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Admissions Director Q&A: David Simpson of London Business School

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London Business School (LBS) shared its essay questions for the upcoming application season with Clear Admit even before posting them to its own website! That’s the kind of special treatment we love around here. As if that weren’t enough, LBS Admissions Director David Simpson then made time for a wide-ranging interview in which he discussed the subtle changes to this year’s application, what he’s excited about most in the year ahead, why only a GMAT score will do and more.

Simpson has served as admissions director for LBS’s MBA and Masters in Finance programs since 2012, but his time at the school dates back many years before that. He is a self-described “geek” about reading applications, so much so that he sounded genuinely disappointed that there’s a bit of down time ahead for him in that regard. (His team recently finished reading applications for the incoming class.) “I miss it,” he says. “I absolutely love reading applications.”

Of course, that down time means he’ll soon be out on the road meeting new potential candidates, another part of the job he enjoys. Check out this list of events to see where you might have a chance to meet him in person. And don’t miss the tips and advice he offers in the interview that follows. Our thanks again, David, for the heads up on the essay questions and the chat!

Clear Admit: Not a lot of changes to your essay questions this year?

David SimpsonDavid Simpson: That’s right. Not much has changed, and that’s a very conscious move. We did a full review, researched with applicants, looked at a lot of competitors…and then decided we love what we have and that they give us exactly what we need.

We have added a couple of questions to the application form, though. We are asking about what international experience candidates have and where they see themselves working after graduation.

Although we don’t want to add another essay—two plus one optional is plenty—we do need to know about applicants’ international experience and aspirations. After all, being global is what we’re about and what we help our students to do!

We have been doing quite a big review actually, in terms of looking at what competitors are doing, what works for us, and the general trend of reducing the total number of essays applicants need to write. We have noticed that a few different schools have quirky additions.

In deciding on our essays we really took a look at whether the questions work for us and our candidates and whether they present our candidates with a strong view of us. The essays are designed to help us get what we need to make the best possible admissions decision—because by doing that we will attract the best students and the most suitable students and everyone is happy. I don’t go out of my way to create something quirky just for the sake of it.

No one gets into the MBA program at LBS without an interview. Whoever we are going to put in front of our alumni for one to three hours of their very valuable time needs to be very good— and we use our essays to decide who gets an interview.

We did consider whether we should strip back the number of essays, but I feel like we would be disadvantaging ourselves if we didn’t ask applicants to answer a few basic questions: who are you, what do you want to do, how can LBS help you do that, why do you want to come to LBS?

We are looking for candidates to reflect on their decision to apply to business school and specifically LBS. We want people who want us—we want them to be specifically interested and excited about the things only we can offer—a global program with people from very different backgrounds in a leading financial capital. It’s all about the people and the place.  We want to get as much information from people as possible without making it onerous, and I think having a couple of essays strikes that balance.

CA: Why the addition of a question about international experience as part of the application?

DS: I wanted to put that back in there because in days gone by when we used to ask four or five essay questions, we had an entire essay on international experience. Now it’s just a short section as part of the application, but it’s meant to show people how important international experience is to us as a global business school.

Now, that isn’t to say a candidate who hasn’t yet lived and worked abroad isn’t appropriate for the school. There have been lots of successful candidates who have only lived and worked in one culture but are fascinated in changing that. So this question is not intended to weed people out or cut people who don’t have international experience. It’s the interest in international experience that’s important.

I worry that some candidates cut themselves out because they haven’t got the profiles that some of the students on our website have. In fact, it’s not uncommon that Japanese students, for example, and even American students haven’t lived abroad. LBS wouldn’t be the same if everyone was a global citizen when they arrived. On the contrary, we like to see the different cultures applying themselves within the class—it helps people to learn. You need to learn in depth from someone who spent a life in a single culture or region.