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How to Apply Successfully to the HBS 2+2 MBA Program

Most top business schools expect you to have work experience by the time you apply, but there are still some options if you’re currently in school. One of these is Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Program.

2+2 is a deferred admissions program for students applying straight out of college or master’s programs who haven’t been out of school for full-time work.

Admitted applicants gain deferred acceptance to HBS in two years, allowing them to work for two years, then study for an MBA the next two years.

Once they arrived at Harvard, 2+2 students are integrated into the full-time MBA program. Accordingly, the application requirements are the same as for the traditional MBA application – the only difference is that 2+2 applicants pay a reduced $100 application fee.

Apply Successfully to the HBS 2+2 MBA Program

HBS originally designed 2+2 to “attract students for whom business school is not a traditional choice, such as those interested in Science” and to “attract people to business school at a time when they are making other decisions – thinking about law or medicine or engineering.”

The program replaced a former initiative focused on admitting college seniors directly out of undergrad. The new format ensures all students come to HBS with work experience.

Who Do They Want?

So what kind of applicants does HBS admit through 2+2? Here’s what they look for:

– Strong academics. The average GPA is 3.73, the average GMAT 740 – slightly stronger than the wider HBS averages of 3.67 and 730 respectively.

– Strong leadership in one’s college or community.

– Solid internship experience.

– A college degree in any field. The program used to focus primarily on STEM, and about half of all admits are still STEM students. However, HBS now encourages students from all undergrad majors to apply, and the other half are a diverse mix of liberal arts and business majors.

– Both domestic and international students.

– A cohort of about 100-125 students total.

Changes to the HBS 2+2 Program

HBS announced this month that all 2+2 applications will have a single round three  deadline starting this year.

Applicants used to be able to choose between the three standard MBA admissions rounds, but all applicants will now be reviewed together in Round 3.

In recent years, the program has been tweaked in several other ways. Most notably, the requirement that candidates be STEM majors has been dropped, so college seniors from all majors can now apply.

The school has also eliminated several features like formal case study practice sessions, networking opportunities and career coaching. These turned out to be superfluous since admits were already doing these things independently.

HBS 2+2 Class Profile

Here’s the lowdown on the most recent 2+2 cohort:

– 116 out of 1118 applications were accepted, for a 10.4 percent acceptance rate.

– 62 percent of admits are STEM majors, 26 percent economics and business majors, and 12 percent humanities and social science majors.

– 24 percent are international students.

– 20 countries are represented.

– 40 percent of admits are women.

– 47 colleges and universities are represented

– The average GPA is 3.73.

– The average GMAT is 740.

Over the last four years, the class profile has changed in some significant ways.

Maybe the most obvious change is that applications have shot up by 35 percent, from 828 to 1118! As you’d expect, the acceptance rate has gone down as a result, from 12.1 percent to 10.4 percent.

The stiffer competition is also reflected in test scores, with the average GMAT going from 720 to 740.

Although STEM majors still account for more than half of the pool, business majors are on the up-and-up, going from 6 percent to 26 percent. 

Finally, the program is becoming more international. The portion of international students has risen from 20 to 24 percent, and the number of countries represented has doubled to 20.

Recent Problems

Many 2+2 admits find two-year post-grad plans to be overly restrictive. In fact, more than half decide to defer after two years instead of matriculating at HBS.

Common reasons for prolonging the work portion of 2+2 include admits not having told their companies about being enrolled in 2+2 or not wanting to leave their jobs at the two-year mark. Relationships also cause some people to change their plans.

The good news is that HBS is flexible with the program, and deferral for a year or two is possible. Many 2+2 admitted students opt to work for three or four years, leading Director of Admissions Dee Leopold to joke that the program should probably be renamed “flex+2.”

For international applicants, there’s one more possible hitch to be aware of: HBS doesn’t offer US work permits or visas for the two years of pre-MBA work experience.

One thing not to worry about is whether applying to 2+2 will affect your admission chances at HBS later on. HBS encourages those who have applied unsuccessfully to 2+2 to reapply to the MBA program in the future.

Advantages of Applying to HBS 2+2 

So much for the drawbacks of 2+2. More interesting are the advantages.

The biggest selling point is that 2+2 gives you a chance to secure admission to HBS now and have the next 4-5 years planned out. That also means doing the application and the standardized tests while you’re in school and still in test-taking mode.

At the same time, 2+2’s structure gives you a few years to explore before arriving at HBS. If you’re an academic standout with a strong leadership record, admission to 2+2 can even help you nail down a full-time job.

And of course, there’s that discounted application fee. You could pay $250 and wait five years…or you could pay $100 and apply now!

Final Thoughts

2+2 was initially intended to attract applicants who might not normally consider B-school. So if you have a unique perspective to bring and only discovered business later on, emphasize that. Writing in the Harvard Crimson, Prateek Kumar puts it like this:

Be a techie who was happy being a nerd until, poof, “2+2” came along, and then you discovered you could be a business nerd. Think transformation.

Of course, finding an interest in business later on doesn’t mean you don’t now have a vision for the future.

The way to make the most of your 2+2 application is realize that an admission isn’t just a path into HBS in a couple years – it’s a tool you can use in the meantime too. In the words of one 2+2 alum:

Apply with an idea of how you might leverage acceptance to help make the most of learning opportunities by taking professional risks before returning to school.

In the end, there’s really no reason not to apply. If you apply now, it won’t hurt your chances at admission to HBS later on. “Being rejected from 2+2, a very small program, doesn’t mean “not ever” – it means “not now.” In fact, many students now at HBS tried unsuccessfully to apply to 2+2.”

While there’s no real downside, there’s a big upside: if you get in, your plans are set for B-school, and you’ve opened up all sorts of new opportunities for the immediate future as well!

To learn more about 2+2, see HBS’s FAQ.

To figure out whether you’re a good fit for the 2+2 program, sign up for a consultation with EXPARTUS where two of our consultants evaluated 2+2 applicants on HBS admissions board!