July 30, 2007

The Lowdown on London Business School

London Business School offers one of the top MBA programs in Europe. If you're thinking of going to graduate school outside of the U.S., it might be at the top of your list of possibilities. Recently potential applicants signed on to a live chat event with David Simpson [DavidLBS], acting associate dean for the full-time MBA program at LBS, and LBS student Manish Gajria [ManishLBS]. The session was moderated by BusinessWeek reporter Francesca Di Meglio [FrancescaBW]. Here is an edited transcript of the event:

FrancescaBW: Many of our readers wrote in with questions prior to today's event. Here's one of them. Could you please share the percentage of students from India and with work experience in IT?

DavidLBS: It's not really valuable to give percentages of students from any particular background because the class diversity changes every year. Like most schools, [London] has seen an increase in applications from Indian IT professionals, but that is representative of global employment trends.

ManishLBS: As someone with a background in engineering, I must admit that "IT" is a very loosely used term. As an applicant, I think it is best not to focus too much on the generic background and bring out specific elements of your educational and professional experience that will help your application.

FrancescaBW: Here's another question from an audience member who couldn't attend today's chat: I'm currently pursuing my fourth year of [school] in a well-known engineering college in India, and I am willing to take the GMAT in August, 2008. I'm planning to work for two years after graduation and then do an MBA. Will LBS consider my 2008 GMAT score as a valid score in 2011? Or do I need to take the test again?

DavidLBS: I'm glad to see that you are planning to apply in a few years when you have some significant relevant work experience. Your GMAT is valid for five years, so you should be fine.

Let me add that there is no official minimum requirement [for work experience], but we expect a lot from every individual in the program. Can you really contribute enough if you have little to refer back to? By experience we mean your professional experience gained after undergraduate level, but we also take time to read about any internships you might have undertaken. People develop the attributes we're looking for at different paces, often depending on how much room they have to grow in their roles.

Certain roles with particular companies will give you a greater depth and variety of experience in three years than seven years elsewhere might offer. Our current class average is around five years, and the full range two to 13 years. If you are at the lower end of the scale, you need to prove to us that you can offer value to your peers who joined the London Business School MBA knowing that much of the learning comes from each other.

FrancescaBW: In the meantime, here is another question -- Are there any health-care related courses available in the LBS curriculum?

DavidLBS: While we do not have an academic specialization in health-care management, I think it's far more important to give you a more rounded education and set of experiences that you can use across sectors. Most people do not remain in any one industry for their whole career these days. Manish, I'll leave it to you to talk about your classmates from that sector and all the amazing club activity that takes place on campus.

ManishLBS: The school has an active health-care club, which organizes plenty of events through the year related to the industry. I have quite a few doctors and health-care consultants in my class. I also know that a sizeable number of students have chosen to work in the health-care industry [consulting, biotech, pharmaceutical] post-MBA and as summer interns.

DavidLBS: A full list of our electives and the concentrations available can be found on our Web site at london.edu/mba/programme/electives.html

FrancescaBW: Yet another question from someone who could not attend today's chat: If a person has recently moved to a new job and is unable to present a "Letter of Recommendation" from the current employer, can he provide the letter of recommendation from the previous employer? Or does this weaken the application?

DavidLBS: We are quite used to this. We recognize that many candidates are in the position of not being able to source a recommendation from a current employer. Don't worry, we understand. You need to let us know in the "Other Information" section of the application so we do not think that you chose to avoid asking your employer for any other reason!

You can use a recommendation from another senior colleague, a previous employer, or even a client. As long as they know you well enough, preferably in a professional capacity, to go into detail about you, we will accept it. Don't just go for a recommendation from your CEO to try and impress us if they don't actually know you. Your choice of recommender reflects on you as well as the content provided.

FrancescaBW: Here's another one: Does LBS offer deferred admission to wait-listed applications? If so, is it somewhat common or only offered in very rare cases?

DavidLBS: Let me talk about how we manage our wait list. Like most top schools we use a wait list through the admissions year to help us recruit our relatively small class. We build an extremely diverse class and every single admit has a role to play. It's important that while recruiting the most talented individuals, we keep track of the way the class is forming.

The number of students placed on and accepted from the wait list varies from year to year, but we always use it. We recognize that it's pretty tough being wait-listed. We communicate regularly and offer people the opportunity to opt out when they feel they can wait no longer. However, the nature of recruiting a class of individuals from very different backgrounds means that sometimes people may drop out even late into the process. If we have a place we always want to fill it. We choose from the list depending on the professional and cultural diversity of the class at that precise point in time and the strengths of individuals available for consideration. At the end of the year when the class is complete, we may offer deferred admission to a small number of candidates, but by no means the whole group.

FrancescaBW: One question everyone seems to be asking is about the availability of scholarships and financial aid. Please explain how much money is available and what students can do to seek help paying tuition.

DavidLBS: Researching your financing options is as important as choosing your schools and applying. It takes a lot of time if you're doing it properly. Spend some time looking at local options, either through government schemes, banks, or foundations. For example, take a look at the standard U.S. loans if you're applying from there.

We have a wide range of scholarships available -- some have specific criteria attached and some are open for all. We have our excellent HSBC-London Business School Loan Scheme, which funds up to pounds 50,000, depending on personal circumstances. We have a limited number of financial need bursaries to help those who might otherwise be unable to join. Our Financial Aid officer helps admitted students look at their options. Check our Web site for full details.

Ribbonman5: Is London Business School affiliated or associated with any U.S. business schools?

ManishLBS: We offer an executive MBA [EMBA-Global] in conjunction with Columbia Business School, which is a 20-month program through which participants receive two MBA degrees -- one from London Business School and one from Columbia. The school has also just launched an EMBA based out of the DIFC in Dubai.

We also have strong exchange programs between the full-time MBA and top U.S.

schools, including Chicago, NYU Stern, Columbia, Kellogg, Wharton, UC Berkeley and other international schools such as IESE, HEC, and CEIBS.

The exchange students that come to London Business School bring very unique perspectives from their schools and enhance the learning experience here. Just this last term we had about 40 students from HKU's business program coming to school for a full term. I did an elective with six of them, and it was great to have their input in class.

alfie73: What is the advantage of the LBS program over your competitors with 12-month programs? Is it just a matter of content and detail?

DavidLBS: There are a number of differences between a traditional two-year program and the shorter 10- to 12-month programs. A key difference is our offering of the 8- to 12-week summer internship. This gives our students the chance to try a new industry or job function or to pursue a specialist interest. Manish, for instance, is currently part of the London Business School summer consulting team.

In addition, the fact that you have several months longer to undertake your studies means that you can take more electives and learn more, spend a term on international exchange, building your global network and working on your language skills, and take full advantage of the range of extracurricular activities that are offered.

carolineb: I'm from the U.S. but worked in London for a year before coming back to the States. While I'm interested in working globally, I wonder how an LBS degree is viewed in the U.S.

DavidLBS: Our students, alumni, faculty, and community at large have a long and significant reach all over the world with a large concentration of alumni in the U.S. In fact, our second largest concentration of alumni is in the U.S. and is growing all the time. I presume that you want to work in an international capacity with a U.S.-based firm? If so, then the London Business School MBA will give you the knowledge, skills, and attributes to differentiate yourself against local competition. Like all job search issues, it all depends on your performance as an individual, but we can help you to develop yourself and prepare for a diverse career ahead.

vsaroyan: I am considering completing an application to LBS after a year and a half of work experience, but I have three-plus years of relevant internships during my college experience. Should I consider applying with a relatively short amount of full-time experience?

ManishLBS: I will give you a student's perspective on work experience. Pre-MBA work experience not only gives you good direction on future career choices but also allows you to enhance your learning from the MBA. I have learned a lot from my peers' anecdotes on specific topics. In areas where I haven't gotten experience of my own, I learn from speaking to my classmates who have. I believe you miss out on a lot of the learning if you come into the MBA prematurely.

nandeetaseth: Will my low GPA [2.9 to 3.2, estimated] be offset by my 700 GMAT and strong quantitative work experience [three years as M&A analyst in an investment bank]?

DavidLBS: We look carefully at everything in your application. If you have a lower-than-average GPA we will look closely at your GMAT and the score breakdown. We focus most on the experiences you've had and what value you can add to your classmates and London Business School community at large. We can also make certain basic assumptions about your abilities by looking at your current role and your career history. For example, it counts for a lot if you proceed through an analyst program with a top firm.

alfie73: Do many of your students finish in 15 months?

DavidLBS: I don't have the exact figure on hand, I'm afraid, but as an indication, 50% of the current first-year class stated that they were intending to finish in less than 21 months. The majority of those completing early tend to complete it in around 18 months rather than 15. The flexibility of the program allows students to change their mind during the program, and we find that many of those who intend to finish early decide to stay on for the full course.

ManishLBS: To follow up, I have realized that there is so much to learn [hundreds of elective choices, club activities, personal development, etc.] that it would be a shame to leave the program in 15 months. I am planning to take all 12 electives and use the opportunity to extract the most from my time at London Business School.

One tremendous aspect of learning at London Business School is the extensive use of simulations for classes. I was amazed at how much insight I got into the world of business very early in the MBA through a day-long simulation where my study group was running a firm and competing with six other teams/firms to survive. I was the vice-president of finance for our simulated firm and realized how critical the role is to a business. We were profitable in a very tough industry and escaped having to take expensive loans. Great experience overall! In addition to that, I think there is a strong emphasis on overall development and not just on business skills. We spent hours polishing up critical skills such as negotiation, listening, presentation, and networking among a host of others.

nandeetaseth: I'm 23, from India, have been working for 2.5 years as an investment banking analyst. I don't have any international experience though. How will this impact my application? And how do I write my essay?

DavidLBS: Not everyone will have already experienced working internationally, but many of the class will. We do, however, expect everyone to have a global mindset and career aspirations that would utilize the unique experiences they gain from time at London Business School.

saurabhsaxena: Are there any specific criteria used while evaluating essays to LBS?

DavidLBS: The essays are a great opportunity for you to shine. This is your chance to show the admissions committee who you are and convince them of your motivations for pursuing an MBA at this point in your career, and specifically "Why London Business School?" There are no specific criteria, but be sure that you answer the question and, wherever possible, build in relevant examples to back up your story. Finally, please try and stick to the word limit!

jamiewilson: What steps has LBS taken to develop links with the social enterprise sector? What challenges do you think this sector faces in the coming few years, and how will it blend with free market capitalism?

DavidLBS: This is a big question and an important one. I won't get time to answer this as fully as I would like. Social enterprise is a theme that is at the forefront of every business school's agenda. Here at London Business School there is a lot happening -- from students taking part in the Global Social Venture Competition to being one of the first business schools to include ethics as a compulsory core course on our program.

We have some exciting faculty research being undertaken in this area; in conjunction with the European Academy of Business in Society, faculty has been contributing to the development of a dozen case studies looking specifically at corporate social responsibility across a range of business models. Just last week, we hosted the first global institute organized by Startingbloc, a very forward-thinking and impressive group of young social innovators -- startingbloc.org/. Also, we have a very active Responsible Business Club that organized the Sustainable Careers Fair. There are plenty of other examples of work the school is involved with, but we're running out of time on this chat.

Baladevan: In the essays, how much should one emphasize his achievements in student life, say in comparison to achievements in work life?

DavidLBS: You can talk about both, so long as they are relevant to the question being asked and it enhances your profile. For instance, if you are writing about a time that you occupied a position of leadership at university, this is directly relevant to your potential as a future leader. We are interested in learning of your achievements in both your personal and professional life.

Dima: Can you please tell me more about the shadowing project?

DavidLBS: Our Shadowing Project is an important part of our MBA program for many students. It gives you the opportunity to "shadow" a leader from any walk of life and see how they operate. Students often choose alumni in high-profile leadership positions, but there have also been some very interesting external choices. One student somehow managed to attend the Oscars alongside the person they shadowed.