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Top 10 Deferred MBA Programs + Tips on How to Get In

deferred entry MBA

For college seniors with clear business aspirations, applying to a deferred MBA program straight out of college is a strategic move.

In the traditional path to an MBA, you spend roughly three to six years earning real-world career experience before applying to business school. In contrast, deferred MBA programs offer the potential to lock in admission to a top business school before diving into the workforce, with a guaranteed spot waiting for you in a few years when you’re ready.

“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’s 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 Are Deferred MBA Programs?

These programs are designed to offer very accomplished rising stars a jumpstart on a future MBA. Most early admission deferred entry MBA programs offer a similar track: find a school, apply as you’re finishing college, secure a seat in a future class, and work for two to five years before actually enrolling. These programs tend to be extremely competitive, seeking the best of the best among graduating students, with small numbers admitted. Most deferred MBA programs 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 deferred MBA program admission include Harvard Business School, Wharton, MIT Sloan, Stanford GSB, Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, Kellogg Northwestern, Yale SOM, Berkeley Haas, and UVA Darden (see our guide to the top deferred MBA programs, below). The growth of these programs is evidence that elite MBA programs are vying to recruit top talent into their communities.

Business schools are tasked with building a diverse class and attracting MBA candidates who will make an impact on the world. They developed deferred programs in part to help attract passionate wunderkinds who have already demonstrated their leadership through outstanding achievement and want to change the world but aren’t necessarily thinking of doing it in the business realm just yet. These programs allow deferred candidates to take risks and explore alternative or nontraditional career paths rather than steadily racking up the expected milestones and achievements on the job.

3 Key Qualities Deferred MBA Programs Seek

With their small size and focus on extraordinary candidates, deferred programs are tough to get into. For example, the class profile for HBS 2+2 is even more competitive than the standard pool. So, what does it take to make the cut for a deferred admission MBA?

First, stellar academics and strong quantitative skills are a must. But there are several specific qualities business schools are screening for in their deferred enrollment programs. Here are three things the MBA admissions committee wants to see in your deferred admission MBA application.

1. Focused career vision & clear goals

“The admissions committee wants to understand the whys of your application, what drives you and what kind of impact you hope to have and where the MBA fits in,” says Fortuna’s Malvina Miller Complainville, former Assistant Director at Harvard Business School. At this early stage in your career, MBA admissions committees understand that to some extent, your career plans are a matter of forecasting, and things can change as you get out in the world and gain experience. Still, you must be able to articulate a broad career vision and why you are motivated to pursue that goal.

By the time the deferred MBA application deadline rolls around near the end of your final year in college, you will have a job or post-college plans lined up; be sure to explain how those plans move you in the direction of your career goal.

2. Positive impact on your community.

“Find experiences that you’ve had in college that are reflective of who you are as a person and what matters to you. You may not yet have a “title” professionally, but you have been able to make an impact on your undergraduate community both academically and outside of the classroom,” says Judith Silverman Hodara, former head of Wharton MBA Admissions. “I always tell applicants to play to that strength and not to be intimidated by what they ‘think they should have.’”

Community can be defined very broadly, says Fortuna coach Alterrell Mills, HBS ’16, who has been involved in MBA admissions at HBS both as a student and alumnus. “It could be your family and time you’ve committed to helping them, or your community back home and ways you’ve remained engaged there. It could be your fraternity or sorority and a leadership role you’ve played there,” he says. “Focus on where you’ve invested your time — and why. What is it about you that led you to commit your time that way?”

3. Track record of leadership.

Noteworthy extracurricular engagement and evidence of leadership are even more vital when you’re lacking real-world career experience. “You really need to have had some stand-out leadership experience in college,” says Hillis.

If this feels intimidating, take heart; the ROI for deferred admissions candidates is high and the penalty of failure is zero. “If you are not accepted, no harm done; to the contrary,” says Miller-Complainville. “The admissions committee really hopes you will apply again in a few years,” Although some schools like Wharton may treat your later application to the MBA program as a reapplication, there is no flag on your file and no negative impression just because you weren’t accepted for early admission in a deferred program.


Overview of the Top 10 Deferred MBA Programs

If you’re considering a deferred MBA program, read on for Fortuna’s guide to the top 10 programs – and what you need to know to maximize your chance of admission.

