Applying For A Highly Selective MBA Program Via Deferred Admissions
Maria |
March 19, 2024

In the latest episode of Business Casual, the hosts discuss deferred MBA programs, focusing on their appeal to college seniors eager to secure an MBA spot in advance, like Harvard’s 2+2 program. They highlight the strategic planning needed for such a commitment, the significance of strong academic and extracurricular records, and the upcoming application deadlines. They emphasize the benefits of applying early, such as the low-risk application process and the advantages of taking standardized tests while still in an academic setting. They also discuss the unique support offered by schools, including feedback for unsuccessful applicants, a rarity in MBA admissions. 

The episode is packed with advice for undergraduates on the importance of leadership roles and strategic career decisions post-acceptance, making it essential listening for those considering an early start to their business education journey.





Episode Transcript

[00:00:07.210] – John

Well, hello, everyone. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants. Welcome to Business Casual, our weekly podcast with my co hosts, Caroline Diarte Edwards, Maria Wich Vila, and we’re going to talk about deferred MBA programs. They’ve become very popular. Most school have them, and obviously they are for graduating seniors in undergraduate programs who then will go on to work for a few years with an acceptance to an MBA program in their pocket. The most common or favorite or maybe famous of the deferred programs is the so called two plus two program at Harvard Business School, so named because obviously the idea here is you get two years of work experience and then you get two years in the MBA program. The deadlines for these programs are coming up for two plus two. It’s April 25, which of course is right around the corner. I’m going to ask Caroline who should be thinking about these programs, because you got to be really on the ball as a senior in an undergraduate program to be thinking you’re going to want an MBA.

[00:01:21.040] – Caroline

Yeah, I think it’s a great opportunity for college seniors who have a really strong academic track record and who perhaps have done some interesting internships and so have something to talk about with regards their experience so far and the things that they’ve got involved in and can demonstrate a really strong academic track record. We sometimes talk to college seniors who are thinking about whether they should apply and are concerned that if they apply and they don’t get in, does it then count against them if they apply two or three years down the line? And it doesn’t. Right. So I think there’s really no downside to applying if you think that you might have a shot. And it’s often the case that college seniors can do really well on standardized tests. Right.

[00:02:06.250] – Caroline

It can be easier for them because they’re in the mode already of studying and taking exams. It may be easier for them at that time to get a really good score on the GMAT or the GRE than it may be once they are a little bit rusty and they’ve been working for a few years. So it’s a wonderful opportunity to secure your spot at a top school and get some fantastic work experience and have that security that you have already secured your MBA. And I think the schools also do this because they’re competing with other graduate school programs where you can go straight from your undergraduate degree into another graduate degree. And so they’re looking to make sure that they get that top talent from the undergraduate programs and secure them for the MBA program rather than them considering other graduate school options at that stage.

[00:03:01.550] – John

Yeah. And I know obviously some of these programs are crafted in a way to give advantages to certain type of applicants. In the two plus two program at Harvard Business School, for example, a much higher percentage of STEM undergrads get into the two plus two program than do in the traditional admissions process. The last time we looked at it, 38% of the latest enrolled class going undergoing the traditional way to get in were STEM grads. But in the two plus two program, it was 60%. Far fewer majors in economics and business and humanities got into Harvard on the two plus two deferred MBA admit program. Maria, what’s your general advice to folks who are considering deferred programs?

[00:03:53.690] – Maria

Yeah, I mean, similar to Caroline, there is no downside in going for it now. You might as well. And in fact, the benefit is, even if you don’t get accepted, the benefit is by starting to learn about what business schools are looking for now, before you officially embark upon your career, you can then start making strategic choices over the next four to five years. So if you apply and you don’t get in, that’s okay, because that way you’ve at least got it, at least in the back of your mind. Okay. Now I know what business schools are looking for, so maybe I will raise my hand to take on that challenging assignment at work. Maybe I will step up in my community service. So I think that it’s a great opportunity for folks to do it if they’ve got the time. A lot of times there is a reduced or no fee to apply to the deferred programs. So really it’s mostly about, do you have the time to pull together those recommendations and the essays and what have you, and to take the standardized test. But aside from the time, there’s really very little downside. So I think a lot of people should, in fact, apply.

[00:04:57.550] – John

Yeah. And I know in some know there’s programming involved in the years that you’re working. Harvard Business School, for example, has a host of different programs, and it could be just meeting at a local club with a speaker, getting to know your other two plus two admits in that class, getting the advantage of doing some Zoom sessions with professors and things like that, which make it even more attractive to people who know they want to go to a business school. The other important note about this is what the research shows is that if you do take a standardized test like the GMAT or the GRE, while you’re still enrolled in school or shortly thereafter, you tend to do better. And it’s primarily because you’re in study mode, you’re taking exams and tests all the time, and so you’re far more likely to get a better score on the GMAT or the GRE when you take it then. So even if you didn’t apply through a deferred admission program, it may be a good idea to sit for a standardized test while you’re a senior because those scores are good for five full years. The other thing, of course, is you could go through this process and you already have a job.

