It’s more than a little daunting to be a college senior, ejected from a lifetime in academia into the opening act of your professional life. But what if you were guaranteed a spot at one of the world’s elite academic institutions a few years down the road? That would certainly give you the edge in mapping the next steps of your career.
This year, MIT Sloan announced a new option for college seniors to apply for its MBA with a two- to five-year deferment. The school joins Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment, HBS 2+2, the Wharton Moelis Advance Access Program, Yale Silver Scholars, the Chicago Booth Scholars Program and Darden Future Years Scholar Program to offer rising stars a jumpstart on the MBA. It’s further evidence that elite business schools are themselves vying to secure a competitive advantage by securing top talent for their future cohorts.
This is great news for academic rock stars with lofty aspirations. As opposed to the traditional path to business school, in which you spend roughly three to six years earning real-world career experience before applying, deferred admissions programs offer a guaranteed path to the MBA before diving into the workforce.
“The big advantage – especially if you’re a planner – is that knowing what you’ll be doing for the next four-plus years may allow you to pursue options than you otherwise may not have – such as working for a startup or in a nonprofit,” says my Fortuna Admissions colleague, Heidi Hillis, Stanford GSB former alumni interviewer. “If I know I’m going to the GSB in two years, I might worry less about making money now and focus more on getting the right experience.”
And that’s what admissions committees are betting on. Tasked with luring top talent and building a diverse class, deferred admission programs, by design, are encouraging future students to take risks and explore nontraditional career paths.
7 TOP MBA EARLY ADMISSIONS PROGRAMS TO CONSIDER
The concept for deferred admissions MBA programs is generally the same – apply early, secure a seat, work for two-to-five years in between – although the incentives and characteristics between elite programs vary. Ahead of the CentreCourt MBA Festival in Washington, DC (March 28), as well as New York City (March 30) – which will be attended by Yale and Darden, here are some of the options that exceptional college students can consider.
1. Harvard’s 2+2 Program is among the best known, and admits spent maximum four, minimum two, years in the workforce before joining an MBA cohort (application deadline April 9). Its open to current college students as well as those enrolled in a full-time masters (as long as they haven’t held a full-time job). The class profile for HBS 2+2 is also on par with the standard pool, with a median GMAT of 730 and 3.67 GPA.
“Originally, the HBS 2+2 program was designed to expand the candidate pool to include more candidates that typically wouldn’t think of applying to business school – such as STEM profiles,” says Fortuna’s Malvina Miller Complainville, former Assistant Director at HBS. “Today about 60 percent of 2+2 commits have STEM backgrounds, compared to 38 percent for the standard track program, and each has the same acceptance rate of 11%.” While 2+2 courts STEM and humanities students, these concentrations are not a requirement.
2. Wharton Moelis Advance Access Program, unlike HBS, is a feeder program for undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania. (Its inaugural cohort accepted 16 students last year.) These students receive access to the Wharton community, career services, and special professional development, including mentoring, annual retreats and eligibility for an annual $10,000 fellowship.
“Wharton will keep you connected – that’s key to your career advancement,” says Fortuna’s Michel Belden, Wharton former Associate Director of Admissions. “It’s pretty incredible to step out as a 21-year-old and have those assets at your fingertips. It takes a lot of pressure off as well.”
3. MIT Sloan MBA Early Admission is open to exceptional undergrads from around the world, although the program seeks to increase MIT representation in its b-school program (Application deadline, April 8.). As incentive, current MIT students whose GPA is above 4.25 can sidestep the dreaded GMAT exam.
“That is the one caveat to this process where have made special accommodations for MIT students,” says Sloan’s Jennifer Barba in a video pitch to prospective candidates. It’s extraordinary incentive indeed, given that most applicants would opt for a root canal over sitting for the GMAT, although this also speaks to MIT’s quant-heavy academics. And while other deferred enrollment programs require the same dizzying GMAT scores, notes Malvina: “Taking the GMAT while in study mode is easier than taking it once you’ve been out of school!”
4. Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment encourages applicants to consider deferring for one to three years, although it offers the option to enroll directly from undergrad into its MBA cohort. Students can apply in any of GSB’s three application rounds (round three due April 3). Students who enrolled in a law or medical graduate program direct from undergrad are also eligible for the GSB (unlike HBS 2+2).
