When I used to travel to applicant fairs to represent London Business School, I’d commonly be approached by candidates asking, “I want an MBA but don’t have any full-time work experience. Can I study at your school?” While the answer in that instance was “no”, the conversation never ended there. The discussion would then turn to the options for those who don’t meet the work experience requirement of most MBA programs, but who have the desire to pursue graduate management study and start making their mark in the business world. Two of the most commonly pursued paths for candidates in this situation include pre-experience masters programs and deferred MBAs:
Pre-experience / early career programs
These terms are used interchangeably, but they both refer to those programs that cater to recent graduates (‘recent’ meaning 0-3 years out of undergraduate). While this category started with the general management MiM (masters in/of management), the portfolio of programs now includes masters in finance, innovation and entrepreneurship, and data analytics, to name but a few of the courses you might find available at business schools today.
Applicants fitting into this category are commonly referred to as pre-experience or early-career candidates, and this market continues to grow; according to The GMAT™ Geographic Trend Report: Testing Year 2018, while most GMAT scores continue to be sent to MBA programs (62%), business masters are now outnumbering MBA programs for the first time in the history of the exam. While pursuing a program like a MiM doesn’t negate the need for the MBA later down the road (indeed you will find individuals who have both a MiM and MBA), these programs are excellent options for recent graduates looking to explore their options in the business world with the confidence of knowing their MBA future is secured.
There are a myriad of reasons as to why a graduate may want to pursue their studies now versus waiting to pursue an MBA – they may be looking to specialise in a specific area, such as finance or marketing early on in order to enter a specific function. Or they might be looking to “convert” their liberal arts or science degree into a business career. Whatever the reason, these degrees provide graduates with an excellent foundation and help students build the skills, knowledge, careers support, and network to get a head start in their career.
Deferred MBA admissions
This may be slightly confusing considering the mention of MBA. What deferred admissions means is that you apply while you are in your final year of study (or just after, if pursuing a masters without full-time work experience). If accepted, you receive a reserved seat to join an MBA program after spending a couple of years in the working world.
These programs are a great option as they offer security (yay, no having worry about studying for the GMAT and writing your applications alongside your busy work schedule!) and add some clout to your resume (wow, already accepted to an MBA before even graduating? Impressive!). Of course as with anything there are pros and cons, so it’s important to think about whether committing yourself to a deferred program makes sense with your career aims, or whether you will need some flexibility and the ability to change path in those first couple of years after graduating.
Most deferred admit programs are open to students coming from any university. There are also scholarship programs, such as NYU’s William R. Berkley Scholarship Program, which not only provides early entry to their MBA, Tech MBA, or Fashion & Luxury MBA, but also full funding. Regardless of entry criteria or offering, these programs are incredibly competitive, so you’ll need to prepare your best application. Here’s further information to help you better understand what these programs are all about:
2+2 Program (HBS): Harvard’s 2+2 program does what the name implies – two years of work experience followed by two years of MBA study (though, technically, admitted students are allowed up to four years of professional experience, so this might be a 3+2 or 4+2, for some). Harvard is looking 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.” And this difference doesn’t have to be in a “traditional” business area. In fact, the 2+2 places some preference on those pursuing paths “that aren’t as well established in leading to graduate business school”; this could include candidates planning to work in an operating company, coming from a lower socio-economic background, aiming to pursue a technically demanding role, or with entrepreneurial ambitions. So, if you’re not MBB focused, don’t let that stop you from applying. You might just be what the 2+2 is looking for.
Berkley Scholarship Program (NYU): The William R. Berkley Scholarship Program supports exceptional college seniors who wish to pursue their full-time MBA at NYU Stern directly following graduation. Full-fee scholarships, which cover tuition and fees, along with a housing stipend and educational expenses, are offered for the Full-time and Tech MBA and Fashion & Luxury programs. With only a handful of applicants selected each year since its 2013 inception, acceptance is highly competitive. Candidates are selected based on the combination of stellar academic performance and exceptional potential to contribute to business and society. Interested college seniors apply using the full-time MBA online application (Consortium and NYU dual degree applicants are not eligible).
