Study Abroad

How Indian Applicants Can Crack an Admit to Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Deferred MBA Program.

23 July, 2021

HBS’s 2+2 deferred MBA program (also called X + 2 by Dee Leopold who runs it) is one of the most prestigious programs sought out by college seniors around the world. Admits to this program have to work for at least 2 years (some choose to work for 3-4 years at the school’s discretion) before starting in the HBS full-time MBA program.


During my engagements and interactions with some of the brightest clients from India (read IITs, NITs, St. Stephens Delhi, St. Xaviers Mumbai and Kolkata etc.), I found more and more college seniors (final year students) considering a deferred MBA option, especially from global B schools. This is not difficult to understand. A deferred MBA has many advantages. Click here to learn more.


The HBS adcom describes desirable applicants as – “Innovative thinkers who have demonstrated leadership and analytical skills and want to develop their knowledge and passion to make a difference in the world”. The topic at hand however is – how can an applicant from the uber-competitive Indian applicant pool secure an admit in the HBS 2+2 or similar elite deferred programs from Stanford GSB, U.Penn Wharton etc. Like the HBS full-time program, the 2+2 program is also extremely competitive – admit rates have ranged from 9-12% over the last 3 years (approximately 100-120 admits out of 1200 applicants).


Let’s dig in:


First, let’s understand why the program came into being. HBS, being the pre-eminent brand in business education, wanted to appeal to the non-traditional, non-business undergraduates (read STEM grads). By providing a deferred MBA to college seniors, HBS wanted to ‘develop’ a new segment where non-business students would start considering a management career (for which MBA has been already established as a preferred degree). So while the FT HBS MBA has 35-40% STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education representation, the HBS 2+2 has more than 50% STEM grads (2023 class had 57% STEM students). So, if you’re a STEM grad, you fall in their preferred profile.


Second, the entering 2023 class of HBS 2+2 has 43% women same as FT MBA. While the traditional FT HBS MBA has 30-35% international students, the 2+2 has only 15-20%. Combine the two and you find that being an international female candidate puts you in a sweet spot for consideration.


Third, the average GPA of a 2+2 admits in the 2023 class was 3.79/4.0. So, you’ve got to have an impressive academic record. While in a traditional MBA rapid career progress can present a different and attractive data point to the adcom, the adcom weighs academics much more for 2+2 since they don’t have any professional experience to consider.


Fourth, the average GMAT and GRE scores for a 2+2 admit is similar to that for an FT MBA admit. The average GMAT is 730 (Q48, V41), GRE (Q 163, V 163). Clearly, one has to score high to impress the adcom.


Fifth – a stellar profile! While points 3 and 4 above will demonstrate your capability to academically thrive in the rigorous HBS MBA, they almost appear like the ‘entry price for consideration’. Once you have these in control, how can you stand out? HBS looks for candidates who have a Habit for Leadership, Analytical Aptitude and Appetite and Engaged Community Citizenships. It’s time to ensure those high profile internships where you made an impact, leadership positions on or off campus and evidence of mastery of quantitative/analytical concepts is demonstrated


Sixth, your letters of recommendation – your recommenders should not only recommend but almost lobby for you. In addition, only praising the candidate will not do – they’ll have to provide specific instances of impact by the candidate accompanied by key competencies observed such as leadership etc. Quantitative comparison of how high they rate you within the larger pool they’ve managed along with supporting rationale would help your case tremendously.


Seventh, maturity. The school expects a 2+2 candidate to demonstrate a maturity that defies years. How you’ve faced challenges in the past, how you’ve reacted to criticism and how you’ve been able to influence detractors to your ideas and ensure progress and impact will be key.


Eight, super impressive achievements. Many applicants view the application like a checklist; good internship – check; high test score – check; volunteering experience – check! What they forget is asking themselves – how easy is it to secure the achievement or position they’ve mentioned? What truly impresses an HBS or top school adcom is the level of competition involved in an achievement – Fulbright scholarships, Rhodes scholarships, an internship with Google self-driving car project, MBB internships – Yes! Another way to think is you don’t want to communicate to the HBS adcom that your 2+2 application is the first time you’re really competing with a top-class pool.


Leopold views the 2 years prior to HBS as an incredible opportunity to do new, amazing and wonderful things. You should be able to articulate your plans for those years very well. Maybe it’s working in a new culture, maybe it’s trying something out of your comfort zone that will provide you with important skills. All-in-all, it’s a special process that’ll make you introspect and teach you how to put your best foot forward.


Image Source: Tree photo created by frimufilms –