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How to Apply Successfully to Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Program

In last week’s article, we talked about what college seniors and other early-career professionals can do to prepare for eventual business school admission. But what if you’d prefer to head to business school as soon as possible – like immediately after college or graduate school?

Fortunately, there are several options for current students who know they want to pursue an MBA sooner, rather than later. Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program is the most well-known of these. It’s a deferred enrollment plan where the name refers to two years of work experience combined with two years of business school.




Under the 2+2 program, current undergraduate or graduate-level students who are in their final year of study and have not yet held a full-time job are able to apply to HBS. Program applicants complete the same application as traditional HBS candidates, and go through a similar interview process if they are being considered for admission.

If they are admitted to the 2+2 program, students enter the workforce two years before enrolling in classes. Ready to apply? Here’s what you need to know:

  • Must apply in Round 3 (deadline for October 2019 entry: April 2, 2017)
  • Application fee is $100 (reduced from $250 for standard application)
  • Typical 2+2 cohort is 100-125 students
  • Students with STEM backgrounds are encouraged to apply – HBS typically aims for half of their 2+2 to have a science or engineering background
  • It is possible to apply for an additional year of deferral; the school evaluates case individually for approval of the additional time
  • At the end of their deferral period, 2+2 students enroll in the regular Harvard MBA program, not a separate set of courses

Pros and Cons of Early Admission

Gaining admission to HBS is always a significant accomplishment, and being accepted into the 2+2 program is indicative of a significant level of accomplishment and drive at an early age. There are many reasons that applicants choose to pursue a deferred admission option.

Earning an MBA takes you out of the workforce for at least two years. An early career MBA lowers the cost of those two years by removing you from the workforce during your lower-earning junior years. Early-career MBAs also boost the ROI of the degree because they propel graduates into higher-earning roles and career tracks earlier than they might otherwise have earned them.

However, with less experience in the working world, it can also be more difficult for early-career MBA students to get the full value out of their degree. They will by necessity have less real-world experience to draw on, whether discussing a case, pursing an internship, or modeling the impacts of a change in policy on a company.

A lot can change in two years. At the end of the deferral period, students may find themselves in a poor position to go to business school, whether that is personally, professionally, or financially. Candidates may also find that the career track they envisioned pre-employment is less attractive now that they have experience with it, or they may have stumbled onto a different career trajectory entirely.

Fortunately, Harvard does allow 2+2 students to request up to two additional deferral years, but it’s still something to consider before applying.

Ultimately, most of these difficulties can be overcome. But it remains true that the 2+2 program at HBS is best suited for students who are very certain of their desired career track, and willing to make the necessary sacrifices to ensure that they get full value from their MBA experience.

Other Early-Career Degree Options

If you’re interested in applying to business school while you’re still pursuing your undergraduate degree, but aren’t sure that the HBS 2+2 program is the right choice for you, there are several other options:

  • Yale SOM’s Silver Scholars is a three-year hybrid program where students complete their first year of business school immediately after leaving their undergraduate program, then spend a year completing a full-time internship, and then return to Yale to complete their second year of business school.
  • Chicago Booth allows University of Chicago students in their final year to apply for their full-time MBA program under the auspices of the Chicago Booth Scholars Program. This is a deferred enrollment program like the one HBS offers, but with a three-year automatic deferment.
  • Stanford GSB offers a deferred enrollment option to students in their final year of study who have not yet held a full-time role; they do not have a defined period of time for which deferment is offered. Stanford also preserves the option of offering deferred enrollment to students who applied for direct enrollment.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re applying for deferred enrollment or for a traditional direct enrollment program, it’s always vital to have a clear sense of your personal brand and your reasons for going to business school. Admissions committees are just as stringent, if not more so, about the candidates who are accepted into 2+2 or any other deferred enrollment or early-career MBA program.

If you’d like an outside perspective on whether you’re ready to apply to b-school, and how you can strengthen your candidacy, get in touch with EXPARTUS for a free assessment of your MBA application. With two former HBS adcom on our team we are in the best position to guide you towards a successful 2+2 application.