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. At the same time, “not every candidate is going to be a quant god.” says Bill, a Senior Consultant on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

“That doesn’t mean they aren’t a fabulous MBA candidate,” he adds. “Any case study team in the business school student class requires a variety of perspectives and problem solving approaches to provide the kind of holistic learning environment that makes the MBA so useful.” 

Can taking an additional math course, such as HBS CORe or MBAMath,  be a way to demonstrate to the admissions committee that the applicant can do the work in the program?

We explore that question here.

“Applicants should make the maximum effort when competing for seats in top business schools, because you know for sure your competition is,” explains Margaret, a Senior Consultant on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team. Sherry, who comes from Duke Admissions and is also a tenured consultant on our team, adds, “I agree and always think it’s better to do more than less, whenever possible, to demonstrate a willingness to make oneself the most competitive candidate, especially for the most elite programs.”

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,” notes 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. You do not want to unnecessarily burn through dozens of hours of studying and tedious coursework; there is an efficient path for each candidate.

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

Here’s a snapshot of the caliber of expertise on our SBC team.

Here, we outline factors to consider:

HBS CORe MBA Math University Extension/ Accredited Program Courses
Graded (yes/ no) No No Yes
Application required Yes, but almost all get accepted No No
Grading equivalent High Honors (best 15%), Honors (second 15%), Pass, Fail Report exam scores as a proxy for grades Actual grades are shown on transcript
Grading criteria Scores and participation: 75% quiz/ exam scoring and 25% participation and peer help The 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 commitment 7–20 hours per week, 150 hours total 20-40 hours 75 hours 
Cost $2,250* $149 $800-$1000
Difficulty Hard Easy Medium
Duration 8 to 12 weeks Flexible 1-3 months
Curriculum Focus Interactive, case study based, covering business analytics, economics, financial accounting Self-paced lessons in finance, accounting, economics, statistics, and spreadsheets Pre-MBA mathematics includes linear and matrix algebra and differential calculus
Best known for Gain a basic understanding of business concepts or as a taste of the MBA Easy, quick, cost-effective Credible & graded with transcript
Not ideal for Proving analytical readiness to top MBA program admissions Showing advanced analytical readiness Limited time scenarios
Fun fact CORe 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 that encourage MBA Math for prep, although it’s not for evaluative purposes for admission. This is the original alternative transcript option, which started long before the other two.


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 with limited math exposure in college must find other ways to show they can handle the quant coursework.

Across our client pool, those with liberal arts college backgrounds have tripled in 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.

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 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 shares 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.” 

SBC Consultant Sherry offers this advice for applicants considering whether they need to take a supplemental math course.

@stacyblackmanconsultingMath for Management: MATH X402 at UC Berkeley Extension Mathematical Solutions for Businesses: MGMT X 110 at UCLA Extension? original sound – Stacy Blackman Consulting

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

“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 several months (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.

The decision on whether to take a class and which one to select needs to be carefully considered.  For example, we may discourage taking Business Calculus for certain scenarios where we predict the class will be too difficult for the applicant. By contrast, UCLA’s x110 course, Mathematical Solutions for Businesses,  is “ideal for non-quantitative  candidates who need a less intimidating course because it is self-paced and manageable with respect to calculus rigor, ” SBC consultant Bill explains.
Course options vary between these programs, as well. “UCLA usually has a fixed start/end date and more hands-on instructor involvement, Berkeley is self-paced and it’s possible that instructors are less present. Some people need the freedom, others need the structure,” SBC consultant Margaret notes.

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


(323) 934-3936

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