Applying to INSEAD

Spanning two continents and with a major presence on a third, INSEAD is making strides toward its goal of being recognized as the preeminent international MBA. The one-year general management program operates on campuses in France and Singapore and maintains an alliance with the Wharton School. Given its goal, INSEAD is in search of applicants who bring significant international exposure, academic excellence, and a solid professional background to the table.

The curriculum itself is general management in nature and lasts for 10 1/2 months. There are two different start dates, one which begins in September and another which begins in January. After receiving admittance into INSEAD, students may state their preference for either the Fontainebleau or Singapore campus. In either case, the program structure is the same and students have opportunities to visit the campus to which they are not assigned. The curriculum is divided into five eight-week periods and calls for students to take 15 required courses and a minimum of seven electives. Electives consist of advanced topics in Finance, Accounting, General Management, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, International Business, Ethics, and Running Family Businesses. Members of the January intake participate in a summer internship between periods three and four.

As far as international diversity goes, you would be hard-pressed to find another business school that rivals INSEAD. No one nationality represents more than 10 percent of the student body and less than half come from Western countries, meaning that the “international student” concept is essentially nonexistent. Students are quick to acknowledge this level of diversity as a differentiating factor, as the learning model gives credence to multiple approaches without showing bias to any. INSEAD also demonstrates its commitment to a global mindset through language requirements. Students must be proficient in at least two languages by matriculation and three by graduation. To establish fit, you should incorporate an international perspective in both your background and in your future goals. The admissions committee will closely evaluate your ability to have an impact on global business, so make sure that your story is not entirely nation-centric.

INSEAD views itself as an academic business institution. This is revealed through the large amount of general research that the school produces in addition to the writing of specific cases. Based on this perspective, INSEAD conducts a thorough assessment of your academic background. Specifically, the admissions committee will look at the reputation of your alma mater(s), your performance in the classroom, and your ability to handle quantitatively rigorous courses. If you don’t have a numbers-intensive background or have not fared well in such classes, consider taking a statistics or finance course at a community college.

Due in-part to the abbreviated duration of the program, INSEAD tends to accept applicants with at least several of years work experience (more than 45 percent have more than five years). The school believes that students with more professional experience are better able to adapt to the one-year curriculum and leverage it in their career development. Indeed, INSEAD takes career development very seriously, as each student is matched up with a mentor to assist with the process. The school even has teleconferencing equipment readily available so that students can interview with firms who are unable to make the trip to campus. Your challenge is to present your professional experiences in a way that highlights your success in the workplace and your ability to contribute to the classroom. Despite INSEAD’s tendency to accept more experienced applicants, you may still want to consider applying if you are younger, as the school does accept a small number of less-experienced applicants each year (about 15 percent of students have two years or less). If you fall into this category, it is even more important that you emphasize the maturity dimension and discuss an array of experiences that are academic, professional, and personal in nature.

Teamwork is an essential part of the INSEAD learning model. The school’s strength in diversity would be pointless if there was no cross-cultural learning involved. As such, students are assigned to study groups of five to seven in order to heighten the learning experience. Groups are diverse across multiple dimensions including: nationality, professional experience, gender, age, and education. Team members work closely together on class assignments and in some cases even exams. Any cross-cultural team-based experiences that you can discuss will go a long way in establishing fit with the INSEAD mission.

Insider Information

While INSEAD has won international acclaim for its advances in business education, it is not resting on its laurels. INSEAD is actively seeking to expand the size of its program, especially the Singapore campus, and there are even discussions of establishing an entirely new campus. INSEAD has room to expand its program in part due to its high yield (approx. 75 percent), which should allow for more opportunities among applicants. With expansion on the way, potential applicants should consider INSEAD even if they are not linguistic geniuses. If you have a true desire to pursue a global career and are willing to put in work to develop your foreign language abilities, then INSEAD might be the business school for you.

What Makes INSEAD Different?

One Program, Two Campuses. Unlike its top American competitors, INSEAD is not affiliated with a larger university. What INSEAD may lose from being affiliated with a larger institution, it gains from having two fully-integrated campuses in Europe and Asia. The French campus is located in the weekend resort town of Fontainebleau, approximately 40 miles south of Paris. The town itself is dominated by one of France’s largest palaces, which served as a hunting lodge for French kings since the 16th Century up until the time of Napoleon. By contrast, INSEAD’s Asian campus is in the middle of highly urban Singapore, a city-state known for its fusion of Chinese, Indian, Malay, and British culture.

