What is a Deferred MBA Program?
In September 2008, Harvard Business School (HBS) accepted its first class of “2+2” applicants. These students applied to Harvard Business School's MBA program, but with one major variation: instead of having full-time work experience under their belts, they were college seniors, who would spend the next 2-5 years in the workforce before returning to campus to begin their MBA.
Around the same time, Stanford also made the decision to launch its own deferred admissions program: candidates could apply, usually in their final years of study in college or graduate school, earn admission, then defer enrollment for two to four years after graduating.
Harvard and Stanford's decision to launch this particular type of graduate degree program largely put the deferred MBA on the map, though they certainly weren't the first—Yale had actually launched its Yale Silver Scholar's program seven years earlier, in 2001.
A deferred MBA program is for those applicants who know they want to attend business school but have yet to graduate from college. They're forward-thinking, know they want to earn an MBA, and want to lock in their spot before they leave their undergraduate institution. Top universities admit a select cohort of deferred applicants, knowing that these individuals will enter the workforce, picking up somewhere between two and five years of full-time work experience before actually enrolling. Upon enrollment, these deferred admits are part of the same class as those candidates admitted through the traditional application process.
For schools, it's a great way to snap up candidates early, particularly those who the school might not be able to entice later in their careers. (More on this below.) For candidates, it's a way to secure a spot at a top institution's business school before you even graduate.
How are Deferred MBA Programs Different From Traditional Programs?
MBA candidates who apply through the traditional application process usually have earned between two and five years of work experience before applying. With the deferred MBA program, you're able to apply and secure your spot before entering the workforce. Application deadlines typically fall between April and June of your senior year, so if everything goes well, you'll have earned a seat at a top MBA program before the summer after your senior year. In two to five years, depending on your deferral period, you join your MBA program, along with everyone else admitted into the same full-time MBA program.
The applications are pretty much the same–they require essays, letters of recommendation, a resume, etc. The approach changes slightly, however, because of the lack of full-time experience. The admissions committees have a lot less to go on so the application really has to show potential loud and clear.
Who are Deferred MBA Programs Looking For?
Broadly speaking, top universities are looking for the same qualifications in their deferred admits as their traditional applicants: leadership, razor-sharp intelligence, and a promising career trajectory.
Of course, there are significant variations. The good news is that each school signals quite clearly what they're looking for in their applicants, which we'll cover more below. At a high level, though, deferred MBA programs are selected from a pool of undergraduates (and in some cases grad students). Since these applicants won't have work experience, they need to stand out and shine on the basis of their collegiate internships, their GMAT / GRE scores, their GPA, and the rigor and excellence of their undergraduate studies. Essays and letters of recommendation are also particularly important: the resume of a deferred applicant is not as fleshed out as that of the traditional applicant, so the other parts of the application take on extra significance.
As far as criteria go, deferred enrollment programs are looking for applicants from all different academic disciplines. Yes, they admit those who come from an economic background — finance, business, and economics majors — but they also, and increasingly, welcome those with engineering, STEM, and humanities undergraduate degrees. The flavor of your bachelor’s degree is not so much the consideration as the excellence you showed in your academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, and core curriculum.
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Read our Comprehensive MBA Application Timeline for a look into deadlines and to get organized.
Already working on your application? Here is our guide on writing a powerful MBA essay, a key aspect of the application and often one of the most difficult parts for students.
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Core Groups Deferred MBA Programs Are Looking For
In addition to these broad-stroke considerations, deferred MBA programs show preference in particular for the following types of candidates:
- Students on clear, high-potential paths
- Students who (of course) fit the flavor and culture of that particular school
- Students from diverse backgrounds, or with unique stories and plans that help them stand out
- Students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (first-generation college graduates, lower-income families, etc)
- Students heading into operating roles (in tech, retail, etc)
- Students heading into technical roles (industrial tech, manufacturing management, etc)
- Students starting a business or joining a startup
It's worth noting that HBS in particular has signaled, strongly, their preference for applicants from the latter four categories. Applicants from these groups are less likely to consider applying for business school in the future; schools like HBS, then, want to capture them early, before they get too immersed in the workforce.
The Top 10 Deferred MBA Programs
All right — now that we've covered what deferred MBA programs are and what types of candidates they're looking for, let's take a look at the top 10 deferred MBA programs. We'll dive into each program so that you can get a good idea of what programs are out there, and make an informed decision about where you'd like to apply.
