MBA Admissions Q&A: INSEAD |

MBA Admissions Q&A: INSEAD

By Mike Grill

Updated February 18, 2021 Updated February 18, 2021

With full-time MBA programs that run in parallel from campuses in France and Singapore, INSEAD has an established reputation at the height of QS’s regional rankings for both Europe and Asia-Pacific.

If INSEAD features as highly on your list of potential target schools, you might find it useful to learn that approximately half of its applicants apply only to INSEAD – something the school’s very proud of, according to it’s director of marketing, admissions and financial aid, Pejay Belland.

In the following Q&A, Belland outlines the process by which candidates who make it through “pre-selection” are interviewed in their country of residence by INSEAD alumni before the school’s admissions team makes their final evaluation. She also highlights INSEAD’s interest in candidates with international exposure, reasoning that they “will typically have perceptive insights into the complexities of business in different international settings, which of course enriches the classroom experience for others.” Read on to learn more:

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

We do not publicize our acceptance rate since there is a lot of self-selection compared to other schools before application and, indeed, in our discussions with future candidates we actively discourage some from applying if we don’t feel that INSEAD is the right place for them. Our goal is to ensure that INSEAD is the right place for them. What this means is that about half of our applicants only apply to INSEAD, which we’re very proud of.

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

As INSEAD is an international school with no dominant nationality – in fact no group is larger than 10-12% - and of course with campuses on three different continents (the school's third campus is in Abu Dhabi), we don’t have a typical ‘domestic’ group since a French student studying in Singapore is international and a Singapore student studying in France is also international.

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

We look at many other aspects which are equally weighted as part of the application evaluation process. On the academic side, we also look at academic performance based on the candidate’s past transcripts from other schools. In addition to looking at the current job position we evaluate how a person has evolved and how their recommenders evaluate their potential for leadership. We also look at candidates’ international motivation - those who have lived or worked outside of their home country will typically have perceptive insights into the complexities of business in different international settings, which of course enriches the classroom experience for others.

Finally, we look for candidates who are able to share their own experiences, learn from the experiences of others and bring value to the program experience, both inside and outside of the classroom. We are looking for candidates who are mature, who are going to teach as much as they learn through their own insights and who have strong communication and interpersonal skills – exchange and learning among the participants is as important as class instruction.

What is a common mistake you see applicants make?

One mistake can be applicants’ choice of recommenders – rather than choosing somebody who knows them well in a professional context and is able to provide good insights into their leadership potential, they choose a CEO or somebody senior in their company who doesn’t know them well at all. And it shows! Choosing recommenders who know you and are able to speak about your competencies and potential is far more important than choosing somebody for their title.

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

As the goal of the application is to get to know the applicants as well as possible, there is an option for applicants to share additional presentations of successes they’re proud of, such as a PowerPoint overview of a specific achievement, a newspaper article about a project they’ve been working on, or a book review if they’ve written a book. We encourage them to express themselves more freely!

What does the INSEAD application process look like?

Once an application is complete, it is read by an evaluator before entering a pre-selection process. Successful candidates at this stage will then be invited to two interviews in their country of residence. These take place with alumni and we currently have a pool of over 2,000 alumni interviewers throughout the world. The interviewers return their reports to the team and the application will be read a second time and, in some cases, a third time before going to our admissions committee which evaluates all the different elements of the application and makes a final decision.

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

I think probably the visa process is the biggest concern among our admitted students due to the international dimension of our program. While it’s quite simple for a majority of nationalities, it can be quite challenging for others (depending on the campus they start on) and so we have someone on campus in both Singapore and Fontainebleau to help our students obtain their visas. We do recognize that this can be quite difficult for some of our students and so strive to help them through the process as much as possible.

How can a candidate overcome a lower GMAT score?

As mentioned above, we look at many other elements in addition to the GMAT so that a lower GMAT does not mean an automatic rejection just as a higher GMAT does not mean an automatic accept! The GMAT is a good predictor of academic success and we want to ensure that our students succeed during this intensive program, so if the GMAT is on the lower side we also look closely at academic transcripts. These might reassure us that the candidate will be able to handle the courses.   

MBA admissions tips

Essay(s): Be yourself.

Interview: Same as above, and don’t forget that the interview is a two-way dialogue so it’s also an opportunity for you to get to know INSEAD better and thus, ensure that you are choosing a program which is right for you.

Letter(s) of recommendation: Make sure that they are professional and from someone who knows you well.

CV/résumé: This provides us with a brief overview of your professional story so far, so ensure that it is succinct but that it also includes your achievements in your most recent roles.

School visit: We recommend it!


This article was originally published in November 2015 . It was last updated in February 2021

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