The Benefits of Deferred Admission Programs (Like HBS’s 2+2)

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Top-tier MBA Programs such as Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, Wharton, and others allow some applicants to apply for their MBAs while still in college, many years in advance of when they would actually attend. Applying to these programs comes with enormous benefits, such that if you're still in college and think you might like to go for an MBA sometime in the future, you should absolutely apply now while you're still in school. The deadlines for these programs are generally in March and April, so now is the time to get started on your applications! If you're undecided, here are just a few of the benefits you can expect from applying now:

Hedges career risk

Having an admissions offer from a top business school in your back pocket is the ultimate hedge to your career risk. Post-MBA salaries are consistently attractive ($140,000 starting base salary for consultants) because prestigious firms across industries are always looking for top talent from business schools. There really is no downside. Consider the following scenarios once you have your deferred admissions offer in hand:

  • Laid off from your job after college? No problem! Just bide your time until it’s time to attend business school, recruit for a prestigious job and get your career back on track.
  • Discover that you hate your first job and need to change industries in a hurry? No worries – that’s the whole point of going to business school, and you won’t have to have an awkward conversation with your boss when you follow through on your preexisting career plan.
  • Love your job and have great success in it? That’s awesome! In that case maybe you won't need business school. Just decline your admissions offer and continue killing it at life.

Career boost from b-school prestige

You may have never sat through one MBA class at HBS, but with that deferred 2+2 offer of admission on your LinkedIn profile, you can still benefit from the enhanced prestige that brings. Employers who may otherwise be skeptical of your abilities might be more willing to take a risk on hiring you given both the selection signal from HBS and because they know that you will be able to enhance their brand reputation, both by talking up the company among the student body and by allowing them to count an HBS student as an alumnus of their analyst class. Some employers may even make prospective assumptions of your analytical abilities and excel skills based on what they expect you would have had to know in order to get into the school.

MBAs are mostly about brand names and prestige – a deferred admission program essentially gives you more years to enjoy those attributes.

Less competitive peer set

Consider the typical applicants to Stanford GSB – they are consultants from Big-3 firms, bankers from the biggest brands on Wall Street, and VCs from the most famous funds. They have spent years racking up accomplishments, leadership, prestigious work experience, and desirable skills. Competing against them requires something truly special.

Now consider the peer group for those applying to its Deferred Enrollment program: they are all just college students. Sure they may go to great schools, with high GPAs and strong test scores, but their resumes are relatively bare. They are being admitted on the prospect of the accomplishments they may achieve, rather than for services already rendered. In this case, your ability to gain admission depends much more on the narrative story you tell -- something you have full control over (ask us why) -- rather than the twists and turns of a career you don’t always have the power to control.

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Two bites at the apple

Deferred enrollment or the traditional admissions process? Why not both? MBA programs tend to love reapplicants so applying to 2+2 just gives you an extra chance to get in, in addition to applying after a little bit of work experience. In that way, applying now essentially doubles your chance of admission. With programs like HBS accepting only 11% of candidates, you should use every advantage you can get.

Flexibility on when to attend

HBS calls its deferred admissions program 2+2 on the idea that applicants will spend 2 years working before enrolling in the 2-year MBA program. However, that first 2 is more of a “2-ish”. HBS just wants you to have at least 2 years of work experience and will let you come back after 2, 3, or even 4 years. This gives you a tremendous amount of flexibility to attend business school when it is best for your career. In contrast, HBS almost never allows its traditional applicants to defer an offer of admission from one year to another. If things change in that case, you’re going to be in the difficult position between declining an exciting career opportunity and declining a spot in HBS that you might never get back.

Don’t make that mistake. Apply to a deferred program if at all possible.

The “Optionality” of Business School: How deferred admissions MBA programs can make you rich

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Getting accepted into a deferred MBA admissions program frees you up to take career risks early on, knowing that you can always fall back on recruiting for a cushy management consulting or investment banking job in business school. This is a huge, liberating blessing. Taking career risks early allows for truly superior financial returns in life. Consider an analogy to a financial portfolio. Salaried labor is like a bond – it pays consistent, steady, reliable returns. At the start of your career, you have 30+ working years ahead of you: a veritable basket of bonds. In contrast, starting a business or working at an early stage start-up comes with potentially volatile and uncertain salaries, but the potential for enormous upside through equity. This profile is much more like a stock.

Because you have many working years ahead of you, working in a steady job is equivalent to investing your portfolio 100% in bonds: low-risk, but low-reward. Doing this doesn’t make sense when it comes to personal investments; most financial advisers recommend young people invest 10% in bonds and 90% in stocks. Therefore it is important that you diversity your “portfolio” by taking a lot of career risks early on. Later in life, when you only have a few years of work left before retirement, it’s advisable to shift your personal investments to 90% bonds and 10% stocks. Accordingly, you won’t want to be working at a start-up and instead should have a steady, salaried job.

