The rich are getting richer, but the choices aren’t getting easier. Having just seated an MBA class chosen from a school-record trove of applications, the UK’s premier business school now is looking at an even bigger admissions cycle for next fall’s Class of 2023. But with next fall’s instruction more likely to be in-person, that means the time for discernment — and rejection of top-tier talent — is nigh at hand.
London Business School received such an “unprecedented volume” of applications in the round that ended September 11 that it was forced to push back by more than a week its initial decision on who would receive interviews, from October 8 to October 16, according to an email to round-one applicants by Admissions Director David Simpson obtained by Poets&Quants. The interviews themselves will be conducted from mid-October to mid-November; LBS also moved back its Admissions Committee’s decision on round-one admits to December 1. It is yet another indication of just how competitive this admissions cycle will be at highly selective MBA programs.
The news of a wave of new applications comes hard on the heels of this month’s start of MBA classes for a cohort drawn from the richest talent pool in school history. LBS’ Class of 2022, also the school’s largest-ever at 533 students, was chosen from a record 2,879 applications, a nearly 16% jump in apps from the previous cycle and more than 5% higher than the previous record set in 2016-2017. The huge number of MBA apps — and the reality of largely remote or hybrid instruction — allowed the school to admit 135 more applicants than it did for the Class of 2021, a 15.6% jump, while seating 36 more students, a 7.2% increase. Put together, these numbers helped the school actually tick its acceptance rate downward a notch, to 34.7% from 34.8%, after it had grown significantly since 2017.
RECORD INTEREST CONTINUES, BUT SCHOOL PLANS TO PARE ENROLLMENT
Between 2018 and 2019, apps to London Business School’s two-year MBA grew only marginally, by just 37 total, or 1.5%. But as coronavirus disrupted the later rounds of the 2019-2020 cycle for most schools in the U.S. and Europe, LBS decided to extend its fourth and final round from April 22 to June 4, a 44-day expansion. That contributed to a massive increase in overall apps from the previous year.
Now comes evidence that the surge is not a short-term phenomenon. According to Simpson’s message to new applicants, sent October 1, so many have already applied to the two-year MBA that they couldn’t be sorted in time to meet the original October 8 deadline for round-one interview decisions. The school adds, however, that it plans to seat only around 500 MBA students next fall, representing a 6.2% reduction from this year’s intake — which means that LBS’ Admissions Committee, comprised of senior admissions staff — has some hard choices ahead.
“We have to make some incredibly tough decisions in order to build our internationally and professionally diverse class of around 500 students,” Simpson writes. “It is this diversity and quality that attracts candidates to apply to LBS, so we work hard to build our classes.”
THE WAIT FOR LBS APPLICANTS CONTINUES
Applicants to LBS’ MBA program have been waiting at least since the second week of September to learn their fate; now they must wait a bit longer. In some cases, applicants are advised, they could use the interregnum to improve their chances by striving for a better exam score. Under the heading “What can I do now?” Simpson continues:
“You’ve done the hard work of putting your application together and taking a GMAT/GRE test. So now you have the challenging wait for the admissions decision. We appreciate that this can be a nervous time for you. If your test score is a long way below our average of 700, you could consider retaking it to make your application more competitive at final Admissions Committee consideration in November. But only you know what your likely maximum score is.”
LBS’ second-round application deadline for admission to the Class of 2023 is January 5, 2021, with interview decisions made by February 9 and admission decisions by March 31. The school’s third-round deadline is March 4, with interview notices promised by April 14 and offers by May 25; and its fourth and final round app deadline is April 27, with interview offers by May 18 and admission offers by June 22.
A NOTE OF CAUTION: ‘IS THIS MORE OR IS THIS EARLY?’
Speaking on a panel at Poets&Quants‘ CentreCourt event Tuesday (October 6), Simpson described how his admission team’s years of experience went out the window when the pandemic struck in March — and how the strangeness of the “new normal” continues this fall. He adds, however, that he isn’t assuming LBS will see such a high volume of applications all the way through its four rounds.
“Even with 20-plus years’ experience, it was like doing everything for the first time again,” says Simpson, who has been with LBS for 22 years in a variety of capacities. “All our forecasting went out the window. ‘Who will come? Is anybody still wanting to study business?’ And it turned out they were clamoring to get in all of our schools.
“So we ended up with a class that is slightly bigger, not noticeably that much bigger, and we started in a virtual format that turned into the launch of ‘hybrid rid school,’ as we’re calling it. So we have ‘roomies and roomies,’ so people will be in the lecture theatres in socially distant spaces and others will be joining with us virtually. And we are set up to do that for as long as it takes, really. It seems to have gone very well and the students seem to be very happy. They are obvious limitations to what they can do on campus, but they’re still finding plenty of opportunities to meet, and they’re still all arriving as well. Not everyone arrived at one time, and it’s been quite easy to do, quite fluid — less pressure to get every visa on a certain day, more straightforward after a rather complicated time in the summer when all the offices around the world weren’t open.
“It was a challenging late summer, but we had a stack of applications and we’re starting the year the way we ended it — with a huge volume of applications. And I’m delighted. It’s meant that we’re extremely busy and we can kiss goodbye to the weekends for a little while, but we’re having some great applications.
“To me, it’s always a case of, ‘Is this more, or is this early?’ I’m always cautious that maybe everyone is getting in a little early because they know it’s going to be fiercely competitive, so I’m not presuming that we will have the huge increases that we have right now in round one all the way through the year. Maybe we will, but I think it would be foolish to make that assumption. So, like the end of last year, we’re just getting to grips with what we’ve got coming in and what it means for us, but we will be recruiting the same kind of class — maximizing the diversity, and within some groups there is greater competition. But we know what we are looking for, and we’ll have a go.”
See Simpson’s full message to round-one applicants below.