Wednesday, May 26, 2004

The London Experience

I wish I hadn't gone to Open Weekend at LBS ! No, not really. I had a grand time, so nice that I don't think I can live with not getting off the waitlist after seeing what a cool place it is ! It was a long weekend and i'll try to recollect in chronological order.

Friday 7:00 PM
Still in line at the Virgin baggage check at Logan. Got there a little late but the lines were incredible. It was funny to see the BA counter almost empty though they had a flight out. While I was waiting in line, I had some sort of red sticker put on my passport which guaranteed the most stringent of checks at every stage of security. This also ensured that my checked in baggage got green stickers on them that said 'do not load' and 'extra attention'. But, this also meant that I could skip the long lines for the hoi polloi at security check and be escorted to the extra security checkpoint, which was empty. After the summary checks, I rushed to the terminal to find that the flight was delayed a half-hour. And, incredibly, a fire alarm went off at the airport ! I don't know what it was about, but this delayed our boarding and the flight took off a full hour late.

Saturday 8:30 AM
Finally out of the airport. Tried calling my friend but no response. Wanted to see if I could get a room for the day at the airport hotel, but it was like 120 pounds. jeez. tried a few more times and finally woke her up, got directions, and on the Tube to Earl's Court. Realized there was no way I was going to make the 9:00 start. Got to her place, quick shower and change, and decided to cab it to school as I was running late already. 14 pounds, cab fare.

Satuday 10:30 AM
MBA 2006

I can't tell you how good i felt seeing my name badge. It's the first time I've seen an MBA tag next to my name. still not there yet, but it was cool nonetheless. Picked up the welcome materials, and because i missed breakfast, trotted along hungry, coffee-less, and jet lagged to one of the planned sessions. The first one was on student clubs, with tables by the various clubs. What was really strange was that the four people I spoke with were all on the waitlist last year. This was repeated throughout the day. Seems like London really does have a lot of movement off the waitlist. A very encouraging sign indeed. And they were all very encouraging too - don't worry you'll get in was the common refrain from the current students. Signed up for the Entrepreneurs, Football, Sailing and Latin clubs. Also met a student who used to work in the London office of my company and another who's going to Bangalore for an internship this summer.

Next up, was a campus tour. LBS is located in a Nash Terrace overlooking Regent's Park. It's a location that can't be beat right in the city. It's a self contained campus with a leafy quad to boot. I would say the facilities are on par with any of the top b-schools I've visited. Of course, Wharton and HBS are in a class of their own. We also walked over to another building across the street that houses the exec-ed, library and gym/swimming pool. There's a small cafe for food, a huge formal-style dining room, and a bar in the main building. Adequate number of study rooms, each with their own PC's and printers.

After the tour, and still with no time for coffee, we went to a panel session on career services. The officer is ex-Mckinsey and it was an impressive session. Apparently, numbers for internships and job offers this year are looking very good. LBS has a grade non-disclosure policy, which is a big plus. They have also tinkered with the curriculum, moving up strategy and finance core courses earlier in the year to better help prepare students for the consulting and finance internship interviews that happen during the so-called Milk Round. The new officer also has a team of industry veterans in the career office organized on industry lines. The presentation was followed by a Q&A with a panel of 1st and 2nd year students. An intersting note is that there is no bidding process for jobs, you can apply to whatever jobs you want to, and the school sees itself as a facilitating agency bringing the best companies in front of the best students.

Next up, finally, lunch. There was a welcome speech by Dean Tyson that touched on the strengths of the school, why she decided to come here, what they have achieved, and the advantages of being in London. I was also interviewed by a couple of students for a piece they are doing to go on the website. The highlight was that I got to talk with David Simpson, the top Admissions guy. The salient points :
- there is usually significant movement off the waitlist every year, am still in with a decent chance
- the waitlist is not ranked. it is assessed based on the composition of the class at time of review
- they will let us know if there is any obvious area of the application needs more information
- it is OK to send in extra information about progress in jobs/goals/etc since the application was sent in.
- they do view attending the Open Weekend as a positive sign of interest in the school, though not very much to be fair to those who could not make it due to financial or time constraints.

This guy is an overall class act. I think Derrick Bolton and he are the two best AdComs I have met during this admissions process. Oh, and I managed to get my first cup of coffee. Which was a good thing, because I would have fallen asleep in the sessions that followed.

