The Gatekeeper to Harvard Business School

Dee, the typical MBA student tends to have five years of work experience. Yet, Harvard now has a program, dubbed 2+2, to welcome a much higher percentage of students with only two years of experience. Is this because Harvard wants a younger class?

This program is relatively new, but it is a re-jiggering of the old deferred admission program. It is meant to attract people to business school at a time when they are making other decisions—thinking about law or medicine or engineering. These Millennials want to have their plans mapped out and so do their parents. So the 2+2 program is meant to get the MBA degree before them. They apply in their junior year of college and before they become seniors we accept them, giving them a two-year deferral before they start at Harvard. The first class of about 100 of them will begin next year as members of the Class of 2013.

Is the program also meant to bring the average age of a Harvard MBA down?

It’s about capturing college seniors at the time they’re making decisions about their future. In the Class of 2012, zero percent have no work experience. There’s the perception out there that suddenly Harvard’s average age of admission is 22. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our metric is years from college graduation rather than work experience. A 30-year old, might have less work experience because she’s been in a PhD program. We do want to straighten out a perception that there is a direct correlation between work experience and the strength of an applicant’s candidacy. People were staying in jobs they didn’t want to be in because they wanted to be a stronger applicant.

What has it been like for you to switch gears and recruit college juniors who are 20-year-olds?

Let me tell you a story. There was this kid who was coming into my office here for an interview in the summer. He just finished his junior year. It was a 9 a.m. interview on a Monday morning. We know how young this group is so we are really primed to make them as comfortable as possible. And when this young guy arrived, I could tell he was nervous so I tried to toss him a softball question.

‘If this were New Year’s Eve and you had to make a resolution about what you would do to get better what would be on your list?’ I asked.

He said, ‘I would really like to be more organized and make better plans.’

So I‘m thinking to myself, why would he say that?

‘Can you give me an example so I understand what you mean,” I asked.

He says, ‘I was getting ready to come here from Washington, D.C., and I was packing and I thought I had done a great job trying hard to be well organized. I got to my hotel last night in Boston, unpacked my suitcase, and I realized I didn’t have a dress shirt.’

So it’s 10 p.m. on a Sunday, and he is freaking out. He has to meet us at 9 the next morning. I said, ‘Okay, that is scary. What did you do?’

He said, ‘I had a funky t-shirt from college. I went into the street and managed to barter it for this shirt.’

He had a perfect white dress shirt on, and I was thinking, bingo. That’s what I want at HBS: Someone who could think on his feet and figure it out. I don’t know if I could have gotten to that story any other way.

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