- Deadline: Can apply to any round (most will apply to R3 on April 9, 2024)
- Emphasis: Technology, entrepreneurship
- Acceptance Rate: 6-7%
- Eligibility: last year of undergrad, or in a graduate program right out of undergrad
- Application Fee: $100
Ranked first in US News’ 2022 report on top business schools, many think of Stanford as the place to go. With its emphasis on technology and entrepreneurship, it’s a magnet for those interested in the increasingly popular startup world and reaps the benefit of its proximity to Silicon Valley. Many students are drawn to its highly collaborative, down-to-earth culture, beautiful campus, and fine Palo Alto weather. However, at 6.9%, it has the lowest acceptance rate in the country, so keep in mind that you’ll need a very competitive application to apply here. At Leland, we can help: click here to browse our vetted, world-class MBA admissions coaches.
- Deadline: April 25, 2024
- Emphasis: balanced, contemporary
- Acceptance Rate: 9%
- Eligibility: bachelor’s student, master’s student, joint bachelor’s/master’s student, or master’s student who hasn’t taken a break between programs
- Application Fee: $100
One of the few programs with existing and accessible data on their deferred enrollment acceptance rates, HBS’ 2+2 Program reports 1,403 applicants with only 9% admitted for its class of 2023, which is a slightly smaller acceptance rate than its general acceptance rate. There is a reason for the high demand: HBS is great for those who want a more balanced education, and it offers plentiful extracurricular / club opportunities, strong network building, and an emphasis on section unity. Its more formal classroom format and higher competition may or may not be a good fit for you.
For more information visit An Overview of the HBS 2+2 Program and Harvard Business School—MBA Program and Application Overview. If you’re currently applying to the deferred program at HBS, read How to Ace Your HBS 2+2 Interview and A Guide to the HBS Essay.
- Deadline: April 24, 2024
- Emphasis: Finance, leadership
- Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 8%
- Eligibility: in the last year of undergrad, or graduate student
- Application Fee: $100
With almost quadruple the acceptance rate of Stanford GSB, Wharton still ranked second on US News’ 2022 business school list. The Wharton MBA carries a powerful badge and brand, especially internationally. This Pennsylvania school boasts a very social and supportive atmosphere, and the Wharton community is a good fit for prospective students looking to specialize in finance. 2020 was the first year Wharton opened up the Moelis Advance Access Program to non-U Penn grads, so it's still very fresh.
See our Wharton Deferred School Hub at Wharton Moelis Advance Access and our full Wharton hub at The Wharton School—MBA Program and Application Overview. If you’re working on the Wharton application right now, read our Guide to the Wharton Essays.
- Deadline: mid-April, 2024 -- TBA
- Emphasis: Marketing
- Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 20%
- Eligibility: in undergrad, or in the first 3 years of your career
- Application Fee: None
Ranked fourth on the US News list, Kellogg also specializes in collaboration and socialization in and out of the classroom. Kellogg has a particularly flexible program; it even includes an option to complete your MBA in just one year. Ask any current students how their experience has been, and they'll tell you they love it.
See our Kellogg Deferred School Hub at Kellogg Future Leaders Program and our full Kellogg hub at the Kellogg School of Management—MBA Program and Application Overview.
- Deadline: April 4, 2024
- Emphasis: Research, quant/data, finance
- Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 12%
- Eligibility: in the last year of undergrad, or in the first 3 years of your career
- Application Fee: None
Chicago Booth placed third in the US News ranking. Even though it has an exceptionally robust academic offering, Booth also provides flexibility in coursework, and offers, many opportunities for leadership and involvement in clubs. This commuter school is known for its Midwest friendliness, which may make you feel right at home. The Chicago Booth Scholars Program, like Wharton's Advanced Access Program, is quite fresh, so it's still growing and developing — and very much worth a look.
See our Chicago Deferred School Hub at Chicago Booth Scholars Program. as well as our school guide at Chicago Booth—MBA Program and Application Overview. If you’re currently working on your Chicago application, read our Guide to the Booth Essays.
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- Deadline: April 19, 2024
- Emphasis: engineering, technology (STEM)
- Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 14%
- Eligibility: graduating/graduated with an undergrad degree in the last academic year, or in a graduate program right out of undergrad
- Application Fee: None
This Massachusetts school has an MBA program in very high demand, with a strong emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). If you're interested in a STEM-related business path, this is the place to be. But remember, STEM does not mean anti-social, especially not here; MIT Sloan has a down-to-earth and collaborative class profile, so applicants who can prove strong social skills are preferred. Applicants hoping to pursue a career in Product Management or in other technical-related fields have found success at MIT. If that sounds like you, give the MIT Sloan MBA Early Admission program a look.
For information on the MBA program at MIT, visit MIT Sloan Early Admission Deferred MBA Program: What You Need to Know and MIT Sloan—MBA Program and Application Overview.
