make the most impact.
Eventually Harvard will need to right its wrong and remove “in extension studies”, they’ll look back on this mishap as a form of elitism that was uncalled for.