Usually, securing admission to an MBA program takes accruing at least a few years of experience in the workforce after getting an undergraduate or other graduate degree. But business schools are shaking up the traditional pathway to an MBA, usually a program for high-fliers in late 20s or early 30s, by enabling fresh graduates to apply for entry at a much younger age.
These “deferred” MBA programs are run by several top schools including Yale, Harvard and Chicago Booth. There are several advantages to applying through a deferred admissions program, says Steven Thompson, senior director of full-time MBA programs at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
“Applicants can secure a spot by investing time now while they are still in the undergraduate-student mindset; that will inherently pay off later, when balancing an MBA application with your career, personal priorities and hobbies can become more difficult,” he says.
Kellogg Future Leaders is a program that provides undergraduate or master students with the opportunity to apply for a future Kellogg class. Following graduation, admits are then required to gain two-to-five years of professional work experience prior to embarking on Kellogg’s MBA program.
Timing your exit from the workforce
Each candidate is assigned a designated admissions officer that guides them during their deferral period and consults them on the optimal time to start their MBA. “One of the greatest challenges for students who have been admitted to a deferred enrolment program is timing the decision to pursue their MBA,” says Thompson. “Making the decision to leave the workforce can be incredibly difficult.”
Similarly, students in deferral may occasionally feel disconnected from the MBA program, given that they are not yet enrolled as a student. To close this gap, Kellogg offers candidates exclusive access to conferences and programs that help create a sense of continuity and community during the deferral period.
MIT Sloan MBA Early Admission is an opportunity for the MIT Sloan School of Management to admit top MBA candidates with high potential, before they enter the workforce. This could be a huge benefit for the school, given that MBA applications have fallen in the past year because of the strong job market that makes it less attractive to exit the workforce.
“We have the opportunity to attract and build a meaningful relationship with extremely strong candidates who may otherwise choose to go elsewhere or not attend an MBA program at all,” says Dawna Levenson, assistant dean of admissions at MIT Sloan.
Applicants apply during their final year of either undergrad or graduate school. If admitted, they pay a $750 deposit to secure a seat in a future MBA class, and must work full-time for between two and five years.
A low-risk proposition for final-year undergrads
MIT Sloan reaches out each year in late summer to ask if admits are interested in matriculating the following fall. If so, they schedule a call with an admissions advisor and submit an abridged application by early December.
“This is truly a low to no risk proposition for the students,” Levenson says. “The offer is not binding. The student has flexibility to matriculate within a relatively large window of time, or not matriculate at all.”
In 2021, the University of California Berkeley’s Haas School of Business expanded its Accelerated Access program, allowing all final-year undergraduate and graduate students to apply for deferred entry to the school’s full-time MBA.
Haas first piloted the program in 2020, limiting it only to UC Berkeley students. The pilot’s success led to an expansion of the program to a wider variety of applicants, says Eric Askins, executive director of full-time MBA admissions.
“We wanted to provide a new opportunity for young professionals who are planning to make an impact earlier in their careers through earning an MBA,” he adds. “Deferred admission is the perfect option for many of these students.”
The program is expected to increase the diversity of the MBA class, encouraging more international students and those from a wide variety of academic disciplines to consider an MBA.
Admitted applicants can join a Slack community, to meet other deferring students who want to stay on top of the admission process and connect with future classmates. Students also check in annually during the deferral period with Haas to make sure that they are on track.
MBA admissions are still highly competitive, even through the deferred route, with these top US schools accepting only a small fraction of those who apply for an MBA place.
“We’re looking for strong academic indicators paired with clarity of purpose,” says Askins. “If you know an MBA will be useful in your future goals, it means you’ve thought about a plan. We are looking for clarity on that plan.”