There were two sessions after lunch. The first was 'a day in the life of an MBA student'. an entertaining presentation, including a video diary, by two students - a 1y and 2y, both American followed by a Q&A. LBS does not have a bidding process for electives, probably don't need this because of the small class size a la Tuck. You can have a major or not, and extra-curricular activities are a big part of life there. A small community of 300 students also adds to the sense of camaraderie. This was followed by a kick-ass class conducted by one of the LBS professors. It was on Decision Sciences and very involved and interesting.

Saturday, 7:30 PM
After an hour at a Pub round the corner, we filed back to the quad for dinner, which was barbeque, with live music. Great food, and great conversations with the admits and other waitlisters. This school truly defines international. The 'Indians' I met there were from Delhi, Australia, UK, US and Canada ! I didn't count, but there must have been over 30 countries represented that day. More than the countries of origin, almost all students seem to have had varied international experiences. The name tags were often times deceptive. Spoke with an Egyptian woman - turns out she works in Germany. Ditto with someone from the UK - works in Paris. And the range of professional backgrounds was diverse too - a buyer for a department store, a doctor, a government administrator, bankers, marketers, consultants. As would be expected, I guess.

After a good dinner, the party moved to MBAr, the bar on campus. This is where they have Sundowners on Thursday nights after end of classes where the booze is free, sponsored by some company or the other. On saturday, the drinks were flowing, there was a live band, dancing, and i got myself one of those removable tattoos that said LBS :-) Would have stayed till the end of the party but my jet lag caught up with me and I made my way home around midnight.

Woke up around noon, and went to visit Goodenough College in the heart of the city. This is a private establishment, built in the tradition of British residential colleges. It was initially built as a place for visiting commonwealth students to stay but has since expanded to welcome students from all over the world who are in London to pursue postgraduate studies. I am quite taken by this place, and if I make it to LBS, would like to stay here. I think it would complete the entire college experience. The only catch - a 500 word essay about how I would contribute to the community at the college and my home country once I finish my education, is required for acceptance :-)

After that, back to LBS. The students had organized an afternoon in Regent's Park. LBS location is simply superb, right on the edge of an enormous park. Sunday was beautiful and the park was filled with people. We found an empty spot and indulged in some touch rugby and frisbee. I realized that i'm not in the kind of shape i thought i was, at least for rugby. Sat around and chatted up with students and their partners. It was a nice, relaxed way to end my visit. We were there until 5 PM and said our good-byes.

I had the morning to kill and the admissions folks, who I wanted to go meet, were out of office that day. So, decided to take in some London. Found myself on the Millenium Bridge towards the Tate Modern. What a museum ! Originally a Power Station, it has been exquisitely converted by Herzog and de Meuron into a cutting-edge museum. And the art inside is top-notch too. There are cafes on the 2nd and 7th floors with amazing views of London. Glad I went there. After the visit, it was back to the airport and on a flight home.

Final thoughts:
The school is quite different from the US schools I've visited. The most obvious difference is the student body. I think one doesn't get the full import of what they mean by a global business school unless one visits. I was looking at the activities that the Latin/South American club had for the past weeks, and there were things related to half-a-dozen countries from Mexico to Peru. We got into a conversation about EU expansion and there was a frenchman, spaniard, brit and italian with their points of view. We even had two women of Mongolian descent, one from the US and other from UK.

It is also a small school, has very much the feel of Tuck, with its class size of 300. Step out on one side of the building and you could be in Hanover, with the huge expanse of greenery in front of you. But, take the other exit and you're in the bustle of a happening world city. Terrific access to recruiters of all kinds, Columbia/Stern-like in this respect. It is also a campus of its own, albeit small, and not another building in a bigger university. The other advantage is the chance to travel. Europe is at your doorstep. RyanAir has 1 pound one-way rates to a range of cities from Salzburg to Stockholm, take your pick !

Of course, there are the downsides. The biggest one is probably the strong pound sterling which makes this the most expensive MBA program right now. The cost of living in London is ridiculous. My Chai Latte at Starbucks was 2.34, in pounds ! It's 2.84 in USD here. If you want to move back to the US, job search can be stressful, because of the location. Also, the alumni network is spread, arguably thin, around the globe and could be a matter of concern based on personal career plans.

I like it, though.


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