What does Oxford Saïd Business School look for in MBA students?

Oxford is a name that’s synonymous with education. As one of the oldest and most famous universities in the world, it still tops global university rankings 800+ years after being founded. Oxford Saïd Business School isn’t quite as old as its parent university, but its reputation is just as notable. Liam Kilby is the Associate Director of MBA Recruitment and Admissions at Oxford Saïd. He explained to us what they look for in MBA students.

“[Our outlook] has shifted from a fairly traditional Oxford outlook of academia to wanting people that are able to go out there and integrate with the world and be a success,” he says. “As we hear from employers that softer skills are becoming more important, we’re looking for that in our candidates, too.” (20:21)

Oxford Saïd’s approach to admissions has changed over the years, along with its values. They expect their MBA students to share those values and are given opportunities throughout the program to explore them further. Liam highlights one area that Saïd places a particular focus on.

He tells us, “We’ll give you a chance to get involved with activities and electives that allow and encourage you to really explore what we feel is really important as a business school: the intersection between traditional business and the role it can play in society.” (01:38)

The Oxford 1+1 MBA

One program that might best reflect the connection between business and society is the Oxford 1+1 MBA. It gives students the chance to pursue both an MBA and a separate master’s in a subject of their choice. This allows them to broaden their knowledge of business and contextualize their MBA by exploring its connections with other areas of study.

“[The 1+1 MBA] is a two-year program and it’s fairly unique among business schools,” Liam elaborates. “It allows you to be at Oxford for two years (rather than one), and in those two years you’ll study two individual master’s degrees.” (03:15)

He adds, “You graduate after two years with the depth of your field of study in year one and the breadth of business knowledge in year two. It’s a really good opportunity for people that know exactly what they want to do and have a bit of a niche passion.” (04:10)

However, Liam cautions that the 1+1 MBA is not easy to get into. Students must be admitted into two separate programs, both of which require totally different skills and experience. The benefits of such a program are huge – not only to students, but to Oxford Saïd as well. Although 1+1 MBA students make up less than 10% of the total MBA cohort, they add to the diversity of the Oxford MBA as a whole.

Diversity with commonality

It’s not unusual for business schools to promote the diversity of their MBA cohort. It’s an essential feature of any top MBA program, and Oxford Saïd is no different. But Liam says that their idea of diversity differs a little from other schools.

“What we like to think we’re good at is diversity of thought more than diversity of regional representation,” Liam explains. “By that, I mean where people have come from in terms of experience in sectors. We’ll have men and women from consulting and finance, of course, but we’ll also have lawyers, doctors, people working in education, even Olympic athletes!” (12:55)

Despite the diversity of their MBA students, Liam says that they all share an appetite to learn from each other and a sense of curiosity.

He says, “In the application process, as part of the interview, we’re looking for that spark, that sense of curiosity that allows us to see that this person wants to be asked these questions – because he or she is already looking to find his or her place as a future global leader.” (15:59)

“Everyone can bring something to Oxford that others can’t”

It’s easy to assume you have no chance of getting into a school like Oxford. After all, it is one of the most famous universities in the world. However, rather than worrying too much about exam scores, GMAT results, or work experience, Liam says to focus on what makes you different from other candidates.

“The impostor syndrome that you have with MBAs in general – but also with MBAs here at Oxford – it’s a real tangible thing,” he admits. “But every [student] is amazing in their own way. Everyone has strengths, everyone has value that they can add that maybe we weren’t able to find in other candidates.” (25:36)

Liam urges, “If you’re out there thinking that you’re not going to try because you’ll never get in [to Oxford] – don’t think that. That’s why my team and I exist. We want to have those conversations with you, we want to hear from you, we want to hear what you can bring, because everyone can bring something that other people can’t.” (26:21)

Although we’re talking about Oxford Saïd, Liam’s advice could apply to any business school. Just like every MBA program is different, every MBA applicant is different. As long as you can show what makes you a unique candidate, leading schools like Oxford Saïd are within your grasp.