- Deadline: April 15, 2024
- Emphasis: Finance
- Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 18%
- Eligibility: last year of undergrad, or in a subsequent graduate program
- Application Fee: None
Located deep in the big city of Manhattan, Columbia’s MBA program has the advantage of sitting at the heart of the modern business environment. Although it has a history of a highly competitive culture, the university has recently attempted to encourage a more diverse and collaborative one. Keep in mind that living costs here will likely exceed those of your other options.
See our Columbia Deferred School Hub at Columbia Deferred Enrollment Program or visit our full school hub at Columbia Business School—MBA Program and Application Overview.
- Deadlines: September 12, 2023 (Round 1), January 4, 2024 (Round 2), April 9, 2024 (Round 3)
- Emphasis: nonprofit, leadership
- 2021 Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 23%
- Eligibility: current college senior
- Application Fee: Variable (sliding scale)
The Yale School of Management (SOM) comes in lower on the US News’ business school ranking list, but it has the oldest deferred enrollment program on this list, and the Silver Scholars Program only admits (roughly) 5% of all applicants! It's highly competitive but worth attending: Yale SOM remains world-renowned for its global networking opportunities, integrated curriculum, and leadership training. Plus, its exclusivity means it boasts a small class size and a tight-knit community.
It has a longstanding history of sending a disproportionately high (but recently, decreasing) amount of graduates into the nonprofit industry. Keep in mind that this program begins immediately following your senior year of undergrad.
See our full Yale school hub at the Yale School of Management—MBA Program and Application Overview.
- Deadlines: April 11, 2023 (Round 1) and August 1, 2023 (Round 2)
- Emphasis: balanced
- 2021 Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 26%
- Eligibility: last year of undergrad, or in a fifth-year master’s program
- Application Fee: $250
Darden offers a balanced curriculum that incorporates exceptionally modern business practices. Known for outputting great communicators, Darden expects its students to work collaboratively. If you’re Darden-bound, prepare for an intimate and tight-knit learning environment. It's also clear that the Darden admissions team is putting a strong emphasis on its deferred program, so if you are interested in Darden, this program is a great option.
Read more about the program at Darden at UVA Darden: Future Year Scholars Deferred MBA Program and UVA Darden—MBA Program and Application Overview.
- Deadline: April 25, 2024
- Emphasis: balanced, leadership, innovation
- Acceptance Rate (for all MBA applicants): 13.2%
- Eligibility: bachelor’s or master’s students studying at UC Berkeley
- Application Fee: $200
The Berkeley Haas Accelerated Access MBA program is geared toward UC Berkeley undergraduates or graduates, hoping to return to Berkeley for their MBA. At present, it's not open to non-Berkeley undergrads, but keep an eye on it: we expect that to change at some point in the future. With proximity to Silicon Valley, Berkeley grads are known for being plugged in with all of Northern California's top tech companies and VC firms.
Read A Guide to the UC Berkeley Haas Accelerated Applicants Deferred MBA Program and visit our Berkeley school hub at the University of California Berkeley Haas—MBA Program and Application Overview.
How to Get Into Your Dream Deferred MBA Program
Okay: now we've covered the top 10 deferred MBA programs. We've briefly touched on the application materials, and what each program is looking for. Now, the million-dollar question: how do you get in?
Browse our Free Content
First, visit the Leland Deferred MBA Library for school guides, application tips, and other helpful articles. We are constantly updating it with new articles and insider advice on everything you need to get into your dream deferred program.
Find an MBA Admissions Coach
Second, search for and partner with an MBA admissions coach.
It can be difficult, especially when applying to deferred MBA programs, to find reliable information out there about the application process. An experienced coach, one who has gone through the deferred application process, or who has coached many deferred admits before, can be the difference between earning that coveted admissions letter and not. The right coach can offer the guidance and mentoring you'll need to secure a seat at your dream school.
Popular Coaching Packages
These are some of our most popular deferred MBA packages, geared toward helping you get into your dream program. Book FREE intro calls with any of these coaches to find out more.
- Comprehensive Deferred MBA Application Support - with Naman S., Yale/MIT/Kellogg Deferred MBA Admit, EY-Parthenon
- Deferred MBA Essay Workshopping: Brainstorming & Crafting a Narrative - with Sydney P., Stanford GSB Deferred Admit, BCG
- All-In Deferred MBA Coaching - with Andy P., Professional Admissions Coach, 20+ Years of Experience, Stanford Interviewer
- Deferred MBA Resume Review - with Austin P., Sloan/Kellogg Deferred MBA Admit, LEK Consulting
Not sure if an admissions coach is for you? Check out our article: Are MBA Admissions Consultants Worth it? Ready to partner with the perfect coach? Find them by browsing our world-class MBA admissions coaches.
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