A Harvard Plan Targets College Juniors

The B-school's 2+2 track will give third-year students deferred entry to its MBA program. They must complete senior year and two years of work

Harvard Business School has launched a new plan to encourage undergraduates to give business a chance even if they have never considered such a career path. The school (BusinessWeek, 5/31/07) recently announced it is recruiting students, particularly those in engineering, science, and liberal arts programs, for a new initiative that would have potential MBA students applying to HBS as early as their junior year of college.

The applicants will know whether they're accepted by the fall of their senior year of college. If they accept HBS's offer, they will have to defer their admittance for three years but will gain access to the Career Leader self assessment test (BusinessWeek, 1/19/2006), six sessions with a career counselor, and contact with corporate recruiters who have a relationship with the B-school, as they prepare to launch their careers.

Then they will participate in two week-long summer sessions—one after they graduate college that will prepare them for work, and a second before their second year in the workforce that will build on the concepts introduced in the first summer. The following summer, they will join the full-time MBA program. Students will not have to pay any extra fees or tuition for these additional resources.

Harvard says it has signed up a number of corporate "recruiting partners," including Google (GOOG) and Teach for America.

Although HBS has offered deferred acceptance to undergraduates for a number of years, this will be the first time that the applications come from college juniors instead of seniors and also the first time that the school is offering resources to those who are accepted. The first applications are due by July 1, 2008, and HBS administrators are hopeful that the school and the students can benefit from this program, which they are calling 2+2, for the two years of work and two years of graduate school that students will be completing.

Recently, Andrea Mitchell Kimmel, who directs the 2+2 program, spoke with BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio. Here are edited excerpts of their conversation:

How far-reaching is this program?

We'll be going to roughly 35 college campuses [to recruit] the first year. Most of those will be domestic. Some will be international. The program is definitely international in scope. You don't need to be a U.S. citizen to apply. The first year we'll put our feet on the ground domestically mostly, so we can learn.

Which schools will you be going to?

It's a pretty broad range, and we're not making that list available publicly because we don't want other college students, who are not at these schools, to feel unwelcome. That's not the case at all. What we're trying to do is visit schools where the folks we're targeting for the program may be in higher numbers. One of the groups we're very interested in are scientists and engineers, so we'll be going to a lot of schools like MIT, Georgia Tech, Rose-Hulman [Institute of Technology], Kettering, Cal Tech, and some large state schools that have great science and engineering programs. We'll be going to a lot of liberal arts schools where we think we'll find talented leaders who very much fit our admissions criteria and want to make a difference in the world.

How much of an investment is HBS making in this program?

Unfortunately, we have a policy at HBS that we don't discuss departmental budgets.

How will HBS benefit from this program?

Over time, we hope to build the program to roughly 10% of each incoming class, [or about] 90 students. That will take probably three to five years. We think this will diversify who's sitting in the classroom. We are already attracting a diverse group, but we think that we can be deeper in the pipeline, particularly in the science and engineering areas, if we start talking to folks earlier.

Will this program attract more women?

I wouldn't be surprised if there's a lot of interest among female undergraduates. I led our women's outreach initiative for a few years. These messages resonate with women. They want to get to business school a little faster because they want to get to the next [step] a little faster. They have other considerations in their timeline. We'll be taking in 90 [students] per year. We'll be admitting the best and the brightest from our pool. This is not a technique, specifically, to raise the number of women, but I do expect there will be a lot of interest.

What will the application be like?

We're still working out the details. We expect it to be very similar to our core MBA program application with the exception that we expect there to be one fewer essay and one fewer recommendation letter requirement. That's because we will require our 2+2 admits, as they're nearing the end of their deferral window, to write one final essay and get one letter of recommendation from their employer, because three years is a long time from when they initially apply to when they're matriculating.

But it's not like they could be rejected at that point, right?

They'll be accepted. But there are a few hurdles. They are accepted by being offered the deferral. If they accept our offer, they become 2+2 program participants and then they have three years of resources they take advantage of. The first hurdle is that after they complete their senior year, they will need to send us their final official transcript. The caliber student we admit to the program will be as committed to the academics in their final year as they have been in their previous three. But they will be required to submit [the transcript]. Clearly, academic rigor is a big part of our program, so we want to make sure they have what it takes.

At the end of the window, they will be required to complete their final [application] essay. It will be a reflection on their two-year [work] experience. We see it as helping them to matriculate and to get ready for the classroom. We will ask them to sign our community values statement at the time they accept their offer. We have some pretty high standards on how we expect our students to treat one another and be ethical and moral here in the program and in their dealings outside of here. I think the [final] letter of recommendation helps confirm that they have abided by those values during those two years in the workforce.

What if someone doesn't get over these hurdles in the three years after they've been accepted?

We tend to deal with these things on a case-by-case basis. Life happens. Clearly, personal issues get in the way sometimes. It's not going to be rigid such as saying, "Your GPA dropped by half a point, so forget it." We would have a series of conversations with the applicant to make sure that nothing material about him or her has changed. We would take it seriously and be very thoughtful.

What would happen if the student changes his or her mind?

That would be up to the student. The deposit will be significant, probably the same deposit our regular MBA admits give, which is $1,000 to hold their spot. It's not insignificant, but if they are off in a career that is going very well, they may see that as a low barrier to walking away. Clearly, it's their decision. We think that if we run the program properly and we admit the right people that we won't really lose anybody.

What about the GMAT?

The GMAT is required and you have to take it by the day you submit your application. GMAT scores are good for a long time. You can take it at any time during college before you turn in the application.

Do you think younger students will be at a disadvantage when taking the GMAT?

I don't. I actually think that they're in school mode. They're studying a lot of the math and using it in different courses that require the analytical and quantitative work. They're in that mode so they benefit, I think.

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