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Everything You Need To Know About The Harvard 2+2 Program

September 10, 2021
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Part 1. IntroductionPart 2. About Harvard School Of BusinessPart 3. Overview of the Harvard 2+2 ProgramPart 4. Pros and Cons of the Harvard 2+2 ProgramPart 5. Level of CompetitionPart 6. Eligibility and How to ApplyPart 7. FAQsPart 8. Conclusion


It can be said that Harvard is one of the most reputable business schools of all time. It is nearly impossible to forget Harvard when you are considering top Ivy League schools. Earning an MBA from any business school is an outstanding achievement, but many would argue that an MBA from a school like Harvard holds even more weight when it comes to future career prospects. 

This may be why Harvard has such an extensive list of alumni who have become CEOs, presidents, directors, and chief executives at major corporations such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. and General Electric. Harvard is consistently ranked amongst the top business schools globally due to its outstanding faculty, impressive curriculum, and wide range of extra-curricular opportunities.

Aside from their reputation, Harvard also offers"a vast ecosystem of resources that supports the unique needs of innovators both inside and outside the classroom." Harvard students are encouraged to pursue their entrepreneurial passions and provided with the necessary means to do so. If this sounds like the kind of place where you would like to pursue an MBA, then Harvard Business School might be worth considering.

Harvard also offers a relatively unique deferred MBA opportunity, called the Harvard 2+2 program, which may be particularly appealing to you if you are interested in pursuing an MBA, but you don't have any professional work experience yet. Read on to find out more about what the school offers, how the Harvard 2+2 program works, and how you can apply and get accepted into this prestigious school. 

About Harvard School Of Business 

Harvard Business School was founded in 1908, and it has one of the world's first established MBA programs. The school is located on a 40-acre campus in the Boston neighborhood of Allston. Harvards' mission is to "educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” It aims to have all students "embody a certain type of competence and character…to understand the difference between being self-interested and self-centered." Harvard seeks out and admits students who have inborn leadership potential, and  provides an environment that will help students hone in on and further develop these skills as they grow personally and professionally during their MBA. 

If you decide to undertake your MBA at Harvard, you can join "a global community that propels lifelong learning and career support alongside peers, faculty, and staff who will both challenge you and cheer you on as you find and accelerate your path." Harvard proudly offers dynamic learning environments, ranging "from large-format classes to intimate section and curated study groups" that are "intentionally designed to foster growth and learning." Case-work and experiential learning are major focuses within Harvard's curriculum, with the hope that this will "build deep general management and leadership skills, [that will set] the foundation for lifelong impact on how [their students will] lead."

Harvard only offers one MBA program on a full-time basis. You can complete this full-time MBA program within two years. Although the school does not offer part-time or executive MBA programs, it does offer numerous joint degree MBA programs such as a JD/MBA with Harvard Medical School, an MD/MBA with Harvard Medical School, or an MS/MBA with Harvard School of Engineering & Applied Sciences. Since 2007, Harvard has offered deferred admission for the MBA program called 2+2. 

Overview of the Harvard 2+2 Program

A Deferral Program For Undergraduate Students

Harvard's 2+2 program is "[a] way for current students, either in college or a full-time master's degree program, to apply to Harvard Business School on a deferred basis." After being admitted into Harvard's 2+2 program, you will spend between two and four years working at a job in the public, private, or nonprofit sector before enrolling at the school and starting their MBA course, which also takes two years to complete.

This program is meant for "innovative thinkers who have demonstrated leadership and analytical skills and want to develop their knowledge and passion to make a difference in the world." This opportunity might appeal to you if you know that you are interested in getting an MBA, but you're not quite ready to start immediately. 

This program is also intended for applicants that are "high potential individuals on paths that aren't as well established in leading to graduate business school." This may include individuals who plan to work in an operating company within an industry such as tech, manufacturing, consumer goods, or retail.

It also extends to those from lower socio-economic backgrounds, meaning they come from a lower-income family, or their family's first generation to attend college. Additionally, if you plan to go into a technically demanding role or pursue entrepreneurship, you are also eligible for this program. Undergraduates in their final year of study, candidates in joint bachelor/master's degree programs, and candidates from master's degree programs who have not held a full-time work position other than internships or co-ops are all eligible to apply for the Harvard 2+2 program.

If you are enrolled in a PhD program, law school, or medical school, you do not qualify for the 2+2 program, and you should apply for Harvard's regular MBA program instead.

