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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

  • Is INSEAD really a global school? Or is it just an American school located overseas? While INSEAD may have physical locations in three very different countries, with students representing over 80 nations on campus, and it has been successful in defining itself as a global education, some still criticize INSEAD as being an American school experience, given the large number of U.S. nationals who attend, the concentration of American faculty, and the relationships with so many American companies. In the past, this was simply a reflection of the power of the U.S. in business the world over, and that may be changing. Regardless of nationality, all students and faculty at INSEAD have a global worldview, and all are interested in learning about business from this broader perspective which is simply not as pervasive (yet?) at any American school.
  • “The most important thing business schools can teach today are the foundations of business. That means skills, tools, concepts, and a way of thinking: how to put a structure on unstructured problems, how to develop a framework for execution.”
    – INSEAD Dean Dipak Jain
  • INSEAD is in France so I need to speak French to apply. No – but you need to speak a second language to gain entry (and a third to graduate). Courses are taught in English, not French, and the program rotates through the different campuses – and in fact, applicants to the program are not guaranteed that they will be assigned to one location or the other to start the program, and a large number switch campuses at least once. The main language requirement to apply is to be fluent in English, though students must be familiar with at least one more language before entering, and must demonstrate a working knowledge of a third during the course of study.
  • INSEAD is only good for someone who wants to work in Europe. The location in France can be an advantage if your goals are to stay in Europe however many American graduates do return to the U.S. after finishing school. The job search can be more difficult for these students, but that can be true for American graduates of any international program, including those at London Business School, HEC Paris, IE, IESE, etc.
  • INSEAD students are older. Actually, the average age in each intake is currently 28 – the same as for American schools like NYU and UC-Berkeley Haas. The average age decreased in recent years as INSEAD has accepted a wider range of candidate profiles. Successful applicants at INSEAD definitely are able to articulate how they are ready for the experience, and often students will have already led rich lives with diverse and impressive accomplishments.
  • All INSEAD students are sponsored. Just like with other full-time MBA programs, some students do have their tuition covered by their employers and will return to work after graduation, but the vast majority are self-funded. (The number of sponsored students increased in the past year, no doubt a result of the economic downturn that made the security of staying with their employer more enticing for those pursuing their MBAs.) The major exception to this are students who come from the Big Three consulting firms – McKinsey, Bain and Booz. These students typically are sponsored, in exchange for a commitment to return to their firm. However, candidates may be pleased to note that all three of these marquee companies recruit a large number of additional INSEAD graduates each year.
  • Since it’s a #1 program, INSEAD must require a stratospheric GMAT score to get in. Actually, GMAT scores on average are lower at INSEAD. This program, as some other international schools do as well, values a variety of attributes in a profile, with test scores being just one. As with any MBA program, a high GMAT can help, and a low GMAT can hinder, a candidate’s chances, but there are lots of other factors taken into consideration by the INSEAD Admissions Committee when evaluating an application.