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

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CA: Your second question asks candidates to talk about how they will contribute to LBS student life. How do you recommend students learn about LBS student life?

DS: The first thing you do is obviously look at the website. But  we do encourage applicants to try to talk to current students or alumni, check out student clubs online. We even ask applicants as part of the application process who they have talked to in order to learn more about the school.

This is designed to help encourage people to do the research—it is not “who of influence do you know?” This is “Who have you spoken to to find out the nitty gritty?” This question encourages people that they need to reach out. For some it will be actually meeting people, attending events, coming to visit us. But we are aware that not everyone can do that. We don’t make it a requirement that you visit because you can’t really do that for someone who is in New Zealand. Now, you expect they’ll try to come and see us before they sign up for two years of their life, but not necessarily before they apply.

Of course, if someone is in London, I would hope they would come and see us before they apply. In fact, if that’s the case and you haven’t come to see us, we will ask you about it. “You’ve not been to an event? Tell us why.”

CA: You seem to be quite strict about the word count – even saying that extra words may not be read. Is this because applicants often fail to stay within the required word count?

DS: We are just trying to be really clear. We will always actually accept up to 10 percent more than the suggested word count. But we do not look as kindly on applications if the essay appears to be twice as long as it should be. Mainly, though, we offer word limits for guidance.

Those word limits are quite short, and that means people have to be very succinct. They really have to filter their ideas—and I realize that’s an extra challenge. But the more you focus on your essays, the more it helps you reflect on why you want to take this journey. It will help you focus on what you are looking for. So in terms of word count we are reasonably strict but it is meant purely to help guide people rather than to be obsessively punitive.

CA: When should an applicant submit an optional essay?

DS: So there’s no trap here. We are never going to say, “Oh, they didn’t submit it, why not?” This is really a case of allowing candidates to use their judgement as to whether they have something significant to tell us.

We do see cultural differences in terms of how much people write and what they tell you. The British candidates, for instance, won’t tell you anything you haven’t specifically asked for—whereas applicants from other parts of the world will be more apt to share additional information. We are conscious of these cultural differences.

In general , applicants should submit an optional essay if they think there is something they haven’t had an opportunity to tell us about or there is something in their application that needs explaining. For example, a great use of the optional essay would be to explain an employment gap.

But if people don’t submit an optional essay, I wouldn’t say it’s a missed opportunity. You should only use it if there’s something you think you need to share.  Of course, this also gives us a chance to evaluate applicants’ judgment on what they think is important.

CA: What are you most excited about in the year ahead at LBS?

DS: I am fortunate that we are an ambitious school that has been doing quite well. Every year we see an improvement, with standards rising among candidates. In the year ahead I am looking forward to continuing to work with our executive director and other stakeholders on the comprehensive program review I mentioned earlier. Every few years we look at our program, strip it down and think about where we want to take it in the future.