Core Curriculum Requirements

Once you have completed your two to four years of work experience, you will begin taking Harvard's MBA courses to earn credits. Harvard's curriculum "includes a range of exciting courses and is frequently refreshed with new content." The MBA courses offered by Harvard aim to provide you with a wide range of knowledge in "broad-based fundamentals" across various key disciplines.

During the first year of the Harvard MBA, all students must take the same core curriculum courses. These courses will focus on finance, leadership, and marketing during the first semester. 

In the second semester students will take courses on strategy, international economy, and corporate accountability. They’ll also have access to case-method classes that allow them to confront complex real-life problems in group settings. Students will also participate in required FIELD courses, which "[complement] case-method learning with smaller hands-on team projects, personal reflection, and global immersions." During this first half of the two-year MBA program, you will "[acquire] specific analytical and quantitative skills," while also "becom[ing] acclimated to MBA Program standards of communication and collaboration." 

A Wide Range of Elective Options

When you begin the second year of the Harvard 2+2 program, you can "choose from an unparalleled range of elective courses to build on the basic concepts developed in the Required Curriculum." You may select up to five courses each semester when you are putting together your schedule, and you can choose from more than 100 courses. Whether you are interested in focusing on marketing, organizational behavior, technology & operations management, or another area of expertise, there are many options for electives courses that are available.

Harvard's elective course options allow for field-based learning opportunities and immersion experiences that will allow you "gain a more concentrated expertise in the industries, functions, and ideas that interest [you] most." You also have the opportunity to cross-register for other courses in other graduate programs if you would like. Harvard participates in cross-registration with other prestigious schools such as the Sloan School of Business at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. 

You may cross-register for a total of up to two courses toward your MBA degree requirements in your second year. The course must contribute to your expertise in management and cannot duplicate subjects that are already available at Harvard.

Pros and Cons of the Harvard 2+2 Program

A Guaranteed Spot & A Flexible Timeline

The most significant benefit of the Harvard 2+2 program is that it guarantees you deferred enrollment at Harvard, as long as you work at least two years after your acceptance. Knowing that you have a secured spot in a future Harvard MBA cohort allows you to have more certainty and foresight into your future career plans. This option enables students to take an MBA path that is vastly different from the one that is traditionally taken.

Most MBA students spend years in the workforce before deciding to pursue an MBA, and most MBA programs require that you have at least a few years of professional experience to be eligible to apply. In contrast, the Harvard 2+2 program allows you to get a foot in the door far in advance.

The program also has some flexibility with regard to your timeline. If you need it, you will be granted more time to dedicate to the work portion of the program, as long as you can be ready to start your MBA within four years.

A Professional Work Opportunity

Students’ time working prior to the start of their MBA courses should be thought of as a professional development opportunity. Students are not off on their own during the two to four-year initial half of the Harvard 2+2 program. The managing director of MBA admissions at Harvard, Dee Leopold, maintains consistent contact with all Harvard 2+2 participants.

She sends regular emails that include recommendations for relevant books, podcasts, and websites that will help prepare students ahead of time for the MBA they are working their way  toward. Leopold also takes these emails as an opportunity to introduce 2+2 participants to their fellow future cohort members. 

Additionally, closed Facebook groups are created for admitted students to engage with one another, and occasional get-togethers are organized. This way, admitted students can get to know one another by networking and forging the kinds of connections that are essential to any MBA experience long before they start their courses at Harvard. 

Academic Expectations

Harvard's 2+2 program is generally thought to be slightly more competitive than the traditional MBA when it comes to acceptance rates. Recently, the acceptance rate was roughly 8% for 2+2 applicants. Comparatively, the acceptance rate was a little over 9% for applicants to Harvard's regular MBA program.

It is essential to consider the heavier focus on academic qualifications for those applying to the Harvard 2+2 program since they don't have any full-time work experience to present in their application. 

Consequently, when deciding whom to admit, Harvard's admissions committee looks for students at the top of their class with excellent transcripts. They also search for students with a wealth of leadership experience and focused goals in the career of their choice. With that being said, data shows the median GMAT score and average GPA were exactly the same for 2+2 applicants as it was for regular MBA applicants. 

Potential Timing Concerns

The timing of the application process for the Harvard 2+2 program could pose some challenges for you. You will likely apply near the end of the final semester of your undergraduate degree. Since the Harvard 2+2 program is aimed at graduating college students, the deadlines are different from the regular MBA program.

The application deadline for the Harvard 2+2 program is in the late spring, typically around the beginning of June. This allows applicants to secure a post-graduation job that will impress the admissions committee before applying. However, it also happens to fall right around the same time that final papers, exams, and possibly even thesis submissions are all due to take place.

