Traditionally, MBA applicants already have a few years of work experience under their belts before they submit their b-school applications. But there's another less-traveled road to business school: applying directly from college and then deferring admission for several years in order to gain experience in an internship or job.
This route avoids the stress of applying to graduate school as a full-time employee and affords students accepted at one of the many schools offering this deferred option—both domestically and overseas—the opportunity to take more risks since they already have an MBA acceptance, students say.
"I knew business school was most likely going to be in my future, so I thought if I could get into Harvard Business School right off the bat, it would be a giant weight off my shoulders and allow me more flexibility going forward," says Matthew Hanson, an associate consultant at Bain & Company in Chicago who is part of Harvard's 2+2 Program.
Harvard debuted 2+2 in 2008 to pave the way for college students to secure MBA admission, subsequently work for two years, and then to arrive on campus to fill their guaranteed seat in the MBA program.
"No one comes to the HBS classroom without full-time work experience," says Dee Leopold, Harvard's managing director of MBA admissions and financial aid. "Our students are expected to jump into the shoes of case protagonists and make decisions. Analytical tools and techniques aren't enough; a real world perspective is essential to a meaningful class discussion."
The program is called 2+2, but it's more like x+2, since Harvard is "pretty generous" about letting students who want more work experience defer even further, Hanson says. Although he secured his job at Bain before applying to 2+2, some of his classmates have leveraged their guaranteed MBA placement to travel or pursue entrepreneurial opportunities instead of more traditional roles, such as banking or consulting, Hanson says.
[Read about how some schools forge a direct path from B.A. to MBA.]
Bain is particularly supportive of executive education through its policy of funding business school for employees who pledge to return to work at the company for at least two years after graduation, but other companies may not be so generous for employees of just two years, according to Hanson. "A couple of my classmates have not brought up that they're in the 2+2, just because they feel like it would be detrimental to their progression at the company," he says.
For students who work for themselves, such as Stephanie Kaplan, who applied and was accepted to 2+2 in 2009 as a rising senior at Harvard, the program provides more flexibility without any conflicts with employers.
"Having the flexibility to try out a career path, knowing you have already been admitted to business school, is a fortunate place to be," she says. "It gives you the freedom to take risks, without much risk at all, since the worst thing that happens is that your current venture flops and then you enroll in Harvard Business School."
The venture Kaplan has pursued is a website she cofounded and edits called Her Campus, which offers "a collegiette's guide to life" and has more than 3,000 student contributors, according to the site. Kaplan, whose LinkedIn page states that the site receives more than 850,000 readers per month, won a business plan competition at Harvard for Her Campus prior to applying to 2+2.
[Learn why you're never too old or too young for business school.]