[00:06:20.280] – John

Maybe you end up really looking forward to it and you don’t want to take advantage of it. You can just say yes. But then maybe later on you change your mind. Because it turns out that a fair number of people who are accepted in these deferred programs tend not to show up when they’re expected to show up. Now, some people are then given a little leeway and they can show up a year or two later or not at all. What do you think? Is there a penalty for people who don’t show up at all after being accepted and then later on have a change of mind because the job isn’t working well and they need to transition to something else? What’s your take on that, Maria?

[00:07:02.210] – Maria

I mean, if you don’t show up because you decide that business school isn’t for you, then what does it matter if the school thinks poorly of you because you’re not going anyway?

[00:07:11.580] – John

Yeah, but then you change your mind.

[00:07:12.970] – Maria

Then you’re just flaky. And I don’t know what to tell you if you swing so wildly. Usually, though, in my experience, if you reach out to the school and you say, look, I thought I was going to be ready to go this year, but I just got this amazing job opportunity. I think it’s going to be a great learning experience for me. Could we push it another year? I do think that in those situations, I do think that the schools are normally, they’re much more willing to give deferrals, I think, to the deferred applicants than they are for the standard applicants. And if anything, getting that deferred acceptance means that you can take more risks in your pre MBA career because you don’t have to have in the back of your head, how is this job choice going to look in the future to the MBA admissions committee? So I have a client who got into two plus two a year or two ago, and because they have that in their back pocket, they took sort of a risky venture, early stage type of job. It didn’t work out. It was not the right fit.

[00:08:10.810] – Maria

But who cares, right? Not that it would have been a big deal. It wouldn’t have not have necessarily been a candidacy ender for them had they been applying through the regular cycle. But there was none of that angst of oh gosh, this isn’t the right fit. I really want to quit, but maybe I shouldn’t because maybe it’ll look bad for business school. Like there’s none of that pressure. So if anything, I think getting a deferred acceptance under your belt is quite a liberating thing to have, even if you end up never using it.

[00:08:40.840] – John

Yeah, that’s really true. Now, Caroline, do the european schools all have deferred admit programs?

[00:08:46.350] – Caroline

So there’s just one school in Europe that has a deferred entry program or something similar to the deferred entry programs in the US and that is ESA. They have a young talent program and it’s actually not just for college seniors. Young professionals can also apply. So that is their effort to reach out to this talent pool at an earlier stage and tie them into an MBA at ESA rather than have those candidates then potentially considering other top schools as well. Having said that, that is the only school in Europe that does have deferred entry program. It’s not as widespread by any means. And that’s partly because the international schools in Europe, the cohort is often the average age is a little bit older. And so they’re not necessarily looking for students who are coming in two years post undergrad. Right. They’re often looking for candidates who have a little bit more experience than that. In the case of the one year programs, they really need people to have that extra experience because it’s a very intensive academic program and they want the students to be coming into the classroom and being able to relate their experience, relate what they’re learning in the classroom back to their previous professional experience.

[00:10:05.060] – Caroline

And if they just have two years, that’s sometimes a bit of a stretch. So the schools aren’t as actively recruiting people at that stage. On the other hand, I think it’s perhaps a bit of a lost opportunity because I think this is a great pipeline for the top US schools. And I think that the international schools might want to consider that because they are missing out on that pipeline of talent. And a lot of great students, particularly from the US, are getting locked in by the top US schools at a stage when those candidates haven’t even had an opportunity to consider the international programs. So I think it is a shame. Something that INSEAD will occasionally do is sometimes if someone applies too early. They will not deny that candidate, but say, please come back to us in one year or two years when you’ve got more professional experience. That is not uncommon at all. So in a way, it’s not a guarantee of admission, but they’re deferring your application because they see that you have great potential, but they think that you are not yet at the point where you can contribute enough to the classroom.

[00:11:20.400] – Caroline

And so they will defer someone’s application. But they don’t particularly encourage people to apply for that in the same way that the US schools are really looking to recruit people at this early stage.

[00:11:34.430] – John

One of the issues with deferred candidates is how to assess them. Obviously you don’t have work experience, so I would think there’s a greater reliance not only on the undergraduate transcript and your choices there, but maybe more importantly on your co curricular activities. Do you think that’s true, Maria?