Deferred Enrollment Program (Columbia): CBS’ Deferred Enrollment Program is one that offers flexibility – admitted students can explore the professional world for two to five years before beginning their MBA studies at a time that works best for them. This is a great opportunity for those looking to try out their options and get an understanding of their business interests and passions. The flexibility continues once students start their studies as they’re able to specify in a letter of intent (when ready to begin) whether they’re interested in enrolling in the 16 month (January) or 20 month (August) program, the latter of which includes a summer internship. Having spent time in industry or entrepreneurship up until this point will help direct students as to which journey will offer the tuition and experience to meet their professional and personal development needs.
Moelis Advance Action Program (Wharton): Similar to Columbia, Wharton’s deferred admissions program offers recent undergraduate or masters degree students the chance to work for two to four years before joining the MBA as a Moelis Fellow. With the flexible start option, Wharton acknowledges that early career trajectory can change. It encourages students “to take professional risks during the deferment period”, risks that will not only help to define post-MBA career goals, but that will allow students to contribute to classroom discussion and peer-to-peer learning. The program “seeks students who are innovative, intellectually curious, and ready to take professional risks while impacting the world”. Along with the notion of risk, diversity is also important, and Moelis Fellows come from a range of academic backgrounds. The majority of the 2020 class come from STEM undergraduate degrees (43%), followed by business/economics (31%), and humanities/social sciences (26%).
Stanford GSB: The Deferred Enrollment program is aimed at students in either the final year of their bachelors or joint bachelor/graduate program, or those currently in a graduate program started immediately following undergrad/postgrad study.
Stanford cites deferred enrolment as a good option for those unsure of their long-term professional path and who feel they would benefit from full-time work experience before enrolling. And they indicate some industries – such as private equity, biotech, and management consulting – recruit only MBA candidates with pre-MBA experience in that field or with specialized knowledge, so conducting some due diligence into the recruitment practices of possible target industries is wise.
As for applicants, they expect students (during the deferral period) to be “productively engaged…to pursue opportunities that enable you to build expertise, enhance your skills and knowledge, expand your perspective, and develop professional judgment and self-confidence.” So you need to reflect on what activities will allow you to develop and how you should be spending your time.
Northwestern Kellogg: One of the newer programs to market, Kellogg’s Future Leaders program opened admissions in February 2020. This deferred program allows students to work for two to five years before beginning their MBA journey. Master’s and undergraduate students (excluding law, medical and PhD students/grads, who apply through the standard admissions process) can come from any undergraduate study discipline and have either graduated in the past year, be in their final year, or have gone straight into graduate study post-bachelors.
The usual admissions requirements exist – test scores, essays, letters of recommendation, interviews – for some, but not all candidates. Those already attending Northwestern will be exempt from taking either the GMAT or GRE, so that’s one application requirement that can be ticked off the list for those already wearing the purple N.
Yale SOM: The Silver Scholar’s Program works slightly differently to some of the other deferred admission programs on this list. College seniors earn their MBA in a fast-tracked three-year format immediately following their undergraduate years. The program structure is as follows: Year 1 – core curriculum. Year 2 – full-time internship(s). Year 3 – electives. The opportunity to develop academic skills alongside professional experience is a unique one. Perhaps even more unique is the fact that Silver Scholars learn alongside students from the regular MBA track. Access to knowledge and experience? Check!
On Yale’s part, they say their Silver Scholars “are chosen for their combination of intelligence and common sense, maturity and curiosity, passion and compassion. Each has made a difference and distinguished him- or herself in a particular field of interest.” You’ll need to really make yourself stand out through the application process (which, by the way, is the same as the regular MBA track, just with a few differences). Remember, you’ll be studying alongside students with five years of experience. The ad com will need assurance that you have what it takes to contribute, and you’ll need to prove you do through your application.
Chicago Booth: Initially open to only University of Chicago undergraduates, in 2018, Booth opened admissions to its Chicago Booth Scholars deferred admissions program to students from any university. The program allows candidates to apply before they graduate from college, defer and gain professional experience for two to five years before joining for their MBA.
