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  • Writer's pictureMalvika Patil

What is a Deferred MBA?

Updated: Jan 30

We are often asked: “Can I pursue an MBA with less than 3 years of work experience?”

If you’re graduating from your undergraduate soon and want to study a business degree, you have three options:

  1. Pursue a Master’s in Management (MIM: a business degree for candidates with 0-2 years of work experience)

  2. Get 2+ years of professional experience and apply for full-time MBA programs.

  3. Enroll for a deferred MBA program

The key difference between an MIM class and an MBA class is that candidates in an MIM class are relatively inexperienced or new to the workforce, and therefore the curriculum is largely theory-based. On the other hand, candidates entering an MBA class are professionals with 3-9 years of work experience in different industries, sectors, and geographies. Their curriculum is more experiential and classroom discussions are based on their professional insights.

But you need to have 3 years of work experience for a full-time MBA. So, if you have less than 3 years of work experience, you should consider a deferred MBA.

What is a deferred MBA program? What are the benefits of a deferred MBA program?

You apply for deferred MBA programs during your final year of university. If you secure admission, you work for 2-4 years before joining the MBA program when you choose.

The deferred MBA gives you a guaranteed spot in your desired program before you start working, so that you can plan accordingly. This gives you the flexibility to explore different industries or even start your own venture. Deferred MBA programs also aim to attract diverse applicants from various backgrounds.

Additionally, schools like Columbia Business School offer to their deferred MBA admits discounted or free access to conferences, invitations to select admissions and student events, and opportunities to network with fellow admitted students via a Slack channel.

Finally, having a spot in a deferred MBA program at a top business school speaks to your leadership potential and lends you some credibility, which could in turn help you negotiate a job offer or jumpstart your entrepreneurial journey.

Who is eligible for a deferred MBA?

Any early career candidate who is in their final year of undergrad studies or a full-time Master’s program can submit an application for a deferred MBA program. These programs target high-potential individuals with clear career goals and strong academic and leadership traits. Candidates entering the class have a minimum of two years and a maximum of five years of professional experience (depending on your target schools).

For example, the eligibility criteria for a HBS 2+2 deferred MBA program are:

  • Undergraduates in their final year of study are eligible to apply.

  • Candidates in joint Bachelor/Master’s Degree programs are eligible to apply.

  • Candidates from Master’s degree programs who have not held a full time work position (other than internships or co-ops) are eligible to apply. To be eligible for the 2+2 Program, candidates need to have progressed directly from undergraduate to graduate school.

  • Students enrolled in PhD programs, law school or medical school are not eligible for the 2+2 Program; instead, these students should apply through the regular admissions process.

Top deferred MBA programs

Some of the world’s top business schools, including M7 schools, offer deferred MBA programs.

When you choose a deferred MBA program, check your eligibility, the program’s curriculum, and typical career outcomes. Many programs also offer scholarship awards and prospective student events to network and preview the MBA experience.

  • Stanford GSB Deferred Enrollment

  • Wharton Moelis Advance Access Program

  • Kellogg Future Leaders

  • Chicago Booth Scholars Deferred MBA

  • Harvard Business School 2+2

  • MIT Sloan MBA Early Admission

  • Berkeley Haas Accelerated Access

  • Columbia Business School Deferred Enrollment

  • Cornell Deferred MBA

  • Yale Silver Scholars Program

  • IESE – Young Talent Path

  • Darden Future Year Scholars Program

  • Emory Goizueta MBA Early Admission

  • ISB Young Leaders Programme

How do you get into a deferred MBA program?

Here’s what you need to apply to a deferred MBA program:

  • Unofficial college transcript showing your final year courses.

  • GMAT or GRE test scores.

  • Academic honors and awards, extracurriculars and internships list and details.

  • An MBA resume highlighting internships, part-time positions, and/or future full-time roles.

  • MBA application essays - Usually, they are the same as those for MBA applicants.

  • Two letters of recommendation.

  • Virtual team-based discussions and/or one-on-one interviews with the MBA admissions team, depending on your target school.

Before applying, carefully review the admissions criteria of your target school and ensure that you not only meet the expected criteria but excel in certain aspects. While work experience is not mandatory at the time of your application, having leadership experience and excelling in exams and coursework is important.

The difference between a deferred MBA and regular MBA

In a deferred MBA, candidates are allowed to pre-enroll for their program.

While the application process for full-time and deferred MBA programs is similar, many deferred MBA programs do not publish their class profile in as much detail as their regular MBA programs. However, data and our experience with clients show that deferred programs are generally more competitive than full time programs:

  • The HBS 2+2 program has an acceptance rate of 8% compared to 12% for the regular MBA.

  • The median GMAT for the MIT MBA class of 2024 was 730, whereas it was 750 for the MIT MBA Early Admission program.

One reason is that applicants that are currently at university are in “study mode” so they tend to score higher in the GMAT/GRE. Another is that only a limited proportion of the MBA spots are allocated to deferred MBA applicants. For example, Wharton enrolled 877 for the regular MBA class of 2024 and 110 students in their deferred MBA class.

The key differences in applicants for deferred MBA enrollment versus regular MBA enrollment is that deferred applicants are earlier in their career so they often don’t have the same clarity of their goals. They often don’t know what they want to do with their career yet, and they don’t have a track record to prove these goals are realistic.

So, if you want to make it into the deferred program at an M7 school, you need to demonstrate clarity of your goals and post-undergrad career plan, even if it is in a non-traditional industry.

Successful applicants to deferred programs often have exceptional GPAs, competitive internships, and notable campus leadership experiences. However, the good news is that if you're rejected, you can apply later in your career; most programs will not consider you as a reapplicant (since you didn’t apply for a regular MBA).

Deadlines for deferred MBA programs are typically in the spring, so managing your time between studies and extracurricular activities can be challenging. However, if a deferred MBA aligns with your goals, we recommend that you invest in it.

You might also consider a part-time MBA, like Sharoon who studied at Chicago Booth and used the degree to pivot into a Product Management role at Microsoft.

Is there a downside to applying to a deferred MBA program?

Given that you can apply for a normal MBA even if you aren’t accepted to a deferred program, it’s a smart decision to apply to a deferred MBA. Experiencing the application process early on will be valuable when you prepare for your regular MBA application three years later.


If you are a candidate applying to a deferred MBA program, we’re here to help. Book a free chat today.


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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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