One-Year Accelerated Program. Teachers and administrators describe the experience of the one-year accelerated program as “drinking from a fire-hydrant.” Indeed, days are long and studying is intense. The school points out that the cost of a one-year program provides a better return on investment than a traditional two-year program, and many of INSEAD’s graduates would agree. INSEAD’s MBA curriculum matches that of a two-year program, with students attending over 350 class sessions in 10 months, or approximately 80% of the course volume of a traditional, two-year MBA program. Many students arrive with a great deal of knowledge and professional experience under their belt and are better prepared to handle the intense pace and accelerated learning schedule.

“Without actions, the world would still be an idea.”
– Georges Doriot, Co-Founder, INSEAD
Staggered Intakes. INSEAD’s MBA program lasts 10 months and is divided into two staggered classes: one running from January – December (called the January intake) and September – July (called the September intake). Students in the January intake take two months off during the summer to either pursue an internship or to travel in Europe or South East Asia. Both intakes run concurrently on the Fontainebleau and Singapore campuses. In addition to providing a unique international MBA experience, INSEAD also ensures that its students discover exactly how much learning, work, fun and cultural exploration they can pack into 10 months. Few come away without having increased their motivation and capacity to use their time and energy for maximum results.

Mobility. The unique structure of the program with the different campuses – and the number of relationships with other top schools – means that many students move around to different countries to explore educational opportunities through INSEAD in different locales. It is not uncommon for a student to experience six different countries in just the first six months of the program. And, with these very unique experiences of living and working in-country, students can get a feel for what a career in that region would really be like – before accepting a job offer. Employers benefit too, as their new hires bring a sophistication about culture and international business that is unparalleled, and are often more flexible in terms of where they might take new assignments, having the confidence in knowing they can adapt to different environments in the future.

Diversity. Each graduating class of nearly 1,000 students at INSEAD (two intakes) is full of rich and varied backgrounds, more so than any other school in the world. Only about 19% of students speak English as their mother tongue – in fact, 43% speak “other”, meaning too numerous to identify individually. No more than 10% of the class is from any one country.

Fewer Women. Diversity at INSEAD unfortunately doesn’t completely encompass gender. Like other business schools, INSEAD struggles to fill its classes with women, and despite more concentrated efforts and generous financial support to attract more women in recent years, only 33% of students are female. This is a little low compared to some American schools (Stanford has 39% women) but about the same compared to other international programs, and it’s a remarkable improvement from the mere 14% women that INSEAD reported only about five years ago. Many may be surprised to know that Middle Eastern countries are some of the strongest supporters of the education of women, and with INSEAD’s presence in Abu Dhabi and its collaboration with Sheikh Mohammed, the number of women students from this important region may soon be on the increase.

Maturity. Regardless of chronological age, INSEAD requires students to bring maturity to their experiences on campus, and to be self-motivated and proactive about their life. The main reason for this is the pace of the program: once it starts, it doesn’t let up, and it would be easy for an introvert or an emotionally younger person to be overwhelmed. If you get left in the dust out of the gate at INSEAD, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to catch up. You need to be able to make decisions, and be unafraid to dive in. The INSEAD admissions team actively screens candidates for these qualities through the various components they’re evaluating.

Myths and Misperceptions About INSEAD


Application Essays

Job Description Essays

  1. Briefly summarize your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/ products and results achieved. (250 words maximum)
  2. Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. If you were to remain with your present employer, what would be your next step in terms of position? (250 words)
  3. If you are currently not working, what are you doing and what do you plan to do until you start the MBA programme if applicable? (250 words maximum)

Standard Essays

  1. Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (600 words maximum)
  2. Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date (if possible specify one personal and one professional), explaining why you view them as such. (400 words maximum)
  3. Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed. Discuss what you learned. (400 words maximum)
  4. Discuss your short and long term career goals. (300 words) and b) How will studying at INSEAD help you achieve your vision? (250 words)
  5. Please choose one of the following two essay topics:
    a. Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain? (250 words), or
    b. Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (250 words)

All school information appears courtesy of Your MBA Game Plan and is used with express permission of the authors.

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Chicago (Booth) Columbia Dartmouth (Tuck)
Duke (Fuqua) Harvard INSEAD
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NYU (Stern) Penn (Wharton) Stanford
UC Berkeley (Haas) UCLA (Anderson) Yale