What Does It Take to Get Into Harvard’s 2+2 Program?

Most business school students didn’t decide to earn an MBA until several years into their career. 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 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.

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 humanities background. That’s a significant deviation from the more traditional economics or business study background. 

Appealing to students of different socio-economic backgrounds

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 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 tha 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. While you might have vivid memories of completing college applications throughout the fall and winter of your senior year of high school, 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 be doing with the first “2” in their “2+2.”

This means that while you are wrapping up your final semester—sitting finals, writing papers, and perhaps even completing a thesis—you will also 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. 

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 benefit 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.

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’ time.

If there is a business school you have your heart set on and this model appeals to you, it is worth looking into whether they have a deferred admission program. Even if you don’t find success applying this way, you can always apply for a seat later, a few or even several years into your career. The good news for those that aren’t starting their career in a traditionally business-related field is that those from alternative backgrounds are seeing more and more success even in the traditional application round as business schools realize the potency of mixing those with non-traditional backgrounds with the general management and entrepreneurial skill an MBA imparts.

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