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All About the Case Study Method

All About the Case Study Method

While researching business schools and their different teaching methods, you may have come across something called the case study method. A teaching method employed by many business schools, the case study method focuses on a “learning by doing” approach. Here, students are expected to provide solutions to complex real-life scenarios that are dependent on many variables. Though Harvard Business School (HBS) is credited for introducing the case study method, it was actually introduced by Harvard Law School in 1870, 50 years before HBS adopted it. Read on to know more about this method and its benefits. 

What is the case study format?
The case study method is a type of problem-based learning that deals with real-life or hypothetical business scenarios (i.e., cases), usually in the fields of marketing, finance, operations, strategy and policy, among others. Case studies are devised by faculty often with experts in industries to reflect the problems they face. The context of the scenario is provided; subjective and objective data often includes company history, financial data, product information and scope of operations. 

The problems presented can relate to a company’s new market entry strategy, its pricing and questions about international expansion, among others. In each of these cases, the objective is the same–evaluate the underlying issues, understand all the variables surrounding the case, ask for information if not available and derive logical solutions based on data. While there is no “correct” solution, what is important is the way you have arrived at the solution–it needs to be logical and well-thought out.

The case is also discussed and debated in the classroom, which not only encourages interaction and class discussion but also gives you the chance to understand, appreciate and learn from different points of view. What makes the case study method unique is that instead of lectures in a classroom-based environment, it puts you in the shoes of the person in the case. For example, you could be the CEO of Starbucks trying to determine which country makes the most sense to enter, or you could be the CMO at UBER trying to get more people to use the app. It gears you up for real-life situations that you might face post business school.

What programmes follow the case study method?
There are many MBA programmes that are known for using the case study method. Some business schools teach exclusively in the case-based method such as Harvard Business School, Darden School of Business, Ivey Business School and IESE Business School. Others such as INSEAD, Haas School of Business, Tuck School of Business, Stanford Graduate School of Business, The Wharton School, Columbia Business School and many others follow a hybrid system of the case-based method as well as classroom lectures.

What value does the case study method have for me?
Case studies give you the opportunity to understand a wide variety of scenarios and learn how to handle them. The different points of view presented in class will enable you to broaden your perspective and the wide range of possible solutions from your classmates will help you make holistic decisions.

The case study method helps you develop:

  1. Critical thinking – Pouring over data, considering all the variables in a scenario and thorough analysis of every situation will help you develop an analytical mind frame. This is especially useful for someone who is not from a STEM/consulting background.
  2. Gain confidence – Defending your views while also understanding and considering differing opinions not only builds confidence but also prepares you for real-world corporate scenarios where you are likely to face such situations. 
  3. Broadening your horizons with a business outlook – Case studies which are used often focus on international business scenarios. This exposure to global perspectives will help you step out of your comfort zone and prepare you for future roles in international business.

What is the downside of the case study method?
While you will learn an array of skills through the case study method, there are some pitfalls:  

  1. Schools focused on case studies typically do 300-500 cases over a two-year period, which amounts to almost one case a day (when looking at approximately 60 weeks of teaching). This means that you will need to dedicate a lot of time to reading and analysing each case alongside other essential activities such as networking, attending events and the like. 
  2. Business cases must be constantly updated, otherwise, they become irrelevant in the current business environment. Continuous changes in technology and ways of doing business require case studies to evolve. The fluidity of the business world also means that by the time you graduate and take up careers, things may have changed and your learning could be redundant.

Interactive and thought-provoking, the case study method is an efficient way to put your fundamental learnings to the test and to learn new ideas. If you are unsure about which teaching method is best suited for you and which business schools you should apply to, get in touch with us. To know more about the work experience requirements, click here, to read more about the business school application process, click here.

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