“Stanford’s program is pretty flexible – you can tell them what year you would like to enter, so could be more or less than 2 years,” says Hillis. “You can also apply as a college senior to go directly into the GSB, and Stanford might accept and defer you if they think you would benefit from some experience.”
5. Like Stanford, Chicago Booth offers two options for “early stage” talent: the Booth Scholars Program (deferral option) and the Chicago Business Fellows Program (part-time MBA option), which targets fast track professionals with three years or less of work experience. Booth is opening its deferred admission Chicago Booth Scholars program to non-University of Chicago students for the first time this year. This newly expanded program grants college seniors two to four years of full-time professional experience before coming to Booth for their MBA. (Application deadline, April 4.)
“There is great talent beyond our university, which is why we are opening this opportunity to students attending other colleges and universities,” says Booth’s deputy dean for MBA Programs, Stacey Kole.
6. Yale’s Silver Scholars Program, like Wharton, was initially targeting Yale undergrads, but has since evolved to recruit from an global talent pool. Silver Scholars is unique in that students leap straight into the MBA after graduating college, spending one year absorbed in the core curriculum before completing a fulltime internship (or several) in year two. Then, students return for a third year to complete their degree at Yale SOM.
“Silver Scholars are fully integrated into the Yale SOM MBA class,” explains Yale SOM Managing Director of Admissions, Laurel Grodman. “Yet they benefit from special programming and career development support that is tailored to their unique point of entry into the program.” Applicants complete the same MBA application, however, and Yale SOM’s round three deadline is April 16.
7. Darden Future Year Scholars Program applicants apply during the final year of undergrad (students currently pursuing a fifth-year master’s degree are also eligible to apply). Future Year Applicants have two more chances to apply this year: May 1 and August 1. Admitted scholars receive a $15,000/year scholarship, mentorship and career support, along with many opportunities to build a network through Darden’s community.
“Knowing they have an offer from Darden in their back pocket, Future Year Scholars are free to explore different types of careers and further refine their passions, interests and goals,” says Assistant Director of Admissions at UVA Darden, Taylor Fisher.
If that’s not incentive enough, getting the jump on your b-school apps as an undergrad can be strategic for those angling for a more traditional-track position. “2+2 can be helpful to help differentiate yourself as a successful undergrad, especially if you plan on working in one of the crowded buckets (MBB, finance),” say Miller Complainville. “If you were to apply once you were working in those fields it may be harder to differentiate yourself. A 2+2 also provides you with a unique option to change your industry, function and/or location if you so choose after two to four years of work.”
3 TOP TIPS FOR A STANDOUT MBA EARLY ADMIT APPLICATION
As mentioned, stellar academics and strong quant skills are essential. Here are three top tips for positioning your deferred admissions MBA application to stand out:
Focused career vision & clear goals: “The admissions committee wants to understand the whys of your application, what drives you and what kind of impact you hope to have and where the MBA fits in,” says Miller Complainville. This is about being crystal clear with your motivations, goals and ambitions – know why you need the MBA to achieve your dreams and communicate a clear understanding of your longer-term career vision.
Positive impact on your community: “Find experiences that you’ve had in college that are reflective of who you are as a person and what matters to you; you may not have a “title” as of yet professionally, but you have been able to make an impact on your undergraduate community both academically and outside of the classroom,” says Fortuna’s Judith Silverman Hodara, former head of Wharton MBA Admissions. “I always tell applicants to play to that strength and not to be intimidated by what they ‘think they should have.’”
Track record of leadership: Noteworthy extracurricular engagement and evidence of leadership are even more vital when you’re lacking in real-world career experience. “You really need to have had some stand-out leadership experience in college,” says Hillis.
If that feels intimidating, take heart – the penalty of failure is zero and the ROI for deferred admissions candidates is high. “If you are not accepted, admissions really hopes you will apply again in a few years,” says Miller Complainville, “No harm done, to the contrary.”
Matt Symonds is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions, author of “Getting the MBA Admissions Edge” and co-host of the CentreCourt MBA Festival. Fortuna Admissions is composed of former Directors and Associate Directors of Admissions 12 of the top 15 business schools.