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From Aspiration to Admission: A Comprehensive Guide to Harvard’s 2+2 Program

May 24, 2023 :: Admissionado Team

Most business school students didn’t decide to earn an MBA until several years into their careers. They graduated from university, spent years in the workforce, and eventually decided that having garnered valuable experience, they wanted to accelerate their career with an MBA. Reinforcing this typical path, business schools usually require that applicants have at least a couple of years of professional experience before applying. However, there are some exceptions to this model. Harvard’s 2+2 program exists to encourage those exceptions and to draw bright, superstar students to HBS.

What is the Harvard (HBS) 2+2 Program?

The Harvard 2+2 program allows graduating college seniors to apply to HBS on a very specific timeline: if accepted, they are guaranteed deferred enrollment (within four years) at HBS. This deferred enrollment program allows students to plan their first career steps with the certainty of a place at Harvard Business School – one of the most prestigious MBA programs in the world. It is called 2+2 because the most common path is to spend two years in the workforce (the minimum requirement) before enrolling in HBS’s two-year MBA. Students can, however, choose to spend longer working, though they must enroll no more than four years after their admittance.

Advantages of the Harvard 2+2 Program

1. Early Assurance of Admission

One of the most significant benefits of the HBS 2+2 program is the early assurance of admission to Harvard Business School. By securing a place in the prestigious MBA program before gaining work experience, students can alleviate the pressure of the competitive application process in the future. This assurance provides peace of mind and allows students to focus on their career development without worrying about MBA applications.

2. Flexibility and Exploration

The HBS 2+2 program offers students the flexibility to explore various career paths before pursuing an MBA. It encourages students to gain valuable work experience, develop their leadership skills, and contribute to their communities. This flexibility allows students to shape their career trajectories and gain a deeper understanding of their passions and goals, enabling them to make more informed decisions about their future.

3. Access to a Powerful Network

As a part of the HBS 2+2 program, students become a part of the Harvard Business School community even before starting their MBA studies. This means they gain access to an extensive network of accomplished alumni, faculty, and fellow students. The HBS network is renowned for its global reach and influential connections, which can open doors to exciting career opportunities and valuable mentorship.

Who Attends the Harvard 2+2 Program?

Students applying to Harvard 2+2 must be in their final year of studies, but it is not exclusive to undergraduates. A student graduating with a master’s degree can also apply to the program, though you are not allowed to have spent time in the workforce (other than internships) to qualify for the 2+2 program. Essentially, the Harvard 2+2 program is designed for graduating students without extensive work experience.

What kind of academic backgrounds qualify for the program?

Harvard explicitly notes that for the Harvard MBA 2+2 program they are purposefully seeking out students with academic backgrounds atypical to those that usually lead to business degrees. They include in this category those planning to work in manufacturing, consumer goods, retail, and industrials. 

The Harvard 2+2 class profile statistics reflect this purpose. Harvard reports that 57% of the Class of 2023 come from STEM backgrounds and 19% from a humanities background. That’s a significant deviation from the more traditional economics or business study background. 

In addition to noting that they are specifically seeking students with non-traditional academic backgrounds, Harvard states that they will give extra consideration to students from a lower socio-economic background or who are first-generation college graduates in their families. While they do not provide class profile statistics, there is a clear emphasis on recruiting students who might not otherwise pursue a graduate business degree.

Other notable class profile statistics

The HBS 2+2 admissions statistics also reveal that 25% of the class is international, representing 17 countries. International applicants should note, however, that if they have attended a university where English is not the primary language of instruction, they will need to take an English proficiency exam. The most common is the TOEFL, and while there is no minimum score to be considered, HBS discourages applicants with a score below 109 from applying. 

In addition to drawing international students, the 2023 class profile reveals that 53 undergraduate institutions are represented in the 2+2 program. This is certainly not a program catering specifically to Harvard undergrads but is meant to draw top talent in various disciplines from all over the globe.

How Hard is it to Get in?

Harvard makes no secret of the fact that this is a competitive program, and that they are looking for the best and brightest. The good news for students who do not have a background in economics or business is that they will effectively be competing in a pool that excludes a lot of that competition. The bad news is HBS is looking for the standouts: those who are graduating at the top of their class with excellent transcripts, impressive leadership experience, and bright prospects in whatever career they are embarking on.

Let’s look at some numbers. For the class of 2023, HBS saw 1403 applicants to the 2+2 program and accepted 9% of those applicants. Even among competitive business school programs, that’s a very low acceptance rate: the regular HBS acceptance rate is 12%

Within that winning 9%, HBS 2+2 reported that the range of accepted GMAT score was 590-790, with a median score of 730. In addition, the average GPA was 3.79. 

Don’t forget that it is not just about these numbers, though. While that’s a good starting point if you are wondering if you measure up, remember that an application is more than just the numbers—if you can show that you have challenged yourself as a student and can tell an excellent story about what motivates you to seek a graduate business degree in your essay, then you can make up a significant deficit in stats.

How Do You Apply?

The 2+2 program application looks much like other MBA applications, including many of the same elements: transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, essays, forms, and an interview. The application timeline, however, is a little different. Because the HBS 2+2 program is geared toward graduating college students, the application deadline is in the late spring – usually June 1. The idea is to give students a chance to secure an impressive post-graduation job so the admissions committee knows what they will do with the first “2” in their “2+2.”

