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Saturday Classes Are Making a Comeback

The MBA program’s newest offering, Weekend Sprints, invited students and partners to participate in classes and social events on Saturdays twice this semester.

The Weekend Sprints program was announced in August via an email from the leaders of the MBA program. My first thought? There’s no way people will take a weekend class.

I was wrong. No matter that HBS students are infamous for spending weekends out of town. Or that (according to this editor) weekends spent in Boston are best left gloriously empty, a time to catch up on sleep or homework or Netflix.

As it turned out, people were not at all hesitant to sign up for weekend classes. Yours truly included.

“We’ve been thrilled by the number of students who joined Sprints, and we think those numbers reflect real enthusiasm for this model,” Matt Weinzierl, Chair of the MBA Program and the key faculty lead behind the program, told me. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in a wide range of the offerings, with a particular favorite model being peeks into oversubscribed EC courses.” Several classes – including those oversubscribed EC courses, ironically enough – even had waitlists.

The Weekend Sprints program occurred twice this semester, first in late September and then again in early November. On both weekends, the model was largely the same: a Friday afternoon social gathering followed by a Saturday full of academic programming and capped off with an evening party.

The academic model for the program was unique. “Experimentation is one of the main features of Sprints,” Weinzierl said. Not all classes followed the case method as a result. With no credits or grades on the line, faculty members tested out different course formats, including expert panels and interactive lectures. “Leaving the format open like this also increases the probability that students will find these programs exciting and unique, and therefore worth giving up a Saturday to participate,” shared Tom Finan and Sharon Yamamoto, leaders on the Student & Academic Services (SAS) team. Some class offerings spanned multiple hours with a lunch break, while others were as short as 90 minutes. Participants could sign up to learn about topics ranging from personal time management strategies, to the business of running for office, to leading with generative AI. And unlike other academic offerings at the school, Weekend Sprints were open to partners, too – not just MBA students.

The Sprints program included a social component as well, that all members of the community could attend regardless of if they signed up for a class. Dubbed “Night at the Finish Line,” the November party was held in Spangler. When I first read about the program, my second thought, after wondering if anyone would sign up for a weekend class, was: There is no way people will want to party in…Spangler.

Again, I was wrong. Anyone walking past the student center that evening might have been surprised by the colored neon lights shining from the windows (a far cry from the typical warm yellow) and the loud bass from a student DJ filling the Meredith Room. Inside Spangler, community members posed at a large photo booth, grabbed cocktails and mocktails from the transformed coffee bar, danced, enjoyed live jazz music in addition to the DJ, and filled plates from food stations piled high in every corner. The place was absolutely packed.

Overall sentiment on the program was mixed but largely positive. Students and partners that I talked to mentioned being excited about the topics and particularly interested in what guest speakers had to say. “The first weekend was a ten out of ten,” an EC student told me. “I took both Capitalism and the State and Founder Mindset and liked them a lot.” Both of these classes were shortened versions of popular semester-long EC courses. A partner who participated in several Sprints shared, “I wanted to get a sense of the HBS experience as a partner who doesn’t always get the chance to attend classes, and overall they lived up to my expectations.” Another partner shared that he was pleasantly surprised by the course content, thanks to “great framing” from the professor and a panel of guests who “answered some very insightful questions about their journey.” My experience was also positive – I took a 90-minute course on a topic I’m personally passionate about (one not currently covered in the existing HBS curriculum), and had the chance to reconnect with a professor from my RC year who was leading the Sprint.

However, many wished there were additional opportunities to expand on what they were learning, or felt that the content wasn’t what they had expected from the original class description. “The Sprint I attended was underwhelming and unproductive. I didn’t have much experience in the field, and was expecting a broader brush stroke on the business models. I could see it being useful for someone closer to the field, though,” an RC student divulged. An EC student said that “the content wasn’t super relevant” in one of the Sprints he took, sharing that it would have been more useful to learn more about how things work in the industry the course covered. The early timing of some sessions was also a downside. “Having it at 8AM on a Saturday was frustrating,” an EC partner told me.

What’s next for Weekend Sprints? According to Weinzierl, the goal is to get the next round on the books even earlier to avoid scheduling conflicts. “We are excited to make Sprints a new tradition at HBS, building on their success this year!” he said.

Early in RC year, I remember hearing about the “old days” of Harvard Business School, when Saturday classes were the norm. “You’re lucky,” professors and administrators chided, overhearing students talking wistfully about four-day weeks at Wharton and Stanford and Kellogg. “Years ago, HBS students had no choice but to take classes on Saturdays.”

Now we have a choice, and students are leaning in. Why? It’s hard to say. It helps that the Sprints are low stakes (no credit, no grades) and not every weekend – scarcity breeds demand, after all. The different format, unique topics, and link to beloved courses contribute as well. There’s also the messaging we’ve heard from the very beginning – as Weinzierl reiterated to me, “education is the foundation of the HBS MBA experience.” And HBS students really do love to learn.

And so, despite my aversion to doing literally anything productive on weekends, I will probably be signing up again.

Rory Finnegan (MBA ’24) has been an avid reader and writer all her life. She pursued these interests all the way through college, graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in poetry writing. After taking a couple years off from her literary passions to work at McKinsey & Company, Rory has been delighted to pick up the pen again by writing for the Harbus.

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