Managing an MBA application on top of all of this may be incredibly challenging, but it will also provide you with the perfect opportunity to practice time management and prioritization skills, which are necessary if you want to prosper as a business student. 

Level of Competition 

Roughly 8-10% of students applying to Harvard's 2+2 program are admitted. Recent data shows that out of 1577 applicants, 129 students were admitted. These students represented 65 different undergraduate institutions. The majority of these students were studying engineering or math/physical sciences at the time of their application, and each of these fields of study made up 29% of the committed student pool's educational background.

Business/Commerce degrees were the next most common and made up 16% of the student pool, followed by economics and social sciences, which each made up 12% of the pool, and arts/humanities, which only 2% of the students had a background in. Approximately 25% of the admitted students were international, representing 17 different countries. 

Admitted students submitted GMAT scores between 590 and 790, with a median score of 730. However, Harvard does not have any minimum requirements for GMAT or GRE scores. For these same students, the average GPA was 3.79. 

Committed student pool educational backgrounds

Eligibility and How to Apply

Standard Application Requirements

Applying for the Harvard 2+2 program requires essentially the same process as the traditional full-time MBA program. Harvard's admissions committee requires all applicants to prepare "a variety of materials that will help us assess [their] qualifications." Most 2+2 program applicants are exempt from including a transcript since they will not have graduated at the time of their application. However, if you are currently a master's student, then you can submit your undergraduate transcripts. 

You must also submit a current business resume or CV that "you would use to conduct a job search," although it is understood that you will have no professional work experience to put on it yet.

Yet, if you've completed any volunteer work or have participated in any relevant internships, this is your opportunity to mention those experiences. You must include a valid GMAT or GRE test score with your application. 

If you are an international applicant and are attending a non-English speaking university, you will also need to submit a TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE score. Harvard does not have a minimum test score to apply; however, "the MBA Admissions Board discourages any candidate with a TOEFL score lower than 109 on the IBT, an IELTS score lower than 7.5, or a PTE score lower than 75 from applying."

An Application Essay

Additionally, you must answer an essay question that Harvard provides on their application portal. Unlike many other business schools, Harvard tends to keep their essay question very general. They typically require that you tell them about anything else you would like them to know as they consider your candidacy for the Harvard Business School MBA program.

This essay has no word count requirements, so Harvard trusts that you will decide how much or how little should be included. They request that you refrain from "overthink[ing], overcraft[ing] and overwrit[ing]," and simply "answer the question in clear language that those…who don't know your world can understand."

Recommendation Requirements 

You are also required to submit two recommendations as part of your application. Once you've chosen two recommenders, they will be asked to answer some questions regarding your personal qualities and skills. In 300 words or less, they must provide specific examples of how your "performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles." They must also "describe the most important piece of constructive feedback" they've given you, "detail[ing] the circumstances," and describing the way that you responded, in 250 words or less. 

Harvard is not very strict about whom these recommendations must come from, even those applying to their regular MBA program. For most MBA programs, the standard expectation is that at least one recommendation will come from a direct supervisor at your current job. This doesn't apply to applicants of the 2+2 program since you will not have any professional work experience at the time of your application.

Harvard notes that all applicants should simply "[l]ook at the questions [they] are asking recommenders to complete," and "[f]ind people who know you well enough to answer them." You will be set if you can find someone to be your recommender that can attest to your character, your abilities, and your performance; this recommender can be  a professor, advisor, or mentor of yours. The admissions board discourages recommendations from peers. 

Top Tips on How to Get Into the Harvard 2+2 Program

Show Off Your Best Side

The application essay is an excellent place to show Harvard's admissions committee who you are. It is also your chance to set yourself apart from the more than a thousand other applications that the committee will receive, so take this chance to make yourself memorable.

The best course of action will be to focus on the skills and qualities that Harvard values and highlight those attributes in your application to make yourself a desirable candidate.

Harvard is known to "appreciate leadership on any scale," so there should be some key components of your essay that shine some light on your leadership potential. Try to think of a story that shows how you have challenged yourself during your undergraduate degree, or tell them about some initiative you have taken to lead a club or an organization.

Alternatively, you can explain what your motivation is for undertaking an MBA. If you decide to take this route, try to go beyond an explanation of ambitions that you have for your career, and try to think of how you would like to use your MBA to help positively change the world somehow. 

This will frame you as a global leader, and it is sure to draw the admission committee's attention to your application. 

