For college seniors with lofty aspirations, applying to a deferred 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’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 Is a Deferred MBA Program?
Most deferred MBA programs follow a similar track: find a school, apply early, secure a seat as a student, and 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, Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, Kellogg Northwestern, Yale SOM, Berkeley Haas, and UVA Darden (our guide to the top deferred MBA programs, below). 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. Tasked with building a diverse class and attracting top talent, deferred MBA programs are encouraging future candidates to take risks and explore non-traditional career paths.
3 Key Qualities Deferred MBA Programs Are Looking For
So what does it take to make the cut for a deferred admission MBA? First, stellar academics and strong quant skills are a must. For example, the class profile for HBS 2+2 is even more competitive than the standard pool. 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. This is about being crystal clear with your motivations, goals, and ambitions – know why you need the MBA to achieve your dreams and communicate a clear understanding of your longer-term career vision.
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.’”
3. Track record of leadership.
Noteworthy extracurricular engagement and evidence of leadership are even more vital when you’re lacking in real-world career experience. “You really need to have had some stand-out leadership experience in college,” says Heidi.
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, admissions really hopes you will apply again in a few years,” says Malvina. “No harm done, to the contrary.”
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.
1. Harvard’s 2+2 Program
HBS 2+2 is among the best known deferred MBA programs. Candidates 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 Malvina. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 fulltime 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 MBA education is pretty flexible – you can tell them what year you would like to enter, so could be more or less than two years,” says Heidi. “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.”
4. 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 fulltime 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.
5. 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.
6. Columbia Business School Deferred Enrollment
Columbia’s Deferred Enrollment Program offers admits the flexibility of deferring for two to five years while gaining professional experience. You’ll also have the option to enroll in the 16-month program with a January start, or the traditional 20-month program with summer internship that starts in August. Graduate students who started directly after college (no work experience) are eligible, although candidates for medical school, law school, or PhD programs are not. Application deadline is April 15. Last year Columbia extended offers to 216 students.
7. Berkeley Haas Accelerated Access
Launched in Jan. 2020, 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 two to five years of work experience before returning to matriculate. In its first year, the program attracted around 150 applicants from inside Berkeley, 20 of whom matriculated 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. The application deadline is April 28.
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.
8. Kellogg Future Leaders (KFL)
KFL debuted in Jan. of 2020 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 MIT’s early admission program, the program offers an enticement to current Northwestern University students, allowing them to submit without a GMAT or GRE score. There’s no application fee to apply, and the deadline is April 13.
9. Yale Silver Scholars
Like Wharton, Booth, and Haas, Yale Silver Scholars 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. Among the qualities Silver Scholars seeks in applicants are both “passion and compassion,” as well as those who have “made a difference and distinguished themselves in a particular field of interest.”
“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 global deadline is April 12).
10. 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. Application deadline for round one is April 12, round two is August 2.
“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 in supporting Deferred MBA Admissions candidates. “I’m passionate about helping deferred admission 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. Please reach out to contact us for a free consultation.
Updated March 24, 2022
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. The dream team of MBA admissions consultants at Fortuna Admissions is comprised of former deans, directors, and senior admissions professionals from 18 of the top 20 business schools.