ON Lake SydneyNovember 19, 2021, 2:31 p.m.

Students during a class at North Carolina State University’s Jenkins Graduate College of Management, as seen September 2021. (Photographer: Logan Cyrus – Bloomberg / Getty Images

The average MBA student who is admitted to one of the top 10 business schools (according to Fortune ranking) has five years of professional experience when applying. However, some aspiring MBA students apply with exactly zero years of work experience.

Many competitive MBA programs offer a deferred admissions process whereby college students apply for a place in a future class after one to four years of work experience. Candidates pay a standard application fee (HBS even offers a reduced rate of $ 100 compared to $ 250 for the normal full-time application) and pay a deposit, usually around $ 1,000, to secure their place to secure.

For example, as part of Harvard Business School’s 2 + 2 program, college graduates can apply for the full-time MBA program, work for two to four years after completing their bachelor’s degrees, and then enroll for their MBA.

The 2 + 2 program is designed to “help people in college think about the type of impact they want over the course of their careers and find a course to make that impact,” Chad Lose, Managing Director for MBA Approvals and financial assistance at HBS, says Fortune. “We like to see different paths they take after college and before HBS, because that’s how we bring different perspectives into full-time teaching a few years later.”

Top officials and business school students agree that these deferred MBA programs give young professionals the chance to take risks early in their careers as they have already cemented business school acceptance. Such risks can include pursuing a career in an industry that students are enthusiastic about, trying out several jobs within a few years, or taking on projects that they might not otherwise have done.

If you already think the MBA is the right choice for you, read on to learn more about the deferred programs at top business schools. Note that other competitive business schools – including the University of Chicago (Booth), Northwestern University (Kellogg), Columbia University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) – offer similar programs.

Harvard Business School

HBS started its deferred admissions program about 10 years ago and the school now accepts about 100 students each year who will enroll for the next two to four years.

Prospective students applying for the 2 + 2 program proceed exactly as anyone else applying for the full-time MBA program at HBS: They must submit a written application (CV, test results, essays and letters of recommendation) as well as completing an interview and a reflection essay after the interview.

“In both admission processes, we try to get to know someone, understand their context, understand the decisions they made, the impact they had on other people, and the organizations they belong to,” says Losee. “All of this data helps us understand a person’s potential, not just as a student at HBS, but also for the rest of their career and life.”

The 2 + 2 program is also designed to “attract people who are not yet on their way to business school,” adds Losee. This can be a student who wants to work in an operating company, comes from a low socio-economic background, or holds a technical position. However, this does not mean that the application process is uncompetitive.

In 2021, over 1,400 students applied for the 2 + 2 program, of which 124 will ultimately be enrolled as HBS students. Students do not have to indicate in advance when they will enroll; HBS registers with the student every year. But don’t let that stop you from applying.

“The most important piece of advice I always have is to just apply,” says Losee. “If you think HBS could be part of your journey to change the world, apply.”

Stanford Graduate School of Business

College graduates or students who embarked on another master’s degree immediately after completing their bachelor’s degree may apply for the Stanford GSB’s deferred enrollment program.

“Many people think that it takes years of work and management experience to apply for an MBA program,” Christine Friedman, director of enrollment at Stanford’s MBA admissions office, told Fortune. “Not like that. At Stanford we believe you should apply when you’re ready.”

Stanford GSB maintains the same competitive standards for admission to its deferred enrollment program, she adds. Admissions officers look for intellectual vitality, demonstrated leadership potential, and personal qualities and attributions, just as they do with their direct enrollment candidates.

“Leadership can come in many forms and environments, and you don’t need a formal leadership title or years of professional experience to lead,” says Friedman. “We want to learn how you have made positive change in the organizations and communities in which you work, regardless of your role.”

When admitted, deferred enrollment Stanford GSB students will remain connected with the school for the one to four years they take to work before returning to their MBA. Postponed students network virtually and are invited to student and alumni events.

“During the grace period, students are encouraged to take advantage of opportunities that are interesting to them and enable them to build specialist knowledge, expand their skills and knowledge, and broaden their perspective,” says Friedman.

University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)

In 2018, Rehan Ayrton was one of approximately 10 students enrolled in the Wharton School’s First Cohort of the University of Pennsylvania’s Moelis Advance Access Program and is currently a freshman MBA student. He also attended Wharton for his bachelor’s degree and worked for McKinsey for three years before returning to school for an MBA. As at Harvard, Moelis students have two to four years to enroll after admission.

Since then, the Moelis program has grown to 173 students in 2020. Similar to the regular full-time admission process, prospective students must submit a transcript, résumé, GMAT or GRE results, letters of recommendation, essays and complete a team. in-depth discussion and interview.

This process may sound daunting, but it isn’t, Ayrton says. “Really try to get ahead of the game and give yourself plenty of time to write really authentic, real essays that show who you are and why you are able to add something unique and varied to the mix.”

Ayrton was a very dedicated student having served as president of the Wharton student government. Ultimately, he decided to apply through the Moelis program in order to take risks and have the peace of mind of earning an MBA in the future. As a Wharton alum, he was also able to skip some of the core MBA courses, preparing him for the school’s learning style.

He remained attached to the school between graduating from college and enrolling on Wharton’s MBA program. The Moelis program offers mentoring, as well as social, learning, and professional events to help you stay involved. This includes regional dinners with fellow Moelis students, question-and-answer sessions with current Wharton MBA students, and access to Wharton events and conferences.

“I think it’s a really good chance to take risks, from a professional perspective, but also the security and ability to know that not only will you get the benefits of being an MBA student in two to four years, but some of them too experience for yourself during this postponement, ”says Ayrton.

See how the schools you are considering landed in the Fortune rankings for the best part-time, executive, full-time, and online MBA programs.