An Overview of the HBS 2+2 Program—and How to Kick Off Your Application

HBS 2+2 is one of the most prestigious deferred MBA programs in the country. Here's an overview, with some tips on how to start your application.

Posted May 11, 2024

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The HBS 2+2 Program.

It's one of the most prestigious, well-established deferred admissions programs in the country. When most undergraduates hear about it, they immediately assume they're not qualified. Even the name "Harvard" is enough to make this program feel out of reach. Many current students dismiss their own candidacy right away, thinking instead: "Oh, I'll just wait a few years and apply as a traditional candidate, and enroll with everyone else."

Now, it's true — the vast majority of those who apply to Harvard Business School's 2+2 Program won't get in. But we put together this guide to dispel misconceptions about this early admissions program, and how you, too, can apply and earn admission.

So, What Is the HBS 2+2 Program?

Although it's been around since 2008, the HBS 2+2 program is still gaining traction. Many college students don't realize there's a way to secure a spot in the Harvard Business School MBA program before even graduating. That's what HBS 2+2 is: a deferred enrollment program that grants applicants the security of a seat in a top MBA program, with the flexibility to enter the workforce for two (minimum) to five (maximum) years before returning to business school.

HBS 2+2 is a win for Harvard, as well: it allows them to lock down high-potential candidates early, before they enter the workforce and start gaining work experience. That's particularly important for those candidates who might enter industries that don't typically feed into business schools: retail, tech, consumer goods, etc.

Harvard wasn't the first university to launch such a program — Yale was, in 2001 — and other schools, like Yale and Stanford GSB, also offer similar deferred options. (See our article on the Top 10 Deferred MBA Programs in the US.) But HBS 2+2 has quickly become one of the largest, most robust, and popular deferred admit programs in the country.

History of HBS 2+2

The 2+2 Program was created in 2008 when Harvard decided to incentivize accomplished undergrads to plan their careers in advance, and secure spots in its business program roughly two years after graduation. Harvard hoped to reach a diverse group of young individuals who might kick off their careers in less conventional industries, which wouldn't necessarily lead them to full-time MBA programs.

If you're interested in other deferred MBA programs, check out:

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So, who's eligible for the HBS 2+2 program?

If you're a college senior, you're eligible. You'd apply in the spring of your senior year (or final year of study) and, if admitted, work for 2 to 4 years before matriculating at Harvard. Candidates earning a joint bachelor/master's degree are also eligible for the program. Graduate or master's students can also be eligible, if they entered their graduate program directly from undergrad, without yet taking a full-time work position.

Who Harvard Looks For

Harvard encourages all interested students to apply, regardless of their educational background. However, HBS has its eye out for individuals who will likely pursue career paths outside the norm of general business school applicants. They are particularly interested in a few groups:

  1. Students planning to work in technical roles
  2. Students going to work in an operating role (like tech, manufacturing, etc)
  3. Students pursuing entrepreneurship
  4. Individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds who are first-generation college students, or who come from families whose members have not attended graduate school

If you're planning on pursuing a career in finance or consulting, or something in the nonprofit sector, don’t worry! Harvard still accepts such candidates—they just signal a preference for the types listed above. Harvard also encourages international applicants to apply—HBS looks for diversity of background, whether that be a profession, career path, nationality, sexual orientation, or other factors. This perspective and depth are super important to Harvard's admissions committee.

How Hard Is It to Get Into HBS 2+2?

Harvard is one of the few institutions that publishes statistics for its deferred MBA program. For the class of 2023, 1,403 students applied, and Harvard admitted 9% of them (slightly lower than the traditional application rate of 11.5%).

Of that 9%, the range of accepted GMAT scores was 590 to 790, with a median GMAT score of 730, and an average GPA of 3.79. Accepted students represented 65 different universities across the world.

Looking deeper into the class profile, the majority (57%) of admits came from STEM academic backgrounds. 24% studied Economics or Business, while 19% hailed from the Humanities and Social Sciences. (It's worth noting that this high percentage of students from STEM backgrounds is really what differentiates the 2+2 cycle from the traditional application cycle.)

Read: The Top 25 Business Schools' Acceptance Rates and Class Profiles

Application Details

So, what does it take to apply to HBS 2+2?

The application process is the same as that of the traditional MBA program (though you’ll be saving a little money: it only costs $100 to apply, compared to the regular application fee of $250). As with the traditional application, you'll need two recommendations, and one of them will need to be from a direct supervisor. You'll need to write essays and report your GMAT/GRE/TOEFL scores. Interviews for the deferred admission process follow the same format as the regular admissions process: one 30 min, somewhat intense interview.

To learn more, read here: How to Ace Your HBS Interview

HBS 2+2 Essays (NEW)

For those applying to HBS' deferred MBA program in 2024 or after, please know that the essays have changed for the first time in many years. Here are the new prompts; each essay has a limit of 300 words.

Part 1: Personal Essays

The HBS classroom and community thrive when we bring together people who can share a variety of perspectives. To get to know you better and how you will engage at HBS, please choose two of the three prompts below to tell us more about yourself:

  • How have your experiences shaped who you are, how you lead, and how you will contribute at HBS?
  • What intellectual experiences have influenced your approach to learning and have led you to pursue an MBA?
  • What communities have you been engaged with that have defined how you invest in others?

Part 2: Career Essay

  • How do the career plans you shared in the Career Plans section of the application fit into your current long-term career vision? What skills and/or professional experiences do you hope to obtain in the deferral period that will help build the foundation for your post-MBA career?

As far as instruction goes, the portal states simply: "We think you know what guidance we're going to give here: don't overthink, overcraft, or overwrite. Please answer the questions in clear and concise language. We recommend pre-writing the essays on your computer, then copying and pasting the final products into the text box below, as you may lose your work without pressing "Save" often."

*These prompts have not been updated on the HBS website at the time of this article's publication; however, these are the essay prompts listed in the application portal itself.

For more on Harvard's essays, head to: HBS 2+2 Deferred MBA Essay Prompts & Tips (2024) and A Guide to the HBS Essay.

HBS 2+2 Application Deadlines (2024)

This year, the application is due on April 25, 2024, and decisions are released in early July 2024. For more info on the HBS deadlines, read Harvard Business School MBA Application Deadlines (2023-2024)

Okay—How Do I Start?

First, we want to offer our most important, gained from helping many candidates go through this process: and that's to differentiate, differentiate, differentiate. While test scores, grades, and a good job will all help, the most important thing you can do is make yourself stand out from other applicants.

Don’t try and figure out what Harvard's admissions committee wants to hear. That's likely what others will try to do, and remember: Harvard will read over a thousand applications. Instead, make yourself memorable by highlighting your unique passions, personality, and view of the world. HBS’ mission is to “educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” Show them that you don’t just have dreams, ambitions, and goals for your own career success, but that you are motivated by a drive to make the world a better place!

Then, just get started!

If you're looking for help on your application, be sure to download our robust free strategy guide: 6 Steps to Getting into your Dream MBA Program. It's packed with information that will give you the best shot possible at getting into your dream business school. If you're applying via the traditional MBA application process, check out: Harvard Business School - MBA Program and Application Overview.

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