[00:11:55.010] – Maria

Absolutely. Because there’s less data to go on. What little data you have is going to get more weight. So there is more of an emphasis on the undergraduate grades and definitely on those cocurricular leadership opportunities because you simply haven’t had an opportunity in the standard internship program. You’re still an intern. You might be a star intern, but you’re still an intern, right? So you’re probably not driving major new initiatives at a company when you’re there for two months over the summer. So I do think that a lot of times that extracurricular leadership is where you can then show to a school that you have those raw ingredients necessary to become a compelling candidate a few years from now. But speaking of becoming a compelling candidate a few years from now, I will say that I think that when people are business majors who are going to go work in banking or consulting after college, at least for two plus two, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but the spirit in which two plus two was created was not to find people that we were going to take anyway. A little bit earlier, it was more to try to expand knowledge of the MBA to people who were not otherwise considering it.

[00:12:57.640] – Maria

So if you are on that sort of standard pre MBA path already, absolutely apply, why not? But also have sort of a realistic expectation that at least for HBS, that program was not developed with you in mind. Right. Like, I don’t have know, put a ring on it to use a little Beyonce reference there. Why would a school put a ring on it now when I know that you’re going to be back in four years anyway, there’s a lot less urgency for me, versus if you are, say, a social enterprise type of person, and you’re considering going to, say, a master’s in social work or to law school. And so I know I have to get top of mind for you right now before you go off in a completely different direction with your life. So I do think that there’s that element of it as well. If you’re thinking of applying, just realize the spirit in which these programs were launched in terms of assessing and also not getting bummed out. By the way, if you don’t get in under deferred admissions, that doesn’t mean anything at all in terms of your future competitiveness.

[00:13:57.210] – John

In fact, what I found interesting, we did a story on the two plus two program and really dive deep into this. It’s called HBS two plus two, a no risk way to get into Harvard Business School question mark. And basically, the thinking here is that it is a no risk proposition. As we’ve pointed out, you get the GMAT out of the way at the best time. When you’re still a student, the application fee is lower. You get the chance for self reflection at that time, which could be very valuable to you. And if you’re interviewed and accepted, you get an experience, something that is really distinctive because of the additional program that Harvard builds into its program. The other point that was made when we interviewed the managing director of this program at Harvard was that when a candidate is turned down after being interviewed, Harvard is more likely to give feedback. And, in fact, in one year, 40 candidates were given phone calls by the director of the program to tell them why they didn’t make it. These touch point calls are rare. I mean, there are very few schools that do them, and Harvard definitely does not do them, but Harvard will do it for two plus two.

[00:15:13.440] – John

And knowing sort of why you didn’t make the cut after you were interviewed could be really helpful to you in terms of being competitive for other programs or being competitive later on if you apply with the mainstream candidates instead of through a deferred admit program. The selectivity of these programs are pretty similar to the general selectivity in terms of the percentage of acceptances, the standardized scores, your GPA, they’re pretty equal. And when they’re off, they’re not off by a whole lot. So the admission standards to these programs are just as tough as the general admission standards. But it is a good opportunity for a young person who knows that they want an MBA in business schools in their future. Any last words about this, Caroline?

[00:16:15.510] – Caroline

Yes, I do think that it is important to really invest a lot of effort in your extracurriculars if you do want to go down this route, because, as you said, that’s really your opportunity to demonstrate a lot of the characteristics that otherwise candidates are applying a bit later on can demonstrate, perhaps through their professional career. So it’s great if through your extracurriculars, you can demonstrate leadership, your interpersonal skills, your teamworking skills, initiative. There’s a lot of great qualities that they will be looking for that you, by definition, cannot demonstrate through your past two or three years of work experience. So those extracurriculars are really critical at that stage, and that’s something for students to keep in mind because it’s not something. Whereas with the GMAT or the GRE, maybe you can do two or three months of study and you can get an amazing score, but you can’t revamp your extracurricular profile in two or three months. That’s something that you really need to think about from the start of your college career. And building that up for students who may be listening, who are at an earlier stage in their studies, that’s something to anticipate that you can really work on and build up your profile if that’s a direction that you might be interested in going to when you get to your senior year.

[00:17:41.090] – John

And really what admissions officials are looking for is not that you did this, that, and then the other thing, they’re looking for leadership so that you actually led something and you had some impact. So it’s not just signing up for a bunch of different things at your undergraduate institution. It’s actually getting the chance to lead a club, an organization, and doing something when you are a leader, because that’s what these top schools will be looking for. All right, well, if you are in the market for a deferred admissions program, get ready, because you need to file an application pretty soon. Over the next month, month and a half, two months for some programs. Most business schools in the US do have these, and they are a great advantage for someone who knows they want an MBA. All right, you’ve been listening to Business Casual. This is John Byrne with Poets and Quants.

Applying For A Highly Selective MBA Program Via Deferred Admissions
Maria |
March 19, 2024


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