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

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CA: What aspect of your program do you wish applicants knew more about?

DS: The energy and vibrancy of the school community—and by that I mean how much our students actually do. We try to tell stories on the website through video, but you can never truly tell the full story unless you are talking to several individuals. When our new students arrive, there’s always a “wow” moment. They’ve been expecting great things—just not this great.

Often it’s the amount of student club activity or travel—trips and treks during the MBA is a big part of the experience. Whether it’s the Japanese trek with our Japanese students to see an amazing country … or trips to South Africa, Israel or Peru through our Global Business Experiences … or just an informal weekend away. The travel opportunities are amazing when you have a bit of time, especially during the second year.

Of course, in the first year your time is ours, we own it, you will be busy. Much of that comes from our being in London.

CA: How does the incoming class look? What gains/shifts are you most pleased by? What goals have you set for the next class?

DS: I am pleased that we managed to maintain the percentage increase on women that we had last year—this is a big challenge for global schools—and we’re at 37 percent, which is one up from last year. For us that is big progress. Having enough women looking at us is really important to me, and next year I want us to keep increasing the percentage of women.

The geographic split I am pleased with as well. Ironically, we wanted more European students this past cycle, and we got them. We also maintained growth from Latin America. There is no dominant culture at LBS—no nationality that has more than 15 percent tops. Students from the U.S. make up the biggest group, but they are closely followed by others.

That is critical to us. I am happy with the diversity, and I am happy with the spread of jobs as well. Last year we decided to start an initiative to make sure we had people from all different jobs. Of course, our bread and butter is banking and consulting, and we wanted to make sure we have enough from those industries, but we also want students from the medical field, military, science and technology, luxury and retail. So we’ve introduced new scholarships to try to attract people from certain different functional backgrounds—specifically engineering, luxury retail, entrepreneurship and healthcare.

We’ve always had scholarships for exceptional students from finance and consulting, and we have lots of women’s scholarships, which we are proud to keep increasing. And we have several regional scholarships as well. Although we still don’t have as many African students as we would like, the proportion coming in on scholarships this year we think is very healthy.

In terms of scholarship aid, we do focus our money where we want to build—as well as trying to offer awards to the best individuals. And we are also fortunate enough to have some full-fee scholarships.

CA: If you could change one thing about the admissions process, what would it be and why?

DS: If I could—and this is wishful thinking—I would love to have more information on every candidate and to be able to meet every candidate. I know for a fact that every year we are bound to miss out on some great people that we turn down who could have been in the class. You miss that when you don’t meet them.

We have considered asking for a video submission, but that doesn’t automatically solve the problem and sometimes might make the problem worse. Because then you have this pressured video situation that is anathema to the way they generally act. Meeting as many people as possible would make it a lot more fun as well.

I’d also love having more time for the admissions process, because we are competing with U.S. schools as well as European schools. With U.S. schools a lot of the admissions work is done in a shorter period. So we need to be open as early as U.S. schools and give decisions as early, but we finish later. This makes for tough times for our admissions teams. It really takes it out of you.

I love it, I thrive on it, but in a perfect world that would all be spread beautifully and evenly throughout the year and you wouldn’t have as many pressure points. In a perfect world I’d have the ability to meet every candidate and really get behind the application.