Booth cites “flexibility [as] one of the major differentiators.” In addition to the length of time accepted students are allowed in post-graduate employment, if students want to continue in employment instead of joining school full-time past five years, they’re able to consider Booth’s Evening MBA or Weekend MBA Program instead.
Booth say candidates for the Scholars Program are “intellectually curious with personal maturity, competitive scores, and demonstrated leadership throughout college…and display a track record of quality internships, part-time jobs, and/or an entrepreneurial spirit.” In addition to demonstrating these qualities, Booth expects applicants to “articulate a potential career path and why an MBA is necessary in the near future…and show the ability to question the status quo, engage in the process of learning, and thrive in an academically rigorous environment.” Booth is looking for intelligent, independent thinkers with a considered career map. While of course career aims can change during the course of deferment, the adcom will want to see that candidates have taken the time to consider their career path, and how Booth fits in.
UVA Darden: Darden’s Future Year Scholars Program is open to final year college students, or those pursuing a 5th year master’s degree, who can work for two to four years before starting their MBA studies. Darden entices candidates with possible merit awards at the time of admission, and additional opportunities for scholarship consideration when the admitted student matriculates.
Darden evaluates applications based on academics, extracurricular involvement, and personal characteristics. While the latter of these criteria is vague, they do say they are looking for students who “aspire to be future ethical leaders and managers in a global world.” Thought into why you have the potential to be this future leader, and whether your values align to theirs, wouldn’t go amiss.
MIT Sloan: If you are an “ambitious and forward-thinking student”, Sloan’s MBA Early Admission Program might be right for you. Open to final year or recently (current academic year) graduated students, or those in graduate study without work experience (started immediately following bachelors), students are able to work for two to five years before joining the MBA.
The admissions process is slightly different for Early Admission candidates, and with a different application calendar for non-MIT undergrads. Candidates are required to submit a 300-word cover letter demonstrating their fit. MIT is quite specific who they’re looking for. They want “thoughtful leaders with exceptional intellectual abilities and the drive and determination to put their stamp on the world…people who are independent, authentic, and fearlessly creative… who can redefine solutions to conventional problems, and strive to pre-empt unconventional dilemmas with cutting-edge ideas.” A lot to think about and a lot to squeeze into a one-page cover letter, so do carefully consider how you fit these criteria. Additionally, candidates must submit a resume and 60 second video introducing themselves to the class. The video is a great opportunity to show your personality and bring the person introduced in the cover letter to life.
And applicants who are current MIT students with a cumulative GPA of 4.2 or above are in luck, as GMAT/GRE will be waived for them.
Berkeley Haas Accelerated Access: The newest deferred pathways to join this list is Hass’ Accelerated Access program. Launched January 2020, the option is currently open only to students with an undergraduate or graduate degree from one of the ten UC campuses (though it plans to expand to students outside of this system in the future). Admitted students not only have access to the full-time MBA but will also be eligible for consideration for dual degree programs.
Students are required to work for a minimum of two years before beginning their MBA studies, but have a maximum of five years to explore their career interests. While Berkeley does not require its deferred students to pursue particular career paths, it encourages “employment that enhances your leadership profile and prepares you to contribute to [its] mission-driven business community.” This advice isn’t just given, it’s followed-up on during the employment period. As offers are conditional: students are required to attend check-ins with a Haas advisor or career coach and a review may be conducted prior to the intended enrolment date to ensure terms have been met.
While an MBA is the ultimate education goal for many, if you’re not yet eligible due to your lack of work experience, but know you want to pursue a business masters, you have options. Start researching and contacting schools to see what options are out there for you, and what can bring you closer to your dream of making an impact in business.
The important thing here to remember is that you CAN apply for an MBA with no work experience, but it’s not without its challenges. And Accepted can help! Explore our MBA Admissions Consulting Services and work one-on-one an experienced advisor who will help you create an application strategy that will get you accepted!
Jamie Wright has more than eight years of recruitment and admissions experience at London Business School, and is the former Admissions Director for Early Career Programmes at LBS. Originally from the U.S., Jamie is now based in London. Want Jamie to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch with Jamie Wright.
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