Being accepted in advance by a top MBA program can really take the pressure off. Or put it on.
What was once a very limited concept has become almost commonplace in the MBA universe. Harvard forged the way many years ago with their 2+2 program, where undergrads eager to secure their seat at HBS were allowed to apply while still enrolled in college, then upon acceptance, would work in the “real world” for two years before matriculating. They now allow deferral for up to four years, but there are no specific work requirements. The idea caught on and now there are several reputable “early admissions” or “deferred admissions” programs.
The jumping in point for all the programs is exactly the same: be an exemplary college student.
Some programs, including HBS now also allow Master’s students to apply, but the caveat is you can’t have any full time work experience on the resume. These programs were essentially devised to attract non-traditional b-school applicants such as engineering students who might not be considering business school so soon. While there are plenty of regular applicants to business school who majored in engineering, because of the rigors and dedication required to complete a top engineering program, graduates typically want to apply those skills right away in a high-paying job instead of diving into another discipline and logging more school.
Early access programs don’t really care about your major, but they do care about your stats.
Engineering majors aren’t the only ones getting accepted early, but if you’re going to be competitive, you will definitely need a very high GMAT score and excellent grades as a start. Still, that’s not going to be enough. You will also need excellent recommendations and some impressive stories of impact on your school or community. Having an early track record of leadership is also a must. Know that the most impressive students in the country are vying for the best programs, so if you are daunted by pressure, you might not be a good candidate for early admission.
Some programs are exclusively for students in their own undergrad programs.
MIT Sloan uses early access to attract existing MIT undergrads to its business school, but Wharton is the best example with the Moelis Advance Access Program. UPenn undergrads who make the cut (and there were only 16 chosen last year) receive some nice perks, such as early access to the Wharton community, exclusive career services, mentoring opportunities with Wharton alumni, annual retreats and even cash—a $10,000 stipend to be exact. But there are high expectations and the eyes of the Wharton network are watching you as a 21 year old—which can be intimidating for someone whose friends may not have even chosen their career area yet.
The rest of the players in this arena are basically the usual suspects.
Stanford GSB has their Deferred Enrollment option in every round and is flexible to allow deferring the start for up to three years. You can also apply as a college senior to go directly into the GSB without working at all, but Stanford has always had a bias in favor of younger applicants anyway. They do reserve the right to ask DE recipients to work first, however. Then there’s Chicago Booth which has two separate options for go-getters including a regular deferral through their Booth Scholars Program and even a part time option called the Chicago Business Fellows Program, the latter of which has been very popular during the boom economy since it allows you to keep your day job. Rounding out the M7 is Yale Silver Scholars, which has been around almost as long as HBS 2+2. Yale is similar, but puts candidates into their core MBA curriculum directly out of college, followed by a year of work experience before a third year to finish the MBA. A relatively new kid on the block, the Darden School at UVA now tags along with the Future Year Scholars Program, which recruits college seniors to compete for a $15,000 fellowship and perks similar to Wharton’s program.