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Looking to Recruit More non-traditional Business School Applicants

The MBA Gatekeeper At Cambridge Judge
Poets and Quants

“We have mid-Atlantic appeal,” says David Simpson, admissions director at London Business School. He means of course that LBS, ranked top among business schools outside the U.S., stands out by offering a program up to two years whereas European counterparts mostly stick to one. And when competing with the likes of Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton in the U.S., and closer to home Cambridge Judge, INSEAD in France or IESE in Spain, LBS leverages its location. “Our major differentiation comes from having a global learning community in a global city,” says Simpson.

Tucked away on the edge of leafy Regents Park in central London, LBS is conveniently down the road from the Boston Consulting Group, who alongside McKinsey & Company, regularly hire around two dozen MBA graduates every year. It’s the only UK school to feature in the top ten Financial Times’ global MBA rankings – this year overtaking Wharton for third place. A third of its cohort are women, and the average GMAT score is 700. Some 15% of students are North American, and this year’s students come from 62 different countries and have an average six years’ work experience.

Students have all the benefits of proximity to London’s financial centre, but increasingly to the boutique finance firms springing up, as London’s alternative investment community grows. And then there’s London’s busy technology start-up scene; more LBS graduates are finding work outside of the traditional stomping ground of finance and consulting. “There are big advantages for our students being in a city so diverse in terms of professional sectors,” says Simpson.

LOOKING TO RECRUIT MORE NON-TRADITIONAL BUSINESS SCHOOL APPLICANTS

While the admissions team won’t allow any one nationality to dominate, applications this year from Latin American countries have risen and students from those nations now make up 14% of the current 410-strong MBA group, with 22% in the school’s Masters in Finance program. Overall MBA applications are up 7% year on year and stronger again so far this year. In fact, LBS feels it’s weathered the economic upheavals of recent years well, working hard to sustain interest from major recruiters.

A long-time veteran at LBS, Simpson is fresh back from a trip from New York and Washington, DC, where the school is keen to lure the cream of applicants with a growing program of scholarships, international exchanges, visa support for entrepreneurs and a changing array of international study trips. He’s delighted a higher proportion of women apply from the U.S. and Canada – around 40% and 60% respectively – and this is reflected in the school’s annual intake.

And while LBS, like all business schools, wants to boost numbers of women applicants, it’s also keen to recruit outside of the typical business school hunting grounds of finance, consulting and engineering. “We wouldn’t have – say – 50% of students from an arts background; this is a business degree after all, but we do want a good number of people from arts, from law, and from the military to give us that mix.”

While LBS’s scholarship programme doesn’t match that of the top U.S. schools, the school is on a fundraising drive and has increased the amount of scholarship money from donors and alumni mostly offered on merit every year and plans further increases across all programs in the next couple of years, with some awards approaching full fees “which can be life changing,” says Simpson.

FEWER THAN HALF THE 2,500 APPLICANTS ARE INVITED TO INTERVIEW

LBS will also offer sector scholarships for 2017, adds Simpson, in military, healthcare, energy, luxury and retail, as well as technology and engineering – areas which account for a recent growth in applications and where LBS is keen to recruit more. “We want to continue to attract people from technology backgrounds, and support people who might not have considered MBAs,” says Simpson. “This year the focus is to have enough scholarships to convert the best applicants.” There’ll also be a new Nestle emerging markets scholarship for women. LBS also recruits actively among the armed forces, and has been known to wait until an applicant’s submarine has surfaced in some part of the world in order to arrange an interview. “This year 64% of MBAs from a military background got a scholarship,” says Simpson. LBS also partners with innovative funding scheme Prodigy Finance; a facility set up by MBA graduates from INSEAD, to fund would-be international business postgraduates

Fewer than half of the 2,500 people who apply to LBS are invited for interview, and roughly half of those are offered places; nobody gets in without a grilling. By Simpson’s admission, the interview–initially conducted by alumni–can be grueling. “If you are sitting with someone for two hours or more, they will get through to you.” Alumni then feed back their recommendations to the admissions committee who don’t always follow them, says Simpson; occasionally the team will conduct a further phone or face-to-face interview “to plug any gaps.”

LBS has cut the number of essays required from five to two with an optional extra question – what else should the school know about you – and this is often the toughest and most telling, says Simpson. “Applicants’ interpretation of this question – what they see fit to tell us – is as important as the content.”

While the odd applicant has been known in interview to get the name of the school wrong, interviewees are most often polished, but LBS wants to see evidence of meticulous research that goes beyond information in the brochures. “We do think we are offering something different – a global education, a collaborative environment — so we are looking for ways applicants can contribute. We want to know they’ve even thought about what clubs and conferences they’ll attend so we can see they are really committed. We know they’re looking at other top schools.”

A THIRD OF THE STUDENTS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF AN EXCHANGE PROGRAM WITH ANOTHER SCHOOL

It’s been four years since LBS last overhauled the MBA program after gaining feedback from students; as a result students can choose to complete the program within 15 months – although around 90% still opt to take the full 20 months. While the next MBA review isn’t due for a couple of years, incremental changes are afoot. New electives in healthcare, social media and banking have been added, more faculty have joined the school and new clubs in healthcare and energy are thriving. In the next month or so LBS will announce new venues for the global business experience – an immersive week currently spent in the U.S., Africa, Hong Kong, India and Turkey, which will remain in place for 2015/2016. “We’re likely to increase the overall number in the next two years; we’ll retain some, lose one or two. This is a really exciting area of development.”

About a third of the class exchange with international business schools. U.S .institutions remain among the most popular with Berkeley-Haas topping the list, but increasingly students are looking at Asian schools, especially within China, says Simpson. “It’s a competitive process to get on an exchange; places tend to go to those who do well academically and can explain how the exchange will fit their career plans.” Like many top schools, LBS is building relations in China, and has partnered with China’s Fudan University to create a joint master’s program.

As one of the largest U.K. schools, LBS is preparing to get even bigger in 2017 when a new building to provide extra teaching space and room to expand comes on stream. “Whether we grow our numbers gradually or take on a whole new class at once depends on the applicant pool but we expect to be around 475,” says Simpson.

ENTREPRENEURSHIP VISAS AVAILABLE TO STARTUP FOUNDERS OUT OF LBS

While recruitment figures from LBS are famously healthy – 96% of MBA students received a job offer three months after graduation with a mean salary of £74,950 – latest figures show a surge in recruitment from the corporate sector, with 43% of 2013 graduates finding work in that sector, up from 35% the year before. Technology and telecommunication companies – Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Samsung – play a big part, and the latest figures are looking strong, says Simpson.

And for a school renowned for finance, LBS is also proud of the support it gives entrepreneurs; with a core class during the first year and a healthy portfolio of choices in the second. Both finance and entrepreneurism are the most popular electives. “In fact you could opt to solely study entrepreneurship in the second year,” says Simpson. Some MBA students turn down the £1,000 a week summer internships in favor of LBS’ entrepreneurship summer school, which allows students to road test a business idea. There’s also a sought-after incubator unit which accepts select students upon graduation, with the offer of LBS’ facilities and support from investors, faculty and seasoned entrepreneurs. “What many students don’t realise is that you can get entrepreneurship visas to stay on in the U.K. upon graduation even without sponsorship from a large corporation,” says Simpson – and LBS works with U.K. visa authorities to select student eligible for an application.

And as the next applications deadline looms in January 2015, Simpson urges prospective candidates to do more than look at the website. “Do your research – what do we do well, what do you want more of? If you can’t visit, find an alum to have coffee with. Make an effort to discover the beating heart of the school.”

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