Friday, November 2, 2007

Harvard Business School 2+2, Analyzed

I've been thinking a lot about why Harvard Business School, venerable institution that it is, would suddenly decide to recruit college juniors who are "not on a business trajectory" through their new 2+2 program, which will provide its lucky admits with a career coach and guaranteed matriculation after 2 years of work.

Update 5/20/2010: HBS recently changed its 2+2 FAQ to read:

My undergraduate concentration is in a business-related field, and I have had a lot of business exposure. Is 2+2 the right program for me?

When the 2+2 Program was originally created it primarily targeted students who are not already on a business track (i.e. students studying the liberal arts, sciences, engineering, etc.). However, we are now encouraging students from all undergraduate majors to apply (that includes those with concentrations and experiences in business-related fields).

(The purpose of the program has shifted slightly since I applied & was admitted in 2008!)

And now, back to the original blog post, written in 2007.


HBS 2+2, to give you some background information, is theoretically aimed at liberal arts majors who are on the brink of deciding where their life's going to take them. Business schools—unlike law schools, medical schools, or arts & sciences grad schools—hardly ever admit students right out of their undergraduate degree, normally requiring a few years of work experience. Danger! What if Harvard Business School is losing shining, moldable stars, dripping with unformed analytic potential, to these schools?

Except, HBS never seemed to see perceive that as a problem. Until now. What happened?

The Internet. That's what happeend. A business degree used to be a prerequisite to jumpstarting most high-powered careers, at least in the corporate world. Now, a lot of brilliant college grads (or college dropouts) don't need to go to law school, medical school, grad school or business school in order to make a name for themselves. They just start a company like Facebook, and after a few years of feverish programming, they're household names.

This is not okay with Harvard Business School.

HBS is an exclusive club. But when it's excluding the it-crowd—22-year-old future self-made billionaires—what happens to their club? It loses some credibility. HBS needs the world to perceive a Harvard Business School degree as the mark of greatness, but that mark is only as valuable as its reputation—which is created by the people who hold degrees, and diluted by the degree-less success of their drop-out counterparts.

2+2 is their solution: catch them while they're young. Take the whiz-kids who have the potential to be great no matter what, and brand them before the secret gets out. By the time they graduate, they're locked into the brand. Fortunately, HBS still has enough cred that it's a mutually beneficial relationship. The future entrepreneurs of the world probably could use a little schooling, and they could certainly brandish their HBS club badges to great effect—in a corporate world where that badge still means something.

But all in all, I'd say it's HBS that stands to gain the most from this deal. Five years out, when the first branded 2+2 class graduates, HBS will hand them degrees, and claim that they're bestowing passports to the future. The real secret is, this future is happening no matter what. The passports are increasingly irrelevant. But maybe, just maybe, Harvard Business School can keep this fact quiet and maintain their relevance in the twenty-first century, by hitching themselves to the inevitable stars.


Michael said...

But why are they targeting specifically non-business types? You would think that those bidding entrepreneurs would just get an undergrad business degree, if any. Its interesting how it seems 2+2 is designed for people who essentially wouldn't have even considered an MBA. Maybe its for diversity?

Elan said...
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Elan said...

HBS does not lose credibility if they miss a few billionaires. Some people actually go to Yale, MIT etc. What they do lose is donations from alumni. I'd suggest that is a much larger driving force. The 2+2 has a low cost for HBS (in resources) with a potentially high payoff.

Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.
- Ecclesiastes

Lisa said...

you said that HBS 2+2 is targeting liberal arts majors. I don't think this is necessarily true..they are also targeting science and engineering students as well. I'm applying to HBS 2+2 and I'm a engineering major. Do you think that HBS is more likely to accept a liberal arts major than engineering? just curious. I go to carnegie mellon university (pretty big on engineering) and an admissions representative from HBS 2+2 came to speak to us, so I feel like they are targeting engineers as well.

Diana Kimball said...

Hi Lisa,

You're absolutely right: HBS 2+2 is targeting engineering and science students as well as liberal arts majors. I often use "liberal arts majors" as shorthand for "non-traditional-business-trajectory students." (As you can see, "non-traditional=-business-trajectory students" is a mouthful!) However, I should have been more precise. It's really the "non-traditional" bit that they're after. From everything I've heard, I don't think the program's more likely to accept a liberal arts major over a science/engineering major, or vice versa. Then again, no one really knows! This first application cycle will be one huge experiment. You might be interested in one of my more recent posts (where I use the same, slightly misleading "liberal arts major" shorthand--apologies!) that follows up on this post and the one that followed it. Locker #12: HBS 2+2 and the GMAT --

Good luck on your application!

ACIEST said...

hi!! i am a little confused right now.
some guy on a forum told me that you have to be in/entering second year for applying to this program but as it is mentioned that you have to have
at least a semester left at the time of application which implies that for a person like me who is doing engineering that is a four year course , i should be able to apply before july,09 , i.e before the end of my penultimate year..

please , clarify the doubt.
i would be highly obliged

ACIEST said...
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Diana Kimball said...


From what I understand, HBS 2+2 is built on the assumption that you're doing the regular US schedule of a four-year-degree — that is, you finish your junior year (or third out of four years) sometime in May or June, and then send in your application to their program by July 1. There's only one due date for the application (July 1 every year), so it's built for the most common scenario, which I guess they're assuming is the regular US four-year-degree program. However, since they know that some people and some degree programs are on different schedules, they clarified the rule by saying that you can only apply if you have at least one full semester of school left to go. If you're still uncertain on what this means for you, my advice would be to wait until the HBS 2+2 office finishes processing this year's applications (around September 15), and then give the office a call to see how their rules apply to your case. Hope that helps!

ACIEST said...

hey diana ,

thanks a lot !
in india also i am enrolled in a four year degree course and my third year would get over by may of 2009 . so , i think i would be eligible for applying next year ...
that sounds great to me as being a tech student , i always wanted to go for an mba ..that just seems to be a perfect match for me ..

thanks ...:)

Shruti said...
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Shruti said...

m currently in the 3rd year of a four year technical course in india.i would like to whether i still have time to apply for the class entering in fall 2010.
This is what the site says "Welcome to the Harvard Business School 2+2 Program online application.

The final deadline to apply to the 2+2 Program was July 1, 2008 at 5:00 PM EST. We are no longer accepting applications for the 2+2 Program class entering in the fall of 2011. We encourage you to consider applying to Harvard Business School as a college senior via the regular MBA application process. For more information, please visit the HBS MBA Web site"
Please help me out with this.

Diana Kimball said...

Hi Shruti,

If you're hoping to enter in 2010, you should be able to apply via the regular system in late fall 2009/spring 2010. 2+2 is just one option for students nearing the end of their undergraduate careers. Applying as a college senior, or as a recent graduate, works too! Hope that helps.

Jialin said...
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Thibs (webmaster) said...
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Franklin said...

Hi Diana
I'm an undergrad majoring in Finance from Peking Uni., do you think i'm on a "business track" or in a liberal arts major?

Franklin said...

Hi Diana
I'm an undergrad in finance and applied math from Peking Uni. Am I considered to be on a "business track" or in liberal arts major?