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

February 24, 2024
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What is the Harvard 2+2 Program? Overview of the Harvard 2+2 ProgramPros and Cons of the Harvard 2+2 ProgramLevel of CompetitionHarvard 2+2 Program Acceptance RateEligibility and How to ApplyHBS 2+2 Program Class ProfileTop Tips on How to Get Into the Harvard 2+2 ProgramFAQs

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 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 its 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 don't have any professional work experience yet. Read on to learn 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. 

What is the Harvard 2+2 Program? 

The Harvard 2+2 Program is an initiative by Harvard Business School (HBS) that allows current students, whether in college or enrolled in a full-time master's degree program, to apply to HBS on a deferred basis. 

The program structure involves participants gaining at least two years of professional work experience after completing their current academic program, followed by two years in the regular HBS MBA Program. It offers a pathway for students to secure admission to HBS early in their academic or professional journey, allowing them to gain valuable work experience before starting their MBA studies.

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 two to four years working at a job in the public, private, or nonprofit sector before enrolling at the school and starting the 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 who 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 enter a technically demanding role or pursue entrepreneurship, you are 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 to "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 vastly different from the one 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 before 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. 

Closed Facebook groups are also 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 connections 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 8-10% for 2+2 applicants. Comparatively, the acceptance rate was a little over 14% 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. 

Harvard 2+2 Program Acceptance Rate

Harvard 2+2 Program’s acceptance rate is approximately 8–10%. This means that out of all the applicants who apply to the program, only around 8 to 10% are offered admission.

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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 attending a non-English speaking university, you must also 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

You must also answer an essay question of 900 words 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.

Harvard requests 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. 

“How do the candidate's performance, potential, background, or personal qualities compare to those of other well-qualified individuals in similar roles? Please provide specific examples. (300 words)”
“Please describe the most important piece of constructive feedback you have given the applicant. Please detail the circumstances and the applicant's response. (250 words)”

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 who 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. 

HBS 2+2 Program Class Profile

Though a Harvard 2+2 Program class profile isn’t available, it's clear that the program prioritizes diversity and inclusivity in its student body. 

This commitment is reflected in their active recruitment of candidates from non-traditional academic backgrounds and their special consideration for individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds or those who are first-generation college graduates.

The admission statistics that are available are focused on the program's selectivity and applicants' academic backgrounds. They note that in 2023, the Harvard 2+2 Program saw 1,528 applications, and out of those, 118 committed students were admitted. These students came from 62 different undergraduate institutions, showing how diverse the pool is.

Looking at the undergraduate majors of the admitted students, it's clear there's a mix of backgrounds. Only 3% studied Arts/Humanities, while 22% majored in Business/Commerce, 14% in Economics, 16% in Engineering, 36% in Math/Physical Sciences, and 8% in Social Sciences.

This breakdown reflects the program's appeal to students from various academic backgrounds, making for a rich and diverse learning environment at Harvard Business School's 2+2 Program.

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 who 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 can 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 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 connects 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 they did not take a full-time job in between their 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 for 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 for a joint degree in the year before 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 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 for jobs down the line in essentially any industry. 

Harvard is a strong choice for 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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