Navigating the opening act of your career after a lifetime in academia can be stressful for even the most confident college seniors. (Not to mention the additional complexity of graduating during a worldwide pandemic.) 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, Berkeley Haas announced the expansion of its MBA deferred admissions option on the heels of a successful pilot year, in which the Accelerated Access program was open only to UC Berkeley students. The new Haas Accelerated Access option allows seniors from any college (along with qualifying grad students) to apply for a spot in a future Haas MBA cohort before going on to a few years of work experience.
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 the potential to secure a spot at a top business school before diving into the workforce. In addition to Berkeley Haas, the ranks of top business schools that offer rising stars a jumpstart on the MBA include Wharton, MIT Sloan, HBS, Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, Yale SOM, and UVA Darden.
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. By design, MBA deferred admission programs allows business schools to lure passionate wunderkinds with shining leadership potential and innovative ideas who don’t necessarily have business school on their radar screen. For Haas, a self-described “values-first” organization that puts a premium on diverse perspectives, an early-admit MBA option allows it to be even more intentional about creating a pipeline of top talent from underrepresented communities, and then supporting students with yearly check-ins and early community building in the years leading up to their MBA enrollment. Earlier this month, Haas Admissions Director Eric Askins told P&Q that its recruitment events (albeit virtual) will encompass “underrepresented population business associations,” as well as HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges & Universities) and Hispanic-serving institutions.
Tasked with building a diverse class and attracting top talent, Haas – along with other deferred admission programs – are encouraging future candidates to take risks and explore non-traditional career paths. Traditional full-time programs have historically attracted throngs of bankers and consultants on a CEO track. The Haas Accelerated Access option is explicit about encouraging candidates to get out of the ‘safe zone’ of traditional track jobs and explore arenas they feel passionate about. That said, they’re also looking for clarity of purpose and a plan of action.
If you’re considering an MBA deferred admission program, read on for our team’s guide to the top programs – and what you need to know to maximize your chance of admission.
SNAPSHOT OF THE 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 – including Haas’s debut and expansion – we’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 29, 2021). 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 tends to be a bit more competitive than the standard pool. That said, some 9,304 applied to the HBS standard track program in 2019-2020 while 1,577 applied in 2020 to HBS 2+2, so consider the odds of applying early.
“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 58% of 2+2 commits have STEM backgrounds, compared to 41% in the standard track program, and each has the same acceptance rate of just under 11%. While 2+2 courts STEM and humanities students, these concentrations are not a requirement. In the last three years, the 2+2 web page has specifically cited 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 is both a feeder program for undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania and open to qualified college seniors from any undergrad (application deadline March 23). A select cohort of students are also be eligible for an annual $10,000 fellowship as Moelis Fellows. Advance Access students 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 6), although the GSB recommends round 1 or 2 if you’re hoping for direct enrollment. Those 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 Fortuna’s Heidi Hillis, former Stanford GSB alumni interviewer. “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 business school (application deadline, April 20.). Like Haas, admitted students are expected to work for two to five years before entering. As an incentive, current MIT students whose GPA is above 4.25 can sidestep the dreaded GMAT exam (which speaks to MIT’s quant-heavy academics). And this year, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, all students are allowed to submit their application without exam scores, and “without negative inferences.”
Just like the unique challenge of tackling the MIT Sloan application, early admit candidates are asked to submit a cover letter, resume, and video statement in lieu of traditional MBA essays.
- Chicago Booth, like Stanford, offers options for “early-stage” talent: the Chicago 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. Originally a pipeline for UChicago talent to Booth, the deferred admit program is now open to college seniors beyond the university. In addition to competitive academics and ambitious aspirations, Booth wants to see candidates with substantive internships, part-time jobs or entrepreneurial experience, all of which can offer evidence of your leadership potential. Successful admits seek two to four years of full-time professional experience before coming to Booth for the MBA.
There’s also an accelerated option exclusively for UChicago undergrads and recent alumni, in which students can apply six undergrad business courses toward the MBA, defer admission for 1-2 years, then matriculate to Booth and earn the degree in less than 12 months (depending on the format you choose). Application deadline April 1.
- Darden Future Year Scholars Programapplicants 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 are considered for scholarships, and receive mentorship and career support, along with many opportunities to build a network through Darden’s community. Application deadline is March 15.
“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, Booth, and Haas, 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 13).
- Berkeley Haas Accelerated Access is a deferred admissions option (versus a distinct program). Students apply as college seniors – or grad students in their final year of study – to the fulltime MBA, then go on to a few years of work experience before returning to matriculate. In its first year, the program attracted around 150 applicants from inside Berkeley, 20 of whom will matriculate to the full-time MBA. Haas calls acceptance conditional and encourages students to pursue work experience that prepares them to contribution to Haas’s mission-driven business community. There are two deadlines: round 1 deadline is April 5 and round 2 is June 10.
“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: Deferred Admission MBA 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.