Navigating the opening act of your career after a lifetime in academia can be stressful for even the most confident college seniors. But what if you were guaranteed a place at one of the most prestigious business schools two to five years down the road? That would certainly take the edge off, wouldn’t it?
Last month, Wharton expanded its MBA deferred admissions program to include students outside the University of Pennsylvania undergrad program for the first time. Now, non-UPenn students have a chance to secure a coveted place in a future Wharton MBA cohort before going to a few years of work experience before enrolling.
This is great news for academic rock stars with lofty aspirations. As opposed to the traditional path to the MBA, in which you spend roughly three to six years earning real-world career experience before applying, deferred admissions programs offer a guaranteed path to business school before diving into the workforce.
This evolution is further evidence that elite MBA programs are themselves vying to secure a competitive advantage by recruiting top talent for their future communities. The ranks of top deferred admissions programs include MIT Sloan (which made its debut earlier this year), as well as HBS 2+2, Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment, the Chicago Booth Scholars Program, Yale Silver Scholars, and Darden Future Years Scholar Program to offer rising stars a jumpstart on the MBA.
As Wharton’s former head of admissions and a Co-Director at Fortuna Admissions, I’m thrilled to see this evolution in the school’s MBA deferral program. It’s clear that recruiting top talent earlier in the admissions cycle is beneficial for schools that want to build the strongest classes that they can. Widening the pool is strategic in a year when even the best schools have seen declines in MBA applications. By admitting students who are just graduating from undergrad, Wharton ensures that these students will be a part of their class in the next two to five years, and they also create early bonds that only strengthen their respective communities.
I also love how Wharton has become more explicit about encouraging these candidates to get out of the ‘safe zone’ of traditional track jobs and explore arenas they feel passionate about. Traditional full-time programs have historically attracted throngs of bankers and consultants on a CEO track. Alternatively, Wharton is hoping to lure passionate wunderkinds with shining leadership potential and innovative ideas who don’t necessarily have business school on their radar screen. Tasked with building a diverse class and luring top talent, Wharton and other deferred admission programs – by design – are encouraging future candidates to take risks and explore non-traditional career paths.
SNAPSHOT OF THE 7 TOP MBA EARLY ADMISSIONS PROGRAMS
Most deferred admissions MBA programs follow a similar track: apply early, secure a seat, work for two-to-five years in between. That said, the characteristics and incentives between elite programs vary. Given the recent changes in programs – from Wharton’s expansion to MIT Sloan’s debut – I’ve revised the Fortuna team’s guide to the best MBA Deferred Admissions Programs.
- Harvard’s 2+2 Program is among the best known and admits spent a maximum of four and a minimum of two years in the workforce before joining an MBA cohort (application deadline April 2, 2020). It’s open to current college students as well as those enrolled in full-time masters (as long as they haven’t held a full-time job). The class profile for HBS 2+2 is a bit more competitive than the standard pool, with an eye-popping median GMAT of 740 and a 3.76 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 65% of 2+2 commits have STEM backgrounds, compared to 38% in 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. This year, the 2+2 web page specifically cites a preference for four categories of “high potential individuals” including those planning to work in an operating company (tech, manufacturing, etc.), first-generation in college and those from low socio-economic backgrounds, going into a technically demanding role or pursuing entrepreneurship.
- Wharton’s Moelis Advance Access Program will continue to be a feeder program for undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania, alongside the newly launched the Wharton MBA Advance Access Program (application deadline April 1, 2020). The Moelis program is distinguished as a fellowship experience, and candidates are eligible for an annual $10,000 fellowship. Advance Access students of both programs receive access to the Wharton community, career services, and special professional development, including mentoring, and annual retreats.
“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.”
- 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 8). 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 two years,” says my Fortuna colleague and former Stanford GSB alumni interviewer, Heidi 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.”
- MIT Sloan MBA Early Admission, launched in January of 2019, 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 6, 2020.). As an incentive, current MIT students whose GPA is above 4.25 can sidestep the dreaded GMAT exam. Admitted students are expected to work for two to five years before entering.
“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 earlier this year 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 Miller Complainville: “Taking the GMAT while in study mode is easier than taking it once you’ve been out of school!”
- 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 recently opened its deferred admission Chicago Booth Scholars program to non-University of Chicago students. A notable 55% of the 57 Booth Scholars in the class of 2019 were female. 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 2, 2020.)
“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.
- 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). (Next year’s deadline not yet posted.) 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 UVA Darden’s Taylor Fisher, Assistant Director of Admissions.
- Yale’s Silver Scholars Program, like Wharton and Booth, was initially targeting Yale undergrads but has since evolved to recruit from a global talent pool. Silver Scholars is unique in that students jump straight into the MBA after graduating from 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,” says 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.” That said, applicants complete the same MBA application as the full-time class (SOM’s round three deadline is April 14, 2020).
“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 Hillis. “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.”
For specific tips on how to make your deferred enrollment MBA application stand out, check out our related article: MBA Deferred Admission for College Seniors: 3 Tips for a Standout Application.
Dr. Judith Silverman Hodara, EdD, is a Director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Wharton acting head of Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.