A deferred admission to business school essentially allows you to take better advantage of this high-risk early strategy by limiting your downside. If you follow this advice and take a bunch of career risks right out of college and your start-up becomes a unicorn, netting you millions of dollars – awesome! Take the money, decline your business school offer and never look back. However, if your start-up flops you can just come to business school and either start again on another start-up with the validation of a brand-name school, or switch to a traditional “bond-like” job at McKinsey.

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Many two-year MBA programs allow students to take a number of years off between their first year and second year (at HBS, it is 5), so many students come into school, form a start-up, and take time off to run it, safe in the knowledge that if it flops, they can always come back and get an awesome job.

When you think about it, the payout profile of business school is similar to that of a call option – it lets you sell your labor at a predictable price (~$140,000 in salary for most consulting firms). How do you increase the price of an option? Through increased volatility in the marker. And how do you get that? By taking a ton of career risks. Once you have your admissions offer in hand, taking these risks is just a prudent thing to do to increase the value of your property.

In that way an early admission to business school equips you with the tools necessary to greatly increase your earnings and potentially make you rich.

The Best MBA Deferred Admissions Programs (to apply to when still in college)

College is a great time to apply to business school. Applying now gives you another opportunity for admission, a potentially less competitive peer group to compete against, and much greater flexibility on when to attend. An offer of admission from a top program also enhances your resume prestige and hedges your career risk. There really is no downside. Offers of deferred admission usually give students a guaranteed spot in a future MBA class provided they spend two or more years getting business experience (which you will need anyways to get the most out of business school). Here are the top programs that offer such deferred enrollment options: 

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Harvard Business School 2+2

Perhaps the most famous of the deferred admission MBA programs is Harvard’s 2+2, established by its famous former director Lee Leopold. Seen as a tactic to pluck out high-prestige students who might otherwise be attracted by the prospect of law school, 2+2 is now a leading feeder of STEM students, among others, into its rigorous case-based classes. 60% of 2+2 admits come from STEM backgrounds and 20% come from international students.

Students in college or graduate programs (attended directly after college, but not PhD programs, law school or medical school) can apply and defer attending the 2-year MBA program for between 2 and 4 years. To be considered for admission to the 2+2 Program Class of 2022 (entering fall 2020), you must graduate from your program between October 1, 2017 and September 30, 2018. 2+2 applicants save $150 on the application fee compared to regular applicants.

Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment

An excellent way into the US business school with the lowest acceptance rate. Stanford actually offers direct enrollment opportunities for college students, however in almost every case this deferred enrollment option is more advisable. Deferred Enrollment is open to those graduating between October last year and September this year from either college or a graduate program you immediately enrolled in after college, as well as current law school and medical school students. In most cases the deferral requested by GSB for the student is 2 years. Candidates for this program can apply in any round, though Round 3 is slightly preferred, and the application fee is $100.

Stanford intimates that this enrollment option is aimed at college seniors who seek to work in post-MBA industries that either require work experience (consulting) or previous work experience in that same field (private equity, biotechnology).

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Wharton Moelis Advance Access Program

The newest deferred admission program on the market! Open only to undergraduate students studying at the University of Pennsylvania, the Moelis Advance Access Program is a deferred admission program that gives Penn undergraduates a guaranteed pathway to the Wharton MBA while they pursue quality work experience. Moelis Fellows access the Wharton network and resources during their deferment period and will be considered for a $10,000 per year fellowship during the 2-year full-time MBA program. Applications open in March with Round 3.

Yale SOM Silver Scholars Program

Truly unique among the “deferred admission” programs is Yale’s Silver Scholars. A three year program, Silver Scholars spend the first year completing the core curriculum at Yale, the second year in an extended internship, and third year taking elective coursework back at Yale before graduation. Extended internship placements include start-ups, government education departments, general management roles in large corporations, and investment firms. Though the Silver Scholar is different in character than the traditional MBA programs, it offers students a “first class ticket” at this prestigious business school that is rocketing up the rankings.

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Chicago Booth Scholars Program

Booth offers two programs aimed at college students. The first is the Booth Scholars Program, which provides fourth-year students studying at the University of Chicago a special opportunity to apply to Booth’s Full-Time MBA Program prior to graduation and defer enrollment for three years. During the deferment period, Booth Scholars are expected to seek substantive work experience that will position them to succeed at Chicago Booth and beyond.

Booth also accepts applications from college seniors looking to directly attend Booth after college. These candidate apply through the regular process, but their application fees are waived.

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BONUS secret program: MIT Sloan

Though MIT never explicitly states that it has a deferred admission program, it does! You can see implicitly from its FAQs, notably

  • "We offer fee waivers to the following applicants:... Current college seniors who are U.S. citizens and who will graduate from a U.S. university in 2018"
  • Q: "Do you offer deferrals?"
    A: "Our general policy is not to defer admission, except in the case of college seniors who wish to get work experience before returning to school."