Deferred Admissions MBA Programs

The college senior seeking my counsel on applying to Stanford GSB’s deferred admissions program beamed a sense of urgency. She was driven by a passion for women’s social entrepreneurship in the global economy and wanted to make an impact now. She had done her research and was clear why the MBA was critical to accelerating her ambitions—and from GSB specifically. She also understood her unique value proposition and didn’t want to wait the anticipated five-plus years to realize her dreams. This client also happened to have impressive leadership experience and was an academic rock star.

Deferred Admissions MBA programs like the Silver Scholars are designed to secure early career talent. The class profile for Harvard’s 2+2 Program (among the most sought-after) boasts a median GMAT of 730, a GPA of 3.67 and 11% acceptance rate (out of some 1,121 applications) – on par with its standard applicant pool. (Although it feels psychologically friendlier to be one among 1,121 applications versus the record-breaking 10,351 for HBS’s standard track program.)

These ultra-competitive programs, in return, allow ambitious young students to lock in a seat in one of the world’s top business schools – such as Stanford GSB, Harvard Business School, Chicago Booth and Wharton – before pursuing a few years of real world professional experience. While most MBA programs expect students to spend about three to six years in the workforce before applying for business school, deferred admissions opportunities give candidates a guaranteed pathway to the MBA before having extensive career exposure.

Each institution has its own unique take on the ‘early career MBA’ experience. The Yale and HBS programs, for example, attract college seniors from a diverse array of colleges and countries, while Wharton’s newly launched program, the Moelis Advance Access Program, is a feeder program for Wharton undergrads only. Yale’s Silver Scholars Program is unique in funneling accepted students straight into its MBA after college graduation. These newly graduated undergrads spend year one in the core MBA curriculum, followed by a full-time internship (or two, or three) in year two, then return for a third year at Yale SOM to finish their degree. While the Silver Scholars started out targeting undergrads from Yale, it’s evolved to recruit from a worldwide talent pool. As former Deputy Director of Admissions & Senior Associate Director of Career Development at Yale SOM, I can attest to the unique experiences and wealth of knowledge Silver Scholars add to the b-school classroom, as well as how well these students fare in terms of receiving faculty support and creating incredible professional networks so early on in their career.

Wharton, like Yale, has crafted a custom cohort and program, while Harvard 2+2 and Stanford deferred enrollment aren’t separate from their traditional MBA programs. Stanford’s is “just an alternate route” to the traditional MBA, while HBS originally targeted STEM majors (60% of last year’s applicants came from STEM disciplines). Chicago Booth, like Stanford, offers two options for “early stage” talent, including the Chicago Business Fellows program, which targets fast track professionals with three years or less of work experience, and the Booth Scholars Program (its deferral option).

Here’s a look at the top deferred admissions MBA programs in terms of their similarities and differences.

Common characteristics among deferred programs:

  • The promise of securing a seat in a highly prestigious MBA program while pursuing a few years of meaningful work experience
  • Candidates are invited to apply in their final year of undergrad
  • Ultracompetitive, as deferred programs have very small classes in terms of who they’re going to admit into their early career program
  • Successful applicants tend to have exceptional academics, demonstrated leadership and unwavering passion
  • Must complete the GMAT and jump through similar application hoops

Variations between programs relate to eligibility, composition, timing and opportunity:

  • Yale Silver Scholars is a three-year experience; students complete a fulltime internship during their second year, then return to b-school (only current college seniors eligible).
  • Wharton’s program is for Penn undergrads only, and candidates are considered for an annual fellowship of $10,000.
  • HBS 2+2: graduate students who went straight from undergrad to master’s programs are also eligible to apply (i.e. haven’t held a fulltime work position).
  • Stanford GSB offers both deferred and direct enrollment from undergrad, although it urges students to think about deferring for one to three years.
  • Stanford applicants enrolled in medical or law graduate programs straight after undergrad are also eligible to apply.

While MIT Sloan has no official deferral program, it’s worth mentioning that its admissions FAQs state: “Our general policy is not to defer admission but we will consider requests for deferral on a case by case basis.” Meaning, it’s a bit more covert, but the deferred option exists.

Despite its benefits, the deferred admission MBA isn’t for everyone. If you’re still curious explore your options before homing in on a specific track – or a specific school – this niche path won’t be a fit. But if you’re inclined to commit to a top business school before jumping into the workforce, here are some tips for maximizing your chances of MBA admissions success:

Three Top Tips for Deferred Admission MBA Applicants:

      1. Be crystal clear about your professional goals – know why you need the MBA to achieve your future aspirations and articulate a clear understanding of your longer-term career vision.
      2. Be prepared to make up for your lack of professional experience with proven leadership potential and exceptional extracurricular exploits. As one 2+2 grad posted on Quora, “Everyone is a leader in real life, not just on their resume. This leadership generally flows from the kind of obvious passion that you simply can’t fake.”
      3. Same goes for test scores and grades, which need to be noteworthy to demonstrate your potential and acumen in the absence of real world work experience. Take the time to prepare and practice for your GMAT exam, as well as to show your abilities in the classroom with related undergraduate coursework.

During my time at Yale, I observed two distinct profiles among the Silver Scholars. One was the individual whose sense of purpose and mission were evidenced by their actions. They had already managed to make an impact beyond the norm, innovating in their chosen industry, identifying needs, and willing to devote energy and time to pursuing their passion with unblinking focus. The other was the crazy smart wunderkind pursuing a career in business whose academic record and test scores spoke for themselves. These students knew what they wanted and saw the MBA as the fast track to getting there – as quickly as possible.

If this is resonating, and you can demonstrate a mix of early successes along with compelling reasoning for pursuing the MBA now, don’t miss exploring the unique opportunity afforded by the deferred admission MBA.


Kristen Beyers is an Expert Coach at MBA consulting firm Fortuna Admissions, and former Yale SOM Deputy Director of Admissions & Senior Associate Director of Career Development. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 13 of the top 15 business schools.

MORE FROM FORTUNA:  Mistakes To Avoid In Your MBA ApplicationWhy You Should Consider An International MBA,  What MBA Admissions Really Want: Tips From Top Schools