As the school year begins in earnest, so too does the frenzied barrage of resume-editing sessions, consulting interviews, Teach for America applications, and graduate school exams. These tend to fall into the domain of graduating seniors: this year’s Class of 2014. But increasingly, as Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School target ever-younger applicants, the tension of apps and essays extends ever-earlier.
This year, the junior class is getting a taste of the fun, thanks to a new deferred admission program that offers Harvard students the chance to apply to Harvard Law School during their junior year. Known as the Junior Deferral Pilot, or 2+3, the new initiative was introduced last spring and is modeled along the same lines as Harvard Business School’s 2+2 Program, which began in 2007.
Students accepted to both programs are guaranteed a place, but must agree to spend two years in the workforce before matriculation; they are required to commit to the program as they would for early decision college admissions.
In the case of HLS, applicants through the 2+3 program are given what appears to be a slight advantage in the application process—they are interviewed on campus rather than through Skype. And the HLS 2+3 program is open exclusively to Harvard College juniors: No competition from grad students, or from Princeton or Yale or Stanford—just classmates. With Harvard students already competing against each other on a daily basis, that bar can seem less intimidating to many.
But some students say that the application timeline for the HLS 2+3 program, set during the third rather than final year of study, can be both a blessing and a curse. Tuong V. Nguyen ’15, who is considering applying to HLS through the 2+3 program, pointed out that completing the law school application process before the start of senior year will offer a reprieve to students who are intending to write senior theses. Free of LSATs, personal statements, and admissions interviews, they will be able to focus on their research and writing with their immediate future secured.
However, Nguyen also recognized the potential pressure and anxiety of shifting the process earlier. “Junior year,” she said, “your grades are really important. Whether or not you’re considering grad school or law school, you want to maintain a good relationship with your teachers.”
She added, “You want to do well in your classes because you don’t know what the future is like, so your grades have to be perfect.” And for students who struggled early in their academic career, she said, the grace period for improvement is shortened. Amid all these commitments, Nguyen noted, there can be a potentially high academic cost of becoming consumed with grad school applications so early.
“With [school], plus extracurricular activities, plus possible research on the side, and studying for the LSAT, it’s a lot of pressure,” she said.The two-year work requirement has also garnered a mixed reaction from students.
Shengxi Li ’15 decided against applying to the HLS 2+3 program because she wants to go straight through from undergraduate to law school.
“A lot of people who do get into the work environment have told me that it’s extraordinarily hard to go back,” Li explained. “Even if you have a slotted spot, some people find the transition difficult.” She also noted that the two-year time frame has the potential to limit professional opportunities: Not all organizations will be willing to hire on employees who they know are slotted to return to school shortly.
But some students already familiar with this requirement through the older 2+2 program have come to view it as an advantage.
“It gives you a lot of freedom in terms of what you want to do after undergrad,” said Shaira Bhanji ‘14, who has been accepted into 2+2.
“I think part of the goal of 2+2 is to allow students to have more options in terms of what jobs they want to go into,” she continued, “knowing that they already have a spot at HBS in two years.” Bhanji is now considering working for an international health startup, a path she said would have considered too risky before her admittance into the program.
Bhanji pointed out that with the average age of 27 for a first-year business school student, most HBS students will have had previous work experience. (At HLS, 52 percent of the Class of 2016 is at least two years out of college.) She said she believes that the two-year work requirement will give younger students the chance to contribute an informed perspective to class discussions by grounding their course material in real-world scenarios.
The Class of 2015 will be the first to participate in 2+3. It remains to be seen if Harvard students will embrace it as they have the 2+2 program, for which they have comprised, on average, about a fifth of the accepted class each year. And it’s not yet clear whether the advantages trumpeted by 2+2 participants, applicants, and administrators will immediately translate to law school, offsetting the doubts some students are voicing.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: Sept. 27, 2013
An earlier version of this article and its accompanying headline incorrectly referred to the length of Harvard Law School’s Junior Deferral Pilot program. In fact, the admissions process is known as the 2+3 program, in reference to the two-year deferral period preceding three years of law school for admitted students.