London Business School follows in the steps of a number of top MBA programs this year in streamlining and downscaling its application essay requirements, going from six questions and 1,750 allotted words to three questions and 1,200 words. Two of the current prompts are reminiscent of several questions from last year—asking about applicants’ future plans and potential contributions to the school—but LBS throws candidates a curve with its unique third query, which takes a new angle on the relationship between MBA students and their school. Overall, LBS’s questions are much broader than ever before (and than most other schools’ prompts), which may be daunting to some applicants, but we encourage you to see this wide canvas as an opportunity rather than something intimidating. One of the school’s admissions officers explains on the department’s blog that the change in the scope and style of the questions was meant “to allow you more freedom in the way you go about constructing your essays.” We hope our analysis of LBS’s essay prompts will help you use this leeway to your advantage.
The essay questions for the class of MBA 2016 are:
What will your future look like after completing your MBA? (500 words)
Although most business schools ask candidates to provide an explanation of their post-MBA aspirations, LBS’s question is unique in that it provides no real restrictions or guidelines in how the applicant’s “future” might be defined. Unlike in previous years, the school does not specify or request short-term goals, long-term goals, desired position or target industry and does not even stipulate that the candidate must focus exclusively on his or her career. This could be in part because the school recognizes that aspiring MBAs’ goals can often change as these individuals progress through business school because of what they learn and experience, the people they meet along the way, how the business landscape might change and other factors. So LBS may simply want to see how fully and how far in advance you have envisioned your post-MBA life, and perhaps even if you have put any thought into a “plan B,” should your original aspirations not play out as hoped. You may be tempted to adopt the more familiar short- and long-term goal approach when writing this essay for the school, but we would encourage you to allow yourself—as LBS has—to take a wider, more encompassing view and embrace a less restrictive format for your response.
Despite the school’s somewhat unusual take on this query, the content involved in many ways mirrors what you would provide for a traditional personal statement. And because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.
What value will you add to London Business School? (300 words)
The school is undoubtedly aware of what it can offer candidates seeking an MBA degree, and this question seems to imply that it is not interested in hearing applicants parrot these advantages back to it. Instead, it focuses solely on what the aspiring MBA would contribute to LBS, ostensibly in a way that would make the environment and experience better for all involved. The school wants to know you have chosen its program for specific reasons—essentially because you see yourself as a good fit for LBS and it for you. We can assume, then, that you must possess some qualities that align directly with LBS in particular, and these are the elements of your profile that you want to emphasize here. What strengths do you possess that would prove valuable in a business school setting? What is special about you or your background that could add a unique element to the LBS community? In addition to skills and experience, consider character traits, such as a sense of humor, honesty, dependability and the like.
You will then need to tie your highlighted assets to specific elements of the school’s program and demonstrate how your contribution to those offerings will affect them in a positive way. This means that you must first develop a true understanding of everything LBS has to offer, so you will need to fully research its resources—faculty, courses, clubs, research centers, experiential opportunities, facilities, events, initiatives, etc. You should then be able to clearly identify which specific offerings best align with your proposed contributions and demonstrate a connection between them.
What is the School’s responsibility to you and what is your responsibility to the School? (400 words)
Some candidates view business school as a fast and “easy” way of transitioning from one career level to another and of notably increasing their income level, believing that once they are enrolled in an MBA program, the school will take care of the rest and find them good jobs at coveted firms. In truth, however, successfully accomplishing these changes and improvements requires that both the student and the school put forth their best and work in concert. With this question, LBS seems to be shining a spotlight on this dynamic and wants to know that you recognize and accept it as well—and are ready to do your part. The relationship between an aspiring MBA and his or her chosen business school should be a long-lasting one that is beneficial to both parties. Your job in this essay is to illustrate your understanding of this, your readiness to engage and your fit with the program, so that the relationship will be mutually favorable.
Most applicants likely feel that the primary responsibility any business school has to its students is to provide the kind and level of education it promises. If you are having trouble identifying anything beyond this, though, try imagining what you might find disappointing if you were to not experience it while at LBS or later in your career as an alumnus/alumna. This could shed some light on what you truly expect from the program.
To address the other half of this equation, start by considering what you believe a student’s role should generally be in relation to his or her program and explain what you are prepared to do to effectively fulfill this role. We would suggest then doing the necessary research to gain a thorough grasp of what LBS values and placing particular emphasis in your essay, wherever possible, on the areas where this directly aligns with the role you envision for yourself.
Just as an example, the school lists “lifelong networks” on its site as one of the three reasons candidates should choose its program, and in a blog post about the school’s essay questions, an admissions officer declares, “We pride ourselves on our strong relationships with our students and our students remain close to LBS many years after graduation. So we are looking for applicants who will be part of the LBS family for life.” One can deduce, then, that a strong post-graduation relationship with the school is likely something LBS would want from its alumni, and if this is indeed something you already believe will be the case for you—perhaps by being an active member of the alumni network, returning to the school for club events or student mentorship, participating in its executive education offerings or sending the employees you will someday supervise to do so—this is the perfect opportunity to share those intentions, thereby illustrating that this would be part of your anticipated “responsibility to the school.”
Of course, the school has many other values—as do you—so fully explore all your options. Consider LBS’s other stated pillars, experiential knowledge and international outlook, for inspiration, and comb its materials for information about additional core messages and beliefs. Also, give thought to the kind of student you expect to be. For example, part of your “responsibility to the school” as a student could involve always respecting your professors and classmates, dedicating a portion of your time to giving back to the surrounding community or serving as an ambassador to the next year’s applicants. In short, identify and share what you see yourself contributing both while you are in the program and throughout the rest of your life and career, and wherever possible, put special emphasis on any areas that overlap with ones LBS also deems important.