Harvard’s 2+2 Program

HBS 2+2 is among the best-known deferred MBA programs. Candidates spend a minimum of two years and a maximum of four years in the workforce before joining an MBA cohort. (Application deadlines are in late April; details are available here.) It’s open to current college students in the final year of their college studies, as well as those enrolled in full-time masters who have not held a full-time job. The application fee is reduced to $100 for applicants.

The class profile for HBS 2+2 tends to be a bit more competitive than the standard pool. Some 1,528 applied in 2023 and 118 were accepted, representing 62 undergraduate institutions.

Originally, the HBS 2+2 program was designed to expand the candidate pool to include more candidates that typically might not think of applying to business school, such as those with STEM backgrounds. Today about 52% of 2+2 commits come from STEM fields, including engineering, math, and other sciences.

The program also gives some preference to applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, those who are the first in their family to attend college, and those planning to work in underrepresented industries and functions, such as operating companies in consumer goods, industrials, manufacturing, retail, and technology, or in technically demanding roles. The 2+2 program also favors those with an entrepreneurial vision, who plan to launch an enterprise or join an early-stage start-up.

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 undergraduate program (the application deadline April 24, 2024). The program seeks innovative risk-takers “whose academic and career interests expand the traditional notions of business education.”

The Moelis cohort of 118 was notably 53% female, 19% first-generation students, 27% international students, and, notably, 35% US students of color.

With the Moelis program, entrance into the MBA program may be deferred for two to four years, but the personal and professional development opportunities Wharton offers are not. They begin immediately upon acceptance.  You will have access to a network of scholars with global impact and will connect with Wharton via Slack and email, in-person and virtual events for the Moelis Program, and access to other student conferences and alumni initiatives, according to the program. 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

“If you are interested in having a positive impact, we are interested in you,” says the Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment Program. “Believe in yourself. We believe in you.”

The program is designed for students with diverse educational and professional backgrounds but without full-time work experience. Stanford offers the option to enroll directly from undergrad into its MBA cohort. It’s also open to students the final year of a master’s degree, PhD, law, or medical degree, as long they entered the graduate degree program immediately after their undergraduate studies and did not take a job in the workforce in between.

Stanford encourages applicants to consider deferring for one to three years; the maximum deferral is four years. You complete the regular Stanford MBA application and can apply in any of GSB’s three application rounds; round three is recommended for deferring students. (The 2024 round 3 deadline was April 9, earlier than some programs.) If you choose to defer, you’ll be asked to pick your enrollment date and “tell us how you will be productively engaged in full-time work or study during your deferral period.”

“Stanford’s MBA education is pretty flexible; you can tell them what year you would like to enter, so it could be more or less than two years,” says 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 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 GMAT exam (which attests to the quantitative strength of MIT’s coursework).

MIT Sloan’s Deferred MBA is open to undergraduates without any prior full-time work experience with the exception of internships or co-op experiences who are not planning to enroll in an MD, JD, or PhD program after college. Those in the final year of other graduate programs they started immediately after undergraduate studies are also eligible. This includes students currently enrolled in their final semester of either the MIT Sloan Master off Finance or Master of Business Analytics  program.

In 2023, MIT Sloan’s deferred admissions cohort was evenly split between men and women, with 16% international students and 19% underrepresented minorities. The median GPA was 3.84, with a jaw-dropping median GMAT score of 750 (higher than the GMAT average of MIT Sloan’s admitted full-time MBA class). About a fifth of the early admits were business majors and 15% studied economics; 61% majored in engineering, computer science, or mathematics and other sciences. Only 5% of the incoming class hail from a humanities or other background.

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). The application fee is waived. The deferred application deadline for 2024 is April 19.

Chicago Booth Scholars Deferred MBA

Chicago Booth 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 to Booth for UChicago undergraduate talent, the deferred admit program is now open to college seniors beyond the university.

Booth welcomes deferred admissions candidates to choose either its full-time or part-time MBA programs. Successful admits seek two to five years of professional experience before coming to Booth for the MBA, but as at Wharton, you’ll gain access to Booth’s network of business leaders through events, programs, and other opportunities as soon as you are admitted.

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. An interview is required; for UChicago students with a grade point average of 3.4 or higher, the GMAT may be waived. The $250 application fee is also waived, and you will also automatically be considered for merit-based scholarships, leadership awards, and other funding support. Booth’s Deferred MBA program application deadline is early; in 2024 it was April 4.

Note: Chicago Booth also offers an accelerated MBA option for University of Chicago undergraduates, recent alumni, and graduates of master’s degree wishing to get a jump on a full MBA degree. This program allows qualified Chicago students or graduates to apply credit for up to six UChicago courses to their full-time, evening, or weekend MBA program to fast-track their completion.

