HBS 2+2: A No-Risk Way To Get Into Harvard Business School?

Successful 2+2 candidate Dvij Bajpai

‘THIS SEEMS LIKE THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS’

Like Bajpai, she also began to flirt with the idea of doing an MBA during college. “I definitely realized in my sophomore year that eventually I would want to get into the business side of engineering,” says Blake, who now works as a process engineer for BP. “So I was thinking about a future MBA when a friend told me about the 2-2 program. It sounded like perfect timing. I was hoping to work for a natural gas company as an engineer so I didn’t want to completely depart from that. This seems like the best of both worlds.”

The 2+2 application process reminded Blake of the time she was applying to go to Texas A&M, with some twists. “Taking the GMAT was probably the hardest part for me,” she says. “But the application felt really similar to when you apply to undergrad, including the essay prompt to introduce yourself on the first day of class. I kind of had fun with it. I knew I wanted this but also felt I had nothing to lose by being genuine. It was a pretty introspective experience putting the essay together. I wrote about why an engineer wants to go to business school.”

Her perspective clearly worked. “I explained that the really exciting companies have people who are good at understanding how techniligy will change in the future and how a product can survive in different economic circumstances. I wanted to have this technical background but I also wanted to apply it to the business side of what makes a company tick.”

‘AT THE END OF THE DAY, I THOUGHT I COULD BE HERE AND I COULD DO THIS’

When she traveled to Boston for the first time in her life for the on-campus interview, Blake says it was unlike anything she had ever experienced. “The moment I walked into the room I was told, ‘This is a conversation and I don’t have any specific questions for you. I am going to ask you about your background and we’ll see where we go from there.’” Blake remembers starting the interview with a discussion of her two summer internships at BP and ended up talking about how to help promote more women in leadership roles.

She strolled the HBS campus, she says, imagining the influential people who had been there and thinking about the authors of the books in Baker Library and the students who had read them. “I was a little intimidated going up there. But Dee (Leopold) was a huge part in making me feel welcome at HBS. She really made the day about ‘we are here to get to know you and you are here to get to know us.’ By the end of THE day, I thought I could be here and I could do this. That weekend was pretty wild. I had a senior formal on Friday night. I flew to Boston on Sunday, interviewed on Monday, and flew back to College Station to give my senior design presentation.”

Blake got her good news shortly after the presentation. She was on an airplane, flying to Taiwan, to spend a week with friends before going to China for her final Texas A&M class. “I was on the plane to Taiwan when our notification was supposed to go live,” remembers Blake. “I paid the $10 for airplane wifi, pulled it up and had a really hard time containing myself in the middle seat of the airplane. I was pretty excited.”

TAKING THE GRE IN INDIA THE DAY AFTER HIS GRANDMOTHER DIED

So was Bajpai. Though he waited until the last minute to draft his essay, he first began thinking about the possibility of an MBA degree when working on a capstone engineering project at Dartmouth. “We were trying to develop a device that could detect and quantify seizures and I began to realize that I was more inclined to the business side of things than the engineering side,” says the 23-year-old. “There were a lot of interesting technical problems but none of them mattered if you couldn’t get funding, or get your teammates to work together, or develop a good strategy for the product.”

Bajpai, who went to Dhirubhai Ambani International School in Bombay, returned to India to visit his family, scheduling his test date for the GRE there. “Then my grandmother passed away and the next day was my GRE exam,” he recalls. I did it, and I did okay. But I didn’t do very well, even though it was good enough. If you told me a year before that I would apply to business school I would have said you were crazy.”

Still, he graduated from Amherst summa cum laude with a BA in math in 2015 and from Dartmouth with his BS in engineering the following year. Plus, he had been a research assistant at Amherst who had designed a temperature sensing circuit, programmed a microcontroller, and received the Howard Hughes Fellowship to develop a device to control the termperature of a laser cavity to within 0.001 K. In other words, he has serious quant cred.

‘WHY DOES ANYONE GO TO BUSINESS SCHOOL?’

Yet, when it came to writing his essay, he was initially dumbfounded. Bajpai told his friend he was thinking about writing on his experience as an international student and what it was like to fit in. “I had a lot to say about that, but I didn’t think it would have been as powerful an essay.”

His friend agreed. “‘That’s pretty good,’ he told me, ‘but you have to ask yourself what are they looking for? When they pick this essay up, what will they expect to read?’”

After grabbing a fast food dinner from Kentucky Fried Chicken, the pair drove around the town in Tyler’s car. “He asked me, ‘Why does anyone go to business school and what could you bring to business skills? You have strong quanitative skills. Why is that useful? Well, business is becoming increasingly data-driven so that has become more important.’

“At some point, it clicked,” recalls Bajpai. “When I was heavily involved in my capstone project, it was my whole life and I realized then the biggest challenges were not technical problems.” So he wrote about that—and it ultimately worked. Bajpai graduated from Dartmouth last June, spent the summer in Hanover, and then moved to Boston to begin work as a product engineer for Analog Devices. “I’m really enjoying my job because I am developing a lot of technical skills,” he says.

‘THE DEGREE OFFERS A UNIQUE PIVOT POINT IN A CAREER’

Indeed, a typical quandary for many 2+2 commits is when to leave their jobs. Most tend to stay in their positions for slightly more than three years, says Bernstein. “There used to be a cuttoff point. Now we are letting it go by a little bit. It’s less about age and more about experience. The degree offers a unique pivot point in a career. People can see it for multiple purposes to accelerate their trajectory, to change industries, functions or geographies, to try something they never thought they would try. If you come here when you are not ready to pivot, you can miss out on that opportunity. If you wait too long, you’ll plant seeds and some sprouts will have already matured. Then, you’ll have the potential not to have as valuable an experience.”

Students eager to get a Harvard MBA often want to do everything they can to put themselves in the best possible position for an acceptance. Bernstein recalls a Harvard College student asking what he should do over a two-year period to put the odds in his favor. “He told me, ‘I want to be premed but want to make sure I don’t do anything that would close the door,’” says Bernstein. “We don’t want you to design your life around getting into Harvard Business School. “We are going to give you the opportunity to design your own life and decide what you want to do. But you can’t turn off people. There is a real desire to come here.”

Ultimately, the 2+2 program makes one of life’s most transforming educational experiences accessible to undergrads and grad students before they rack up any full-time work experience on their resumes. “Right now, says Cecil Alfaro Mora, “I see business school as a place where I can go and start something different, something more disruptive. Today I am in a very traditional industry. It’s a good business, but I’m looking forward to getting a group of classmates together, figuring something out and trying to tackle a big problem.”

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About the Author...

John A. Byrne

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.