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Admissions Director Q&A: Liam Kilby of Saïd Business School at Oxford University

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For this installment of our Admissions Director Q&A series, we welcome Liam Kilby, Associate Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.

Liam attended the University of Sheffield, studying for a BSc in Computer Science and Mathematics. He started working in finance after leaving University and joined Barclays Global Wealth in the UK before deciding on a career pivot and a move into education several years later. He spent time working at Oxford University Press, and Cambridge University Press, before a relocation back to Oxford and a job opening in the recruitment team for the MBA allowed him to join Saïd Business School. Liam supported the application process for candidates from the Americas for the first few years, before moving into his current role in late 2019.

Read on for Liam’s take on what to expect from MBA admissions this season and to learn more about Saïd Business School.

Associate Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions, Oxford Saïd

Clear Admit: What is the one aspect of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

Liam Kilby: People often think of Saïd Business School as somewhere you go if you’re thinking of doing an MBA that’s focused on social impact. While there’s a level of truth in that: we strongly believe that impact should be at the forefront of future leaders’ minds, I do wish that potential candidates understood that we’re far more than that as a School. Our Careers team has had some incredible success at placing students into consulting roles in the past 18 months, and our finance faculty is particularly strong. Oxford is a destination that welcomes everyone, and can support a range of career goals. This is supported by the fact that only 11% of our most recent graduating class went into impact roles, whilst over 30% secured positions in the consulting sector

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision?

LK: All applications are read through thoroughly by two members of the Admissions Committee. Each one of these people will make a recommendation on whether or not we invite the candidate through to interview. These decisions are taken independently of each other, with each committee member not knowing what the other has recommended. Every application is then reviewed by the whole Committee, and they will make a final decision about the interview status of the candidate. 

Once the interview takes place, the interviewer will complete their notes and then enter their recommendation into the system. The Admissions Committee will form once more, and review all of the interview notes and recommendations, and use these as a basis to extend final offers to the program.

The whole process, from application deadline to final decision on admission, can take about 6 weeks

CA: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read an essay? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? What is one key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write?

LK: We want people to have the chance to tell us something that we won’t already find in their application. Our essay prompt essentially asks people to tell us something that we don’t know about them. As you can imagine, this opens the door for people to be as open as they’re comfortable with. There are some candidates that will use the essay to provide a reason for a GPA that they weren’t happy with from university, whilst others will talk about the difficulties they had with the GMAT or GRE. Both of these ideas are valid if the candidates want us to know about a set of extenuating circumstances that provided a challenge for them. The other option would be to tell us about something that drives them, or motivates them personally – what are they hoping to gain from an MBA? How do they want to develop? What will bring to the cohort that we wouldn’t find in someone else? My biggest piece of advice with the essay is to be as personal and authentic as you’re comfortable with

CA: Could you tell us about your interview process? Approximately how many applicants do you interview? Who conducts the interview (students, admissions officers, alumni) and what is the nature of the interview (resume-based, application-based, behavioral)? Will your admissions interviews be in-person or virtual for the 2023-2024 admissions season?

LK: The interviews are conducted on a 1-1 basis and are exclusively run by members of the Admissions Committee. That’s quite far-reaching, though, and it could mean you’re interviewed by the MBA Programme Director, the Associate Director of Recruitment & Admissions, part of the Admissions team, or other senior professional positions across the school. We currently don’t use existing students or alumni. No matter who your interviewer is, they will have read and studied your application in detail ahead of time and you should expect to be questioned on any aspect of your submitted materials. We will generally try and investigate particular aspects of your profile: what are your motivations behind wanting to study an MBA, and why do you think Oxford is the right fit for you? What do you want to do with your career post-MBA, and how will the program help you reach your goals? We’ll also ask some questions to understand your experience in key areas such as leadership, teamwork, and communication. 

Our plan for the next admissions cycle will be to hold the majority of interviews virtually, though members of the Admissions Committee will be travelling to certain parts of the world to meet potential candidates and interview them in person at set points throughout the year. We are looking into resurrecting in-person interview days here in Oxford, on campus. More details of this will follow on our website as we move through into late summer and launch the application cycle for the 2024 intake

CA: What is your testing policy? Do you offer exam waivers? Why or why not?

LK: We currently offer no waivers to the GMAT or GRE component of the application. We believe that a score from one of these tests will give us an insight into the ability of the candidate to handle the rigour of the MBA program whilst on-course. We accept both tests, and we have no preference as to which one each candidate chooses to take. We recognize that there is a growing number of schools that are introducing their own tests in place of the traditional options. We have no plans to do this at this stage.

CA: Could you tell us about the waitlist? What can waitlisted applicants do to maximize their chances of being accepted to your program? Does your office allow for waitlisted applicants to submit additional materials (e.g. letters of support, job updates, new test scores, etc)?

LK: We very rarely use a waitlist at Oxford. I think in my 7 years at the school we’ve had a waitlist once and that was during COVID when there was a level of uncertainty about class size and program delivery. We advertise on our website that we may use a waitlist each year, but believe that our approach across multiple application deadlines allows us to build the right type of cohort as we move through the admissions year.

Regardless of waitlist, any candidate that has applied to the program is very welcome to send in supplementary information while their application is being considered, or while they’re waiting for an interview to take place. We definitely want to hear if you’ve received a job promotion, or you’ve retaken the GMAT/GRE and score more highly than before. Once a final offer is extended to you, however, there’s really no benefit in sending anything through to us, as your place is secured and that will only change if you choose to decline and go elsewhere

CA: Tell us briefly about two popular courses at your institution.

LK: The two electives that are consistently amongst the most popular are Leadership Perspectives from the Humanities, and Negotiations. Students can pick a number of electives as they enter the second half of their year with us, and it’s very common that we have to run several iterations of these two options as demand outweighs capacity for both of them

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.