Meet Harvard's Demands and Expectations

Show the admissions committee that you know what the expectations are for Harvard students, and let them know why you are the kind of student that will thrive in the program. Harvard describes itself as a "demanding, fast-paced, and highly-verbal" business school, and their case and field-based methods of learning "depend upon the active participation of prepared students who can assess, analyze, and act upon complex information." 

Harvard also values students that are collaborative team-players, who are "eager to share their experiences, support their colleagues, and teach as well as learn from their peers." Make it clear that you are aware of these demands and able to meet them. If you explain that you will use these expectations as motivation for pushing yourself to meet personal goals, it will make it easier for the admissions committee to envision you fitting into a future cohort. 

Do Your Research

Another great way to impress Harvard's admissions committee is to show them that you've done a fair amount of background research into the school and the 2+2 program. Make use of Harvard's website to learn more about the specific courses, extracurriculars, and faculty members that are of particular interest to you, and explain why you find value in these things. Harvard also hosts various events specifically for undergraduate students interested in their MBA, such as their Virtual Peek Experience (VPE)

This program allows you to "try out the HBS case method of study, join a leadership development discussion, gain an understanding of the career flexibility and optionality that the MBA degree provides, and connect with current students to learn about the HBS community and student experience." Alternatively, you can contact Harvard's admissions department and request to correspond with a current student or alumni to ask questions about their experiences at the school. If the admissions committee is aware that you have taken the initiative to go out of your way to familiarize yourself with the school, it will not go unnoticed. 


1. Are international students eligible to apply to the Harvard 2+2 program?

Yes. The school welcomes both domestic and international students to apply.

2. If my bachelor's degree program did not follow a traditional four-year timeline because it was shorter or longer, am I still eligible to apply to Harvard's 2+2 program?

Yes. You can apply to the Harvard 2+2 program as long as you are in your final year of undergraduate study. There are no minimum or maximum requirements for the length of time spent on your bachelor's degree.

3. Am I eligible for the Harvard 2+2 program if I am in the process of getting a master's degree?

Yes. Candidates in the process of completing a master's degree are eligible for the 2+2 program, as long as you did not take a full-time job in between your undergraduate and master's degree programs.

4. Is it possible to apply to a joint degree program (MBA/MPP or MPA-ID, MBA/JD, MBA/MD, MBA/DMD, MS/MBA, etc.) through the Harvard 2+2 application process?

No. You cannot apply to a joint degree through the 2+2 program. If you are admitted through the 2+2 application process, you will have the opportunity to apply to a joint degree in the year prior to your enrollment at Harvard.

5. Is an interview required for admission to the Harvard 2+2 program? If so, what should I expect from the interview process?

Yes, interviews are a necessary step in the application process. However, interviews are conducted by invitation only, based on the discretion of the admissions board. If you are invited to an interview, you must participate in it to complete the application process. Interviews may be scheduled on campus, in domestic or international hub cities, or via Skype. 

6. Which standardized tests does the Harvard 2+2 program accept?

The Harvard admissions committee accepts either the GMAT or the GRE as part of the application process. They do not have a preference for either test.

7. If I am admitted into the Harvard 2+2 program, am I expected to pay a tuition deposit?

Yes. Admitted students must pay a non-refundable tuition deposit of $1000 to hold their place in the class.


If you have been thinking about making the pivotal decision to undertake an MBA, but you are still in the process of completing your undergraduate studies, then the Harvard 2+2 program could be precisely what you need. To improve your chances of securing a spot in this program you can begin by putting together a strong resume, seeking out some reliable recommenders, and getting a head start on drafting an essay that will set you apart from other applicants.

Completing an MBA at a school as widely renowned as Harvard has very few downsides. 

Your degree will be internationally recognized and will look incredibly impressive when you apply to jobs down the line in essentially any industry. Harvard is a strong choice when it comes to options for undertaking your MBA, and the Harvard 2+2 program could allow you to guarantee yourself a coveted spot at this school and get ahead of the game before your career has even begun. Harvard strongly believes "that the world desperately needs more leaders to address its most urgent and challenging problems, and that virtually none of these problems can be addressed without business leaders playing a vital role." 

If you feel like you would like to join a future Harvard cohort to take on this challenge and eventually pave the way for necessary change in the world, the Harvard 2+2 program is the perfect place to start. 

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At Inspira Futures, our sole focus is to get you accepted at your dream business school. Our team of experts consists of former admission committee members and alums from Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, and other M7 schools. Our goal is to help you write great essays, ace interviews, and win scholarships. Without any stress or hassle. Our clients have gone on to secure admits at the world's top business schools while also being winners of some of the most prestigious scholarships like Stanford Knight Hennessy, HBS Baker Scholars, and many others.
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