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?
For academic rock stars with lofty aspirations, applying for deferred enrollment to a top MBA program is a strategic move. 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 MBA programs offer the potential to secure a spot at a top business school 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 Fortuna Admissions coach Heidi Hillis, former Stanford GSB 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.”
WHAT IS A DEFERRED MBA PROGRAM?
Most deferred MBA programs follow a similar track: apply early, secure a seat, work for two-to-five years in between. They tend to be extremely competitive with small class sizes. Most also have a reduced application fee or none at all. That said, the characteristics and incentives between elite programs vary.
The ranks of top business schools that are offering rising stars a jumpstart on the MBA include Harvard Business School, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Stanford GSB, Columbia Business School, Chicago Booth, Kellogg Northwestern, Yale SOM, Berkeley Haas, and UVA Darden. This evolution is further evidence that elite business schools are themselves vying to secure a competitive advantage by recruiting top talent for their future communities.
By design, MBA deferred admission programs allow business schools 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 attracting top talent, these programs are encouraging future candidates to take risks and explore non-traditional career paths.
“I’m passionate about helping deferred MBA candidates. Their exuberance for their career to start and motivation to create change is inspiring,” says Fortuna’s Michel Belden, former Associate Director of Admissions at Wharton, who is among our Fortuna Admissions coaches specializing in supporting deferred MBA admissions candidates. If you’re curious about your chances and eligibility, please reach out for a free consultation.
In the meantime, read on for Fortuna’s guide to the top programs – and what you need to know to maximize your chance of admission.
SNAPSHOT OF THE TOP DEFERRED MBA PROGRAMS
Given both recent changes and new program debuts, we’ve revised the Fortuna Admissions guide to the top 10 deferred MBA programs. Here are the details and distinctions, along with upcoming admissions deadlines for the top deferred MBA programs:
- Harvard’s 2+2 Program
HBS 2+2 is among the best known. Admits spend a maximum of four and a minimum of two years in the workforce before joining an MBA cohort (application deadline April 28, 2022). 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 9,773 applied to the HBS standard track program in 2020-2021 while 1,436 applied in 2021 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 57% of 2+2 commits have STEM backgrounds, compared to 42% 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. There’s also a reduced application fee of $100.
- Wharton’s Moelis Advance Access Program
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 April 27, 2022). The program seeks innovative risk-takers, “whose academic and career interests expand the traditional notions of business education.”
Last year’s cohort of 173 was notably 53% female, with 43% of students hailing from STEM fields, 26% from humanities, and 31% from business and/or economics. Moelis Fellows receive access to the Wharton community, career services, and special professional development, including mentoring and retreats, as well as free access to select Wharton events and conferences. It’s pretty incredible to have Wharton’s network, connections, and career support at your fingertips as a 21-year-old.
- Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment
The Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment program encourages applicants to consider deferring for one to three years, although it offers the option to enroll directly from undergrad into its MBA cohort. “If you are interested in impact, we are interested in you” is the topline message on its website, which frames the program for students with diverse educational and professional backgrounds but without full-time work experience. If you choose to defer, you’ll be asked to share about your post-college graduation plans.
Students can apply in any of GSB’s three application rounds (round three due April 12), 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. “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
MIT Sloan’s MBA Early Admission program launched in January of 2019 and is open to exceptional undergrads from around the world. 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).
Last year, MIT Sloan’s cohort of 181 students was 47% women and 32% underrepresented minorities, with an average GMAT score of 740 (a full 10 points higher than the GMAT average of MIT Sloan’s full-time MBA class). Only 1% of the incoming class hail from a humanities background, and some 54% from STEM.
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, along with two letters of recommendation (one academic contact and one professionally related). There are two application rounds, and round 1 is offered for MIT students only, with round 2 open to all eligible applicants (R2 deadline April 20). The application fee is waived.
- Chicago Booth Scholars Deferred MBA
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 five years of professional experience before coming to Booth for the MBA. Application deadline April 7.
View Fortuna’s updated guide to the Top 10 Deferred Admission MBA Programs, including what deferred MBA programs are looking for and tips to maximize your chance of admission.
Michel Belden is an Expert Coach at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Associate Director of Admissions for Wharton’s full-time MBA program with a background in corporate recruiting. Judith Silverman Hodara is a Co-Founder and Director at Fortuna, and former Wharton Acting Director of Admissions. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.