MBA Admissions Q&A: Oxford Saïd

MBA admissions interview with Oxford Saïd

An MBA program has been offered by the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School since the school’s foundation in 1996.

The school now ranks second only to London Business School among business schools in the UK , and third across Europe as a whole, according to the QS Global 200 Business Schools Report 2014/15.

You can read an interview with Oxford Saïd’s dean, Peter Tufano, in which he discusses the progress the school has made and the direction it is now seeking to take by following this link. Here, however, we concentrate on how to win a place in the Oxford MBA class with the school’s associate director of MBA recruitment, Raquel Lison.

In this Q&A, Lison says that Oxford Saïd is looking for candidates that want to make an impact “in aspects that go far beyond the pure business sense.” From the applicant’s perspective, meanwhile, she emphasizes the importance in ensuring that the school is right for them, “culturally, personally, and professionally.” Read on to learn more:

What is the typical acceptance rate to the Oxford MBA program?

Our acceptance rate is around one in four. We review each application individually and holistically, so we advise candidates not to focus on the acceptance rate but to use the application process to really show who they are, what they are passionate about, how they want to impact the world, and why Oxford Saïd is the right fit for them.

What is a typical ratio of domestic to international students accepted into the program?

The Oxford MBA is hugely international with 95% of this year’s class coming from outside of the UK. There are 54 different countries represented in this year’s MBA so there are no majority nationalities; this creates a unique learning environment in which students develop global understanding and true cultural awareness.

What are the most important aspects of the Oxford MBA application process besides GMAT score, prior GPA, and current job position?

We look for people who want to make an impact not only in the world of business but also in aspects that go far beyond the pure business sense. We look for applicants who are ready to grapple with some of the most complex challenges the world is facing today. From big data to an aging population or water scarcity, our applicants need to be ready to deal with ethical dilemmas, complex problem solving and ultimately, take responsible decisions in turbulent times. We will also look at the career progression an applicant has experienced to date.

What is a common mistake you see applicants make?

Mentioning other schools’ names in application essays and applying with a generic letter are big mistakes. We want candidates to have invested time in their application so that we can gain an honest perspective on who they are and why they want to pursue an MBA at Oxford Saïd. 

What is something you would like to see applicants do more often?

I think it’s important for applicants to research the school and understand how the program fits in with their plans. We would like to ensure that Oxford is a good home for our MBAs and therefore, understanding how well the program can fit with what they are trying to achieve personally and in their careers, makes the process a lot easier.

What does the Oxford Saïd application process look like?

Before candidates go through the full application process, they are able to submit their CV to our admissions team, who will provide feedback on each individual’s suitability for the Oxford MBA. This is a really valuable way to get some insight into what we look for in MBA students, and also helps us to draw out each person’s unique strengths and weaknesses, which they need to then address in their application.

We have an online application process which involves submitting two essays, a completed application form, two professional or academic references, GMAT or GRE scores, academic transcripts, a one-page CV, and if necessary, TOEFL or IELTS scores. We have six application stages going up until June, though I recommend people apply as early as possible – our next deadline is 8 January 2016.

Once an application has been submitted, it will be reviewed in detail by our admissions committee and strong candidates will be invited to interview. We hold interviews all over the world, at the school – which is a great opportunity to really understand the unique environment of Oxford – and also over Skype. The purpose of the interview is not only to help us understand what motivates an applicant and how they aim to implement what they learn at Oxford to make real world impact, but also for the applicant to understand Oxford Saïd. The admissions process isn’t just designed for us to select our MBA class; it’s also for the applicant to confirm that the Oxford MBA is the right choice for them. It’s vital that each applicant seizes the opportunity to really explore whether the School will be the right fit culturally, personally, and professionally – I think this point is often overlooked.

What are some of the tests, official documents, and other hurdles that international students must negotiate?

Translation of undergraduate transcripts is one thing that international applicants may sometimes forget to do.

How can a candidate overcome a lower GMAT score?

The school will assess each applicant holistically and a low GMAT score does not disqualify you to enter the program (neither does a high one guarantee entry). Ensuring you have the right level of responsibility within your work experience, that your essays are polished, personal and written to a good standard, and that your undergraduate result was of a high level, can compensate for a lower GMAT score. There is always the option to re-take the GMAT if you didn’t obtain the score you were after – we will only consider the highest score achieved.

Candidates must remember that the GMAT is only one indication of them being able to cope with the course numerically and verbally. Throughout the program they will be asked to complete mathematical formulas at exams or write essays against the clock and GMAT preparation can help with that.

MBA admissions tips

Essay(s): Spellcheck and proofread your essays to catch errors – it’s often helpful to take some time away from your essays so that you can come back with fresh eyes.

Interview: Be yourself and be honest, but remain professional.

Letter(s) of recommendation: Ask someone who knows you well instead of the CEO of the company where you work. If they don’t know you or remember you, you are likely to receive a very generic letter.

CV/résumé: Less is more! Stick to one page résumés…

School visit: While you should prioritize the program and the school, you also need to establish if you’re going to be happy spending a year in Oxford, and a visit can really help you to understand the atmosphere of the city. When visiting Oxford Saïd, we can introduce you to staff, faculty and students which will give you a rounded view on whether the program is a good fit for you. We understand that many candidates cannot travel to Oxford so we host events all over the world that are attended by our staff, faculty and alumni. These events give greater insight into the program, school and Oxford, so I’d definitely recommend that prospective students attend one in a city near them.

Written by Mike Grill

Mike's remit covers content, SEO and blogger outreach. Outside of his work for TopMBA.com, he is an assistant coach for MLU outfit, the Portland Stags.

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