Columbia Business School Deferred Enrollment

One distinctive feature of Columbia’s Deferred Enrollment Program is that you can choose not only the year, but the start time and length of your MBA program. You’ll have the option to enroll in the 16-month program with a January start, or the traditional 20-month program that starts in August and includes a summer internship that starts in August.

Columbia’s deferred program is larger than many; in 2023, the school admitted 233 applicants, with GMAT scores ranging from 570 to a near-perfect 780. That class hailed from 28 countries and 108 different universities.

Graduating bachelor’s degree students and graduate students who intend to start the MBA program directly after college with no work experience are eligible to apply. Those completing medical school, law school, or PhD programs are not. Application fees are waived. The 2024 application deadline is April 15, with interview decisions released on May 15.

Berkeley Haas Accelerated Access

A relative newcomer to the field, Berkeley Haas launched its Accelerated Access deferred admissions option in January 2020.  Eligibility requirements are similar to other programs, and Haas requires two to five years of work experience before returning to matriculate. The school terms acceptance as “conditional” and encourages students to pursue work experience that prepares them to contribute to Haas’s mission-driven business community.

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.

Deferring students will join a class of about 250.  The 2024 application deadline is April 25, with decisions by June 20.

Kellogg Future Leaders

Another relatively new program, Kellogg Future Leaders (KFL) also debuted in January of 2020. Kellogg invites deferred applicants to “choose from our portfolio of MBA programs” and  allows admits to defer enrollment for to two to five years while gaining career experience. In the meantime, candidates will have access to Kellogg resources and receive support from a dedicated admissions officer. The program is open to all undergrad seniors as well as master’s students who went directly into a graduate program from college.

Similar to Chicago Booth and MIT’s early admission program, the program offers an enticement to current Northwestern University students, allowing them to apply without a GMAT or GRE score. There’s no application fee to apply, and the 2024 deadline is April 24, 2023.

Yale Silver Scholars

Like Wharton, Booth, and Haas, Yale Silver Scholars initially targeted Yale undergrads, but it has since evolved to recruit from a global talent pool. And rather than deferred admission, Silver Scholars jump straight into the MBA after graduating from college, and then gain some work experience in the middle of the program. Yale developed a specific curriculum where Silver Scholars spend their first year absorbed in the core curriculum to gain “basic skills and the mindset of a manager.”  Then they will work full-time for one or more years in an extended professional experience to put this management education into practice, develop leadership skills, and gain a competitive edge before returning to complete their MBA, taking electives at Yale SOM and elsewhere at the university in the areas that  support their career goals.

“Silver Scholars are fully integrated into the Yale SOM MBA class,” says Laurel Grodman, Managing Director of Admissions. “Yet they benefit from special programming and career development support that is tailored to their unique point of entry into the program.”

Yale seeks both passion, compassion, and commitment in Silver Scholars applicants; they are also looking for those who have “made a difference and distinguished themselves in a particular field of interest.” Applicants complete the same MBA application as the full-time class (SOM’s round three global deadline for 2024 is April 9).

Darden’s Future Year Scholars Program

Applicants to Darden’s Future Year Scholars Program apply during the final year of undergrad (students currently pursuing a fifth-year master’s degree are also eligible to apply). Admitted scholars are considered for scholarships, and receive mentorship and individualized career support, along with many opportunities to build a network through Darden’s community.  Uniquely among these top-tier programs, Darden offers two rounds of applications for Deferred MBA program applicants. In 2024, the application deadline for round one is April 8, and the round two applications are due August 1. Darden says there is no strategic advantage to applying in one round over the other; apply when you are ready and can put together your best application.

Darden emphasizes that early admission and deferred entry provides some certainty to outstanding students who graduate with admission to a top-ranked MBA. “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.


Several of our Fortuna Admissions coaches specialize in supporting deferred MBA admissions candidates. “We’re passionate about helping deferred admission candidates. Their exuberance for their career to start and motivation to create change is inspiring,” says Fortuna cofounder and director Judith Silverman Hodara. “Please reach out to contact us for a free consultation.”

Fortuna Admissions expert coach Michel Belden is former associate director of admissions for Wharton’s full-time MBA program with a background in corporate recruiting. Fortuna Co-Founder and former head of Wharton Admissions, Judith Silverman Hodara, also contributed to this article.

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