This means that while you are wrapping up your final semester—you will need to be on top of an MBA application. You must also be able to submit your test scores by this deadline, which means the latest you can sit for the GMAT or GRE is likely to be in the late winter, depending on what test centers near you offer. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get into Harvard.

The application process for the HBS 2+2 program consists of several stages. Here is an overview of the key steps involved:

  1. Online Application: Prospective applicants must complete an online application form, which includes personal information, academic history, and essays. The essays provide an opportunity for candidates to express their motivations, career aspirations, and how they align with the mission and values of HBS.
  2. Recommendations: Applicants are required to submit two letters of recommendation from individuals who can assess their academic performance, leadership potential, and personal qualities. These recommenders should have a deep understanding of the applicant’s abilities and potential.
  3. GMAT/GRE: As part of the application, candidates must also submit their GMAT or GRE scores. These standardized tests measure a candidate’s readiness for graduate-level business studies.
  4. Interview: Shortlisted candidates are invited for an interview with an admissions representative. This interview serves as an opportunity for applicants to showcase their interpersonal skills, leadership potential, and suitability for the program.
  5. Admission Decision: After completing the interview process, applicants will receive an admission decision. Successful candidates will secure a spot in the HBS 2+2 program, contingent upon fulfilling the work experience requirement.

The business school application process is unique and differs in significant ways from applications you may have completed for internships or programs in the STEM or liberal arts fields. A business school admissions committee is looking for evidence of leadership and strong personal qualities that indicate a high-potential candidate, as well as more traditional elements like a strong academic background and strong motivation. As such, you may find enormous benefits in working with an MBA admissions consulting expert as they can help you navigate the expectations of a business school admissions committee, put your best foot forward on the application and give you the best shot at success.

I’m a senior in college and I have an interview for the HBS 2+2 program. Since I have limited work experience (a couple of internships), what should I focus on in the interview?

Well, since you’re a college senior – which is exactly who this program is targeting – no one is expecting you to have a long resume, full of management roles. But because this IS an MBA program, the adcom is expecting you to have management experience, in some capacity. After all, you’re studying to become a manager… and they need to see that you can hack it.

So you should absolutely bring up any and all leadership experiences you’ve got, whether it’s from jobs or internships you’ve held, or groups you’ve led.  And, like any MBA admissions interview, you’ll want to make sure you’re leading with your “greatest hits” – the 2 or 3 best leadership/management stories you’ve got.

Other than that, the HBS 2+2 interview is going to run like any other, and the same rules will apply: get comfortable with your stories, give the adcom more than just a verbal run-through of your resume (they’ve got it in front of them, folks!), and ask lots of questions.

Do Other Schools Have Similar Programs?

While the Harvard 2+2 program is uniquely prestigious, HBS is not the only business school out there to offer a program like this. Here are some other top-notch choices:

  • The Stanford GSB Deferred Admission program allows graduating seniors to apply and then defer for 1-3 years while they gain professional experience.
  • Wharton MBA Advance Access, exactly like Harvard 2+2, allows graduating seniors to apply for a guaranteed spot following 2-4 years of professional experience. 
  • The Yale Silver Scholars program allows exceptional and ambitious college grads to enter Yale SOM’s MBA program immediately, without spending time in the workforce first.
  • Chicago Booth’s Scholars program also allows seniors of any undergraduate university to apply for deferred enrollment in 2-4 years.

FAQs About the Harvard 2+2 Program

1. How does the HBS 2+2 program differ from the traditional MBA application process?

The HBS 2+2 program allows undergraduate students to secure a spot in the MBA class before gaining work experience, providing early assurance of admission. In contrast, the traditional MBA application process requires candidates to have several years of work experience before applying.

2. Can students from any academic discipline apply for the HBS 2+2 program?

Yes, the HBS 2+2 program encourages applications from students with diverse academic backgrounds. While a business-related academic background is not mandatory, applicants should have a genuine interest in pursuing a career in business or entrepreneurship.

3. Is financial aid available for the HBS 2+2 program?

Yes, HBS offers a range of financial aid options, including scholarships and loans, to support students in their pursuit of an MBA. 

4. What happens if a student accepted into the HBS 2+2 program changes their career plans?

The HBS 2+2 program recognizes that career paths may evolve over time. If a student accepted into the program decides to pursue a different path and no longer intends to pursue an MBA, they can withdraw from the program without any obligations.

5. Can I defer my admission to the HBS 2+2 program?

Yes, Harvard Business School allows admitted students to defer their admission to the HBS 2+2 program for up to two years. Deferral requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and valid reasons, such as pursuing other educational opportunities or taking on significant professional commitments, are considered.

6. Is it necessary to have a specific career goal in mind when applying to the HBS 2+2 program?

While it is not mandatory to have a specific career goal in mind, the HBS 2+2 program seeks candidates who demonstrate a genuine interest in business and entrepreneurship. It is essential to articulate your motivations, passions, and aspirations in your application, highlighting how an MBA from Harvard Business School aligns with your long-term goals.


Harvard’s 2+2 program is a great way to get an MBA without spending two years or more in college. If you think that this sounds like it could be the right fit for your needs, contact us today! We will work with you personally to find out if applying to and matriculating at one of the most prestigious business schools in the world is possible. You don’t have to go through what we call “The grind” by taking classes for another year before getting into business school – instead, let’s talk about how we can make things happen so that you can start building your career on day one after graduation from college!