Messy Problems
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Messy Problems

Getting into Harvard Business School’s 2+2 program

This article is targeted to those who are about to receive a call session with me through my charity-for-advice platform: Thoughts are my own only and are in no way endorsed by Harvard Business School.

The Harvard Business School 2+2 Program is a deferred admission process for current students, either in college or full-time masters programs. It is comprised of at least two years of professional work experience followed by two years in the HBS MBA Program.

What do you need?

As of August 2019:

  • A great story about who you are
  • 2 references that are willing to back up that you are indeed among the best of what you say you are
  • Ideally, great undergrad grades from a renowned university
  • Ideally, a GMAT above 730, or the GRE equivalent
  • Luck

What are they looking for?

Harvard Business School thinks like a venture capitalist. They are looking for people they can imagine will be leaders of their field (almost any field), based on the potential they demonstrate now, and their background.

This means that you need:

  • To understand what bucket you want to craft your story to (e.g. social entrepreneur, emerging markets finance professional, etc.)
  • To understand whether your background/story/context can be crafted to fit a narrative that you are the top 10% of your bucket
  • Demonstrate an emotional/understandable reason why this bucket is genuinely who you are, rather than a well-crafted story (which admission officers can spot a mile away). I.e. tell me why your story is one only you can tell.

Talk me through the process

  • Your story (800 - 990 words) is the most important step in the process. I took 3 months to figure out what my story was, and another month to write it down properly.
  • Preparing for the GMAT takes ~150 hours, which is roughly 10 days of dedicated study. It is more common for people to spread this out over 2/3 months. This is one of the easiest parts of the process.
  • Your 2 references are used to back up 2 separate elements of your story. If your story is that you are going to bring technology to serve minority communities, you want your references to at least show that you have excelled in one element of doing that. They should ideally use the phrase ‘top 10% of people they met in that field’. It is also preferable to get a recommendation from your direct manager who may be a middle-level manager who knows you inside out and can describe you a more realistic and personable way than the CEO of your company who only knows your name and a few more details about you.
  • If you get an interview, that means that you are HBS quality, and they liked your story. The interview will then be used to verify if you are truly who you said you are, in every sense of the person they believe they see in your application. This can entail asking prodding questions into your past achievements, your motivations, and future goals.
  • The post-interview reflection is not important. It will not push a no to a yes, but it may help tip the scales if you are a borderline case. Very few people will have their scales tip by the reflection. Use it to very selectively and briefly add to a few points that you may have weakly answered. Summarize and highlight the elements of your story you really want to get across. Most importantly, be brief.

Chia Jeng Yang, what is your story?

  • Endured failures during my national service stint as a firefighter, and resolved to be less intellectual and more action-oriented
  • Passionate about bringing action-oriented attitudes to traditionally more intellectual industries (i.e. public policy)
  • Wanted to pursue my passion that lay in the intersection of technology, business, and public policy.
  • Strong leadership roles throughout my different experiences

What should I prepare beforehand?

  • Read Poets & Quants
  • Download Ready4Gmat app (Saved my life — I improved by 220 points in 9 days)
  • Harbus (if you can get a hand on it — don’t bother if you can’t. I didn’t use it myself)

Any other pieces of advice?

  • Get a support group of friends who can objectively give you tactical advice about how your essay comes across to them. The advice you will get from different people will be contradictory so you will have to make your own mind about how you want to portray yourself, but the aim is to make sure that the majority of people get roughly the same impression of who you want to portray yourself to be based on the essay you have written. Some prefer to send it to a smaller group of people, some prefer to send it to a large group. Both are fine. I sent it to ~80 people, but the median seems to be <10.
  • I thought I did not stand a chance but applied anyway. I enjoyed the reflective nature of the essay, and believe it is worth applying just for the opportunity to spend time figuring out where you want to be.
  • The admissions rate is 11%. 0% if you don’t try, so try.


Difference between 2+2 and ‘regular’ MBA intakes

I was a Humanities, international, Chinese male student, so I had every advantage going for me. The trend seems to be moving to more international cohorts, with a lower acceptance rate. The last 2+2 cohort had an 8% acceptance rate.

Rough deadlines based on 2019 Admissions cycle

2+2’s only have 1 admission deadline

If you found this article helpful, please do donate to the charities I support here:

Thanks to Vasilis Mornto for comments on this article.

Chia dives into consumer investment trends across the U.S. and Asia, builds interesting projects and works closely with early-stage (Pre-A) founders. Previous work here:



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Chia Jeng Yang

Chia Jeng Yang


Principal @ Saison Capital | Consumer/fintech investing | Angel/Operator | work with smart people on projects: