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Be sure to read my Key Posts on the admissions process. Topics include essay analysis, resumes, recommendations, rankings, and more.

September 01, 2009

London Business School Fall 2010 MBA Application Essay Questions

At the time I write this, London Business School has not yet updated their website, but their newsletter of 8/31/09 (Thanks to a client who told me about this!), indicates that their essay questions for the Class of 2012 (August 2010 admission) will not change from those of the Class of 2011 (August 2009 admission).

While LBS is attending the The World MBA Tour event here in Tokyo tonight, for whatever reason they are not having their own event here this autumn (at least they have not announced it yet). So I will keep my comments about the event I attended last year in Tokyo on October 7th (you can see my full twittering of the event, if you go to this page and start with "02:57 AM October 07, 2008 from mobile web"). At that event, I was again reminded of the strength of the LBS alumni network, the quality of its academic research (something LBS prides itself on), its core competencies in finance and international business, and unfortunately, the admissions offices' unwillingness to provide applicants with any information on acceptance rates. As someone who believes applicants should be able to make informed choices based on transparent admissions processes, I was disappointed to hear that LBS admissions did not feel such information was necessary to provide. I asked the admissions officer, but did not debate her. I never debate with admissions as there is no point in doing so. Now that my rant is out of the way, I will proceed to analyze the essay questions for a school that in all other aspects, I consider to be one of the best. I have worked with a number of clients admitted to LBS. You can find a testimonials from three of them here. For an interesting perspective on LBS, please see the Q&A I conducted with one of my former clients.

Q1. In what role do you see yourself working immediately after graduation? Why? How will your past and present experiences help you achieve this? How will the London Business School MBA Programme contribute to this goal? Why is this the right time for you to pursue an MBA? (600 words)
Q2. Where do you see your career progressing five years after graduation and what is your longer term career vision? (200 words)
I think it is helpful to look at these two questions together. Many schools (INSEAD for example) would put these two questions together, but LBS does not. If you need to do initial brainstorming on your goals, please see my analysis of Stanford Essay 2 as it will help you on conceptual level with these two questions. Assuming your goals are clear and you know why you need an MBA, you can proceed to writing Questions 1 and 2.

I don't think this is just an administrative decision, but rather an indication that they are looking for applicants who can put together a very clear post-MBA plan. They want applicants who are focused on their immediate post-MBA career from the outset. In this respect, LBS is the total opposite from a school like MIT that believes that an MBA is transformative and that ones post-MBA plans will come out of the educational experience. By clearly separating the immediate post-MBA plan from the rest of your goals, LBS requires you to be specific. Make them believe in the reality of what you want to do. Make it real, not a "dream." The LBS approach seems to have little room for the medium/longer term, specifically 200 words.

As stated above, give them a plan. Show how specific parts of your past experience support that plan. State clearly what parts of the LBS program will make that plan possible. Explain very clearly why now is the right to time to execute this plan. You should not be writing about abstract goals, only about your post-MBA plan, that first job once you graduate from LBS.

The order you answer this question is really up to you, but I think it is very important that your answer not become overburdened by discussing your past experience at the expense of discussing your plans and why LBS is right for you. Keep in mind that you should be using your past experience as evidence to support your plan. Therefore, make sure that anything you say about your past experience is included for the sole purpose of showing its value to your plan and to the necessity for obtaining an MBA now.

Given the economic downturn and the weak job market, assume that LBS is very concerned that your post-MBA plan be realistic. Do the necessary research to make them believe you know what you are writing about.

For Questions 1,3, and 4, you need to know quite a bit about LBS. The more you know the better. Fully explore the LBS website, get in touch with alums, and even contact students. WATCH MBA TV! Do whatever it takes to become sufficiently informed about the school. Attend events if you can and even better, go visit if that is possible. The school has strengths beyond finance, entrepreneurship, and international business, so explore them. Figure out specifically what parts of the program will most effectively assist you succeeding at your post-MBA plan.

Have a very clear five-year post-MBA goal. While it might be the case that you will change jobs within that initial five years, I suggest for this purpose that is best that you don't, but rather show how you will grow and develop in your career. Assume continuious realistic growth over those five years. As to the longer term career vision, give them a full indication that your goals are consistent with the idea that you are a capable leader.

Q3. Please describe your experience of working in and leading teams, either in your professional or personal life. Include any specific challenges you have faced. Given this experience, what role do you think you will play in your first year study group? (500 words)

In 500 words, you should try to cover two to three different aspects of your team experiences. I think there are two options for doing this: One is to focus on a single situation and the other is to focus on multiple situations. While I have had clients admitted using both forms, most choose the second option. Even if you focus on single situation, you had better clearly show how different aspects of your teamwork and team leadership will enable you to contribute to your study group.
If you chose to focus on multiple experiences, make sure each experience represents something different. One possible mix might be one recent professional team experience, one experience during your university years, and one relating to a current extracurricular activity. Of course, it is possible to focus solely on professional experiences. In addition to wanting to know about your team experiences and how they will add value to other students, London Business School wants to know how you will contribute to the school as a whole. I look at this question as quite similar to a specialized form of the very standard contribution question.

One way I like to think about contribution questions is to use a matrix such as the following:


I use the above matrix for all types of contribution questions, modifying the categories to fit the question. When it comes to contribution questions, I think it is important to tell specific stories that highlight specific ways you will add value to your future classmates. Here the focus is on how your leadership skills will specifically contribute to your first year study team. It is critical that you understand the role of the first year study team at LBS.
Q4. Student involvement is an extremely important part of the London MBA experience and this is reflected in the character of students on campus. What type of student club or campus community events will you be involved with and why? How will you contribute? (400 words)
This is also a contribution question, but quite different in both theme and structure from Q3. This question is certainly not like the more standard contribution questions above because it is completely future focused, whereas the typical contribution question is about showing how the past will be utilized for the future. Here you should certainly explain why you would want to lead a particular club or event and while this may relate to the past, you should really use this essay to show what you want to gain from LBS. In fact, this question is both about what you will contribute and what you will learn/experience at LBS. Effective answers to this question require solid knowledge about LBS, so that you can think really practically about your answer to this question. Keep in mind that this question is not really very hypothetical because students are expected to get leadership experience through clubs and events. While you should certainly writing about fun clubs and events, you should also consider using this as a way of discussing something that you provide you with valuable opportunities for enhancing your ability to reach your professional objectives. It is reasonable to write on 2-3 different topics here.

Q5. Describe any significant experiences outside of your home country. What did you gain from these? (150 words)

This question is not optional.
Actually, I am at a loss to know how someone should answer this if they have never left their home country. That probably means LBS is not a good option for them. To be honest, even my clients with limited international experience have at least had some and always been able to answer this. If you have no international experience, go take a trip to another country before you apply. I am serious.

The usual problem my clients encounter is how to even minimally account for their international experience in 150 words. My advice is to focus on 1-3 key experiences which had a significant impact on you. Clearly some people with large amounts of international experience will find themselves providing a pretty macro-level answer, but even so, try to be specific about what you gained.

Q6. (This question is optional) Is there any other information that you believe would help the MBA Admissions Committee when considering your application? (300 words)
This question is completely open-ended. I highly recommend using it discuss something positive as well as any concerns you may have (bad GPA, low GMAT, no recommendation from your supervisor, etc.). What is that one additional story that LBS really needs to know about you? Use this answer to provide admissions with another reason to invite you to an LBS interview.

Questions? Write comments or contact me directly at adammarkus@gmail.com. Please see my FAQ regarding the types of questions I will respond to. Before emailing me questions about your chances for admission or personal profile, please see my recent post on "Why I don't analyze profiles without consulting with the applicant." If you are interested in my graduate admission consulting services, please click here.
-Adam Markus
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