HBS 2+2: How To Apply To Harvard Business School As An Undergrad

Successful 2+2 candidate Jayci Blake applied out of Texas A&M University and now works for BP as a process engineer

IN THE EARLY 1980S, MORE THAN 250 MEMBERS OF AN INCOMING MBA CLASS WERE DEFERRED ADMITS

Harvard began accepting deferred candidates in the 1970s when it was simply called “deferred admission. “This was back in the times when college seniors could and did come directly from undergrad to the classroom,” explains Leopold. The deferred admit program, she says, hit its high mark in the early 1980s when more than 250 members of an entering MBA class were deferred admits. “Since then, the work-experienced pool grew significantly and the number of college senior applications diminished correspondingly,” adds Leopold. “Business school was regarded as a path that was to be explored after getting work experience.”

Leopold effectively re-branded deferred admission into the 2+2 program in 2007, with a mandatory interview that was not required in the 1970s and more flexibility in the timing of the deferral period. The goal: To get business school on the radar of undergraduates who might have considered law, medicine or engineering as options and were less familiar with the benefits of an MBA degree. “It was conceived as a Trojan Horse vehicle to allow us to get on undergraduate campuses and capture students’ attention when they are making decisions about their next steps. STEM majors were a group we really wanted to inform. They come to campus with a mindset that could be enhanced by a case method business school.”

The first 2+2 cohort came together in 2008, with the intention that students would begin the MBA progam in 2011 as members of the Class of 2013. In that first cohort, some 106 seniors from 52 colleges were admitted. Back then, some 630 students applied and the acceptance rate was 17%. Not everyone admitted actually comes. Some find their careers so satisying they stay in their jobs. Others may decide later to pursue a PhD instead of an MBA. “We will always lost a handful of participants,” says Leopold.

‘WE WANT TO SEE CANDIDATES WHO HAVE NOT TAKEN THE WELL-TRODDEN PATH TO HBS’

Given the proclivity toward STEM grads, Leopold says she especially likes to receive applications from students at regional technical colleges. “We want to see candidates from a lot of schools where there is not a well-trodden path to Harvard Business School. The longer the list of schools represented, the better. We are deeply committed to making sure that the 2+2 program is known far and wide.”

And though the acceptance rate for 2+2s is identical, with the exactly the same 730 median GMAT and 3.67 PGA, it’s generally known among admissions consultants as slightly more competitive. “We focus more heavily on the academic qualifications of the college senior pool,” says Leopold, noting the absence of full-time work experience to judge a 2+2 candidate. “But we like the art history major who has taken quant courses and wants to get into art management or the budding entrepreneur who would like space to try something and knows that HBS is the next step.”

Since taking over the program after a 10-year stint as head of admissions, Leopold has tried to turn the time between acceptance and enrollment as a professional development opportunity for students. Each month, she sends out an email to commits with recommendations on books to read, podcasts to listen to, and websites to visit. In each missive, Leopold also attempts to profile an admitted student along the lines of a New York Times Style magazine interview, listing what a person is reading, listening to, eating, watching, and making time for.

‘I’M NOT THE CLASSIC I-BANKER SITTING AT GOLDMAN WITH FIVE PEERS ALL GOING TO GET AN MBA’

Successful 2+2 admit Cecil Alfaro Mora graduated from Northeastern University

Admits love the attention. “I like those monthly newsletters because I work in an environment where very few people have gone to business school,” says Mora, who has started a logistics company in Miami for exports of flowers from Latin America. “I work mostly with people in developing countries, and I am not surrounded by a lot of people who have those high goals in life. I’m not the classic investment banker sitting at Goldman Sachs with five peers who all are going to get an MBA in the next couple of years. So it’s very cool to hear and see what others are doing.”

Leopold’s goal, of course, is to help forge connections to both the school and each other. “The role of admissions is extended beyond selection to facilitiate them knowing each other,” she says. That’s why Leopold is also organizing occasional get-togethers of admitted students and encouraging closed Facebook groups so commits get to know each other long before they start school. At one recent meeting at the Harvard Club in New York, admits were asked to pick a recent article from The Economist that “intrigues, baffles or infuriates you” and be prepared to engage in a discussion.

“It was like showing up for the first day of class,” remembers Ethan Bernstein, an organizational behavior professor and the faculty advisor of the 2+2 program. “People were excited. They were afraid. They wondered if they were going to make it. These two emotions convert into learning over time.”

‘FOR EVERY PERSON WHO APPLIES TO HBS, THERE MIGHT BE TEN OR MORE WHO DON’T’

Bernstein says “there is a certain strategic angle to get people who might not ordinarily come to Harvard Business School. For every person who applies, there might be ten or more who don’t because it’s too much of a hassle. And then there is the perception that if you started two companies and failed, you would not be welcome at Harvard Business School. Well, Silicon Valley values failure and so do we.”

Bernstein says that yield—the percentage of students who ultimately come to Harvard—is of little concern to him. “I don’t get evaluated based on yield. To me, it’s more about their preparation and our preparation for them. It’s to help them prepare for HBS without creating speed advantages. It’s a bridge. Once you get here, we want you to be a Harvard MBA, not a 2+2 student.”

Jayci Blake says she enjoys the communications from Leopold. She was accepted into 2+2 last year just before graduating from Texas A&M University with a degree in chemical engineering. She has already met socially with other 2+2 admits in Houston. Blake was a senior finishing up all her coursework, heard about the 2+2 program and decided to give it a shot. “I thought it was an incredible opportunity that I may not have the time or the passion for later on,” she says. “I had to go for this opportunity.”

HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL’S 2+2 PROGRAM: THE BASICS

2+2 Steps Details
Who Should Apply “Innovative thinkers who have demonstrated leadership and analytical skills and want to develop their knowledge and passion to make a difference in the world”
For Class of 2021 Must graduate from a bachelor degree or graduate between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2017
GMAT or GRE Must complete either exam between April 3, 2012, and April 3, 2017
TOEFL International students at non-English speaking universities need an English language test taken after Jan. 1, 2015
2017 Deadline Only one deadline of April 3, 2017
Final Decisions May 17, 2017
Start Two-Year MBA Fall of 2019-2021