Case Study Method: 5 MBA programs that are good at it

Top Case MethodWhile many credit Harvard Business School for the introduction of the case study method, few know that it was the second educational institution to use it. The first was the Harvard Law School, in 1870. HBS adopted this method in 1920.  Today, the case study method is the most popular tool in management education. And not surprising, the best colleges in the world have adopted this tool.

What is the case study method?

Case studies are the presentation of real life business scenarios that are complex and dependent on multiple variables. It includes information about that scenario as well as specific conditions in which it takes place. It could be a business dilemma, a policy decision, or an ethical question. Students have to analyze the facts, and find a feasible solution. The proposed solution should be supported by data and should be logically reached. In class, the professor would present the scenario and ask for responses. Students then present their solution, which are then debated.

Most colleges today follow this teaching methodology. Both teachers and students enjoy the debate that follows. Here are the top 5 MBA programs that are known to be the best in implementing the case study methodology:

1) Harvard MBA Program

The pioneers are also the leaders. As can be seen from the HBS Case Study classroom experience, students love the case study method.

Over 80% of the classes in HBS MBA is taught with his method. By the time a student passes out, he would have analyzed almost two thousand cases, covering hundreds of businesses.  The cases cover various aspects of a business:  Marketing, strategy, leadership, technology and negotiation. Most schools have followed the lead of HBS and have customized their MBA programs accordingly.

2) Darden MBA

Consider this fact: In 2012, three professors from Darden received the Wachovia Awards for Case Development. Therefore, it is not surprising that Darden is reputed to have among the world’s best collection of cases. All of which is put to good use to develop good decision making skills in MBA students.  At Darden, students form Learning Teams to understand and discuss cases. Since most business decisions are not isolated, and cover a combination of different disciplines, Darden’s emphasis is on multidisciplinary cases.

Additional information on Darden’s case study expertise

3) Insead

Insead’s case studies  are the second most widely used, after that of HBS. Known as 'The Business School for the World', Insead has a collection of cases that is unmatched in the wide variety of countries and cultures it is based on. It focuses on a wide geographical area, covering countries as diverse as India, Kenya, Ukraine, Costa Rica and China. This helps students develop a global perspective about business strategies and decisions.

4) Ivey

Ivey B-school has been a major publisher of case studies. It has published over 2,600 case studies till date. A student goes through more than 300 cases a year. The cases are so complex; a student spends approximately 6-8 hours on each one of them. Over time, students develop decision-making abilities that are based on knowledge and intuition. This is a fact testified by ex-students now ruling the top ranks in companies across Canada, as can be seen here:


The case study method is the central approach for the faculty at IESE, taking up over 80% of the course time.  Here, over 300 cases are dissected every year to help students understand the factors that influence real-life business decisions. The fact that there are 50+ nationalities on campus makes case discussions even more of a learning experience.IESE’s case selection is considered varied and outstanding. Besides its own collection, the IESE publishes an extensive collection of cases from ECCH, Stanford, Harvard and LBS, to name a few.

Advantages of Case Study Method

By the time a student earns an MBA, the case studies would guarantee that the student understand a wide variety of scenarios and would have a good idea on how to handle them. He would have analyzed situations from the point of view of a manager, the CEO and a team member. The many different points of view in the classroom would have broadened his perspective, and the range of available solutions. And this allows the student to make decisions holistically.

Case studies are a proven method in management education and you can’t go wrong in choosing an MBA program that focuses on it. But at the same time, do remember that just case studies are not enough. The top MBA programs, including Harvard are shifting their focus to Experiential Learning, which would be the next biggest advancement in management education.

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