For each course in my homemade MBA curriculum, I will provide before-and-after commentary – think of it as a Coursera course review. The before section will cover my expectations going into the course and any specific reasons I chose to take it. The after section will be a reflection of what I thought of the course (format, material, professor, workload, etc.), what I learned vs. what I expected to learn, and whether or not I would recommend it to others (and why). I hope this Coursera course-review format is useful for the rest of you out there who are making your own homemade MBAs using Coursera.
Homemade MBA Coursera course: Introduction to Corporate Finance
- Parent University: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Business
- Description: Part of the Wharton MBA Foundation Series. This course serves as an introduction to business finance (corporate financial management and investments) for graduate level business school students preparing for upper-level course work. The primary objective is to provide a framework, concepts, and tools for analyzing financial decisions based on fundamental principles of modern financial theory.
Chosen to replicate the HBS MBA course: Finance 1
- Description: This course examines the role of finance in supporting the functional areas of a firm, and fosters an understanding of how financial decisions themselves can create value.
Expectations going in:
- As I am vaguely familiar with the concepts of Finance from my job and from some personal finance leisure reading, I expect to learn about the time value of money, the balancing of risk and return in investments, and about financial evaluation criteria for projects at work.
Specific reasons I chose this course:
- In addition to being a perfect match for the HBS Finance 1 course, I chose this course because it was offered by Wharton, a top-tier business school. Also, Finance is an important subject to understand for my current job (and intended career).
My thoughts of the course:
- Format – good
- This class used the reliable combination of video lectures accompanied by a weekly homework assignment, called a “problem set.” The problem sets were usually about 10 questions and took a few hours to complete. We were allowed three attempts on each problem set, with the highest score taken as the grade. The problem sets were due the week they were released, so there was no working ahead (or falling behind) in this class if you wanted the Statement of Accomplishment. The week after each problem set was due, Prof. Allen released the solutions so you could review your work. A total of five problem sets combined to make 25% of your final grade.
- Case. In addition to the problem sets, there was a case. The case presented us with a business situation and asked a range of questions that tested concepts we had learned throughout the class. The case was released in Week 5 of the course, consisted of 17 questions, and took me well over 10 hours to complete, as some of the calculations were rather lengthy and complex. In hindsight, I found that the Case was fantastic preparation for the final exam, which essentially had a mini-case in it (6 years of cashflows in the final, vs. 25 years in the Case). The Case was worth 25% of our final grade.
- Final exam. The final exam was very important at a whopping 50% of our final grade. Although slightly nerve wracking, this did more closely mirror the weighting of homework to exams in most graduate level courses. Fortunately, the final was not timed for those of us taking it via Coursera (it was for the on-campus students). I found the final to be a fair, challenging test of the concepts we learned in class. However, I thought the final exam wasn’t as thorough or as difficult as the case (thankfully!).
- This class also made good use of the discussion forums for fellow students to help each other out with homework problems, much like you would in a real class. However, I think it was more difficult to collaborate on the Coursera discussion forums without crossing the line into territory that I would consider cheating, but every person is entitled to their own opinion of exactly where that line is.
- Material – amazing
- This was real Wharton material. It was as if we were sitting in the lectures right next to the real Wharton MBA students (well, I guess it was a camera was sitting in lecture with them, not me, but it felt the same). Also, it was very nice of Prof. Allen to provide typed lecture notes, as well as scans of the handwritten material (see photo) from each lecture.
- One con of this format was that there was a ridiculous amount of background noise (coughing, papers shuffling, etc.) in the first four weeks of lectures that was very distracting and made it difficult to hear Prof. Allen at times. However, thanks to some feedback on the discussion forums, the Wharton/Coursera staff were able to fix this issue for Weeks 5 and 6 (thanks!).
- Professor – Ok
- For such a prestigious school, I wasn’t overly impressed with Prof. Allen. While it was obvious that he is an expert in Finance with a firm command of the material, I didn’t see his skill as a teacher come across in this class. I thought he was surprisingly poor at answering questions from the real students in class, and conveyed a slightly impatient tone/demeanor to his students. That said, it’s hard to pick up the real feeling of a lecture (or a prof.’s tone/demeanor) through a video recording. Prof. Allen did a good job of using “motivation examples” at the beginning of each lecture to set the scene for how the concepts he was about to teach us could be applied in the real world. He was also very well organized and very prepared for his lectures.
- Workload – intense!
- There’s no way around it, this class was intense. The time commitment was significant, the pace was fast, and the material was difficult. In addition to three hours of lecture each week (two 1.5 hour real classroom lectures), there was a problem set every week that took about another 3ish hours to complete, with much effort and concentration required. The case added another 10-15+ hours of focused effort, and the final perhaps another 2-3. I’m glad this class was only six weeks, because I don’t know how much longer I could sustain the effort without burning out. Now that I’m done, I do feel really proud of finishing the class, and this Statement of Accomplishment will really mean something to me.
- One little nit-pick – Prof. Allen makes his on-campus students do the calculations in the Wharton class with a financial calculator because they won’t have access to excel during the in-class exam. However, this bears no relevance to the real world where you will always, and I mean always have access to excel. It would be more useful to set up the assignments, case, and exam to assume excel usage than archaic financial calculators. I felt for the real MBA students in class that had to suffer through without excel!
What I learned vs. what I expected to learn
- This class delivered on all of my expectations. We covered time value of money, evaluation criteria for determining which projects to invest in, and a decent amount of portfolio management – including a deeper dive into the Capital Asset Pricing Model than I will ever need!
Would I recommend this course to others?
- Although this class is certainly brisk, and probably more suited for those who are mathematically inclined, I think the basics of Finance is an important aspect of any Homemade MBA. This class covered all the core material an Intro to Finance class should cover, and did a good job of focusing on the basics. And, of course, it’s from Wharton, a highly reputable and high-ranking business school, so that is certainly a plus!
As a reminder, each course of my homemade MBA curriculum replicates a course from Harvard Business School’s first-year Required Curriculum (as noted here in my post explaining how I made my homemade MBA curriculum).
If you have any thoughts or questions about this course or my review of it, please let me know in the comments section below.