A Guide to MBA Deferred, Early Action and Early Decision Programs

People who have dreamed of becoming a business executive may want to apply for an MBA as soon as they possibly can — even while they are still enrolled in college or a master’s program and before they land their first permanent job.

Business school deferred admission programs are specifically designed for Master of Business Administration hopefuls who are still in school or exploring an early career but planning for a future in business.

Michael Robinson, a senior director of MBA admissions at Columbia Business School in New York, says deferred admission MBA applicants tend to be “planners” with a clear vision of their long-term professional goals. “They tend to be a bit more organized — they tend to be a bit more mature — than the typical 22-year-old,” he says.

On the other hand, early action or early decision MBA admissions programs usually cater to early-to-midcareer applicants who intend to enroll in B-school in the near future and who want to signal their strong interest in a particular school.

Shari Hubert, associate dean for admissions with the Duke University Fuqua School of Business in North Carolina, says the school’s early action program is designed for MBA hopefuls who are convinced that Duke is their first choice. Participation in Duke’s early action program is contingent on a promise to attend the school if admitted.

“From an honor system perspective, they are saying that, should they get admitted, they are not planning on applying to any other school’s (application) round, and if they had already applied, they would remove their application from another school’s round,” she says.

Submitting an early MBA application can boost someone’s odds of acceptance at their dream school, but that’s only true if their application is polished and ready to go, experts say. No one should rush to submit an application with a subpar test score or admissions essay simply for the sake of applying early, experts warn.

How Deferred MBAs Work

Many MBA programs have a system in place in which admitted college seniors or master’s students can enroll about two to five years later, including some programs that sit at or near the top of the U.S. News Best Business Schools rankings. For example, University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — which are tied for No. 1 in the overall B-school ranking — both offer a deferred admission option.

It is rare for top graduate business schools to directly admit MBA students who lack post-college work experience, though it occasionally happens. And there are a few prestigious B-schools that have an established pipeline for such students, such as the Yale School of Management in Connecticut, which admits promising college seniors via its Silver Scholars program and allows those students to start B-school immediately after college graduation.

Individuals applying for deferred MBA admission typically have little to no work experience, and as a result put greater emphasis on academic accomplishments, extracurricular activities, college internships and undergraduate leadership roles than in a conventional MBA application, experts say.

Admissions committees are “betting on you for the future, so they want to hear a solid career plan post-graduation from your bachelor’s degree or your master’s degree,” says Jenifer Turtschanow, CEO of Aringo International, a global admissions consulting firm.

Jarrett Brandon Early, a senior admissions consultant with the Menlo Coaching admissions consulting company, says that potential MBA students who are accepted into B-school two years in advance or more have greater flexibility when choosing which employment opportunities to pursue, since they don’t have to worry as much about making a risky career decision.

“That allows me to take a little bit more risk in my post-undergraduate jobs,” he says, putting himself in the shoes of a potential MBA student. “So instead of me just kind of naturally taking this job with this big corporate brand, knowing that will help me get into MBA school, now that I already have an offer in hand, I might be able to take a job at a startup or at a nonprofit — something that is really more of a passion project.”

Early Action and Early Decision Programs

Those considering a B-school’s early action or early decision program should look into the rules of that program, since applying early to a school may involve a promise to attend if accepted.

As a general rule, early action and early decision programs are aimed at people who are confident about which school they want to attend.

Potential MBA students should apply only if they don’t intend to compare financial aid offers and don’t plan to haggle with B-school officials, since applying early does involve giving up leverage in negotiations regarding MBA scholarships, Early says. But Hubert notes that early admissions candidates often receive scholarships.

Experts say that, from an applicant perspective, the benefit of participating in early action or early decision programs is increased odds of acceptance. Most B-schools make admissions decisions on a rolling basis, so the chance of getting accepted to these schools is best at the beginning of the admissions process.

“It gives people an option to put themselves at the head of the line,” Robinson says.

For a B-school, the advantage of an early admissions program is that it can increase the school’s yield rate — the percentage of students who are offered admission who eventually decide to attend — which allows the school to control and predict the size of an incoming class and increases the odds of enrolling an exceptional scholar who might otherwise attend another institution.

“Just like MBA applicants and candidates are competing with each other to get into these prestigious programs, the programs are also competing with each other for top talent,” Early says.

Searching for a business school? Get our complete rankings of Best Business Schools.

More from U.S. News

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A Guide to MBA Deferred, Early Action and Early Decision Programs originally appeared on usnews.com

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