London Business School vs INSEAD MBA programs - Experts' Admissions Tips |

London Business School vs INSEAD MBA programs - Experts' Admissions Tips

By Pavel Kantorek

Updated April 30, 2016 Updated April 30, 2016

In a previous article, took a head-to-head look at the London Business School and INSEAD MBA programs, Europe’s two most prestigious in the eyes of MBA employers. But what does it take for candidates to earn a place on the London Business School and INSEAD MBA programs?

Pejay Belland is director of admissions, marketing and financial aid at INSEAD, and David Simpson is admissions director for MBA & Masters in Finance, degree programs at London Business School.

Here they answer’s questions on what it takes to gain a place at one of Europe’s top two business schools.

Who is the ideal candidate?

Pejay Belland (INSEAD): “While there is no ‘ideal’ candidate for INSEAD, the admissions team is looking for candidates who meet a number of key criteria.

Namely, candidates who have achieved excellent academic credentials, including strong GMAT/GRE scores and grades at their undergraduate/graduate universities; have worked for an average of 5-6 years and achieved good career progression or demonstrated strong leadership orientation during this time; demonstrated an international outlook (e.g., working/studying abroad, speaking multiple languages or working for an international company); and displayed through extracurricular activities and during the application process itself, an interest in taking part in all that INSEAD has to offer in the classroom and outside.”

David Simpson (London Business School): “This is a tough question. The ideal class is made up of such huge diversity that defining the background of an ideal candidate is impossible.

However there are certain experience sets and personal characteristics that we look for when recruiting students for London Business School

Bright and articulate: We want to take the best and make them better. As at most top schools, our students were often the best in their class, or best performer in their team or company.

How has the profile of your candidates changed in recent years?

Pejay Belland (INSEAD): “Our pool of MBA candidates continues to get more diverse - especially from emerging countries, which we are very pleased about - with over 80 nationalities enrolled per year for the most recent intakes. 

In terms of general trends, MBA candidates from around the world are increasingly aware of the value of international exposure in their business school experience, plus there’s a desire to learn more about the Asia-Pacific region specifically, given its increasing importance in the world economy. 

INSEAD is thus particularly well-placed given its two-campus structure –campuses in both Europe (France) and Asia (Singapore) – and with opportunities to take part in field trips or electives in many other parts of the world, including Abu Dhabi, Brazil, and China.”

David Simpson (London Business School): “Applicant nationality and experience background trends come and go. As do post-MBA aspirations – recent years have shown applicants wanting to move into investment backing, private equity, tech start-ups and social entrepreneurship.

But what has changed is the preparedness of applicants. Today’s candidates have amazing resources at their fingertips with business educations information provider experts like QS around.

Applicants can research what makes each school special and then describe their background to fit those elements. Business schools need to work harder and harder every year to cut through the veneer and find out what makes each applicant tick and select those best matched to their institution.”

What is unique about the admissions process at your institution?

Pejay Belland (INSEAD): “We believe the most unique aspect of the admissions process at INSEAD is the involvement of the alumni.  They are integrally involved both at the interview stage and in the final evaluation of candidates.  Each candidate who is invited to an interview typically meets with two alumni locally. 

Alumni feedback on the candidacy’s general fit, future leadership contributions, and readiness for the MBA programme is critical for the overall assessment.  Alumni (and faculty) also sit on the Admissions Committee, which is unusual for business schools. 

INSEAD highly respects alumni input and believes that, as ambassadors and guardians for the school and INSEAD brand, alumni should play a pivotal role in shaping future classes.”

David Simpson (London Business School): “We look at every application and think, “so what can they offer to a study group, a classroom and the community at large today and down the line as alumni?”

Like all schools we measure past performance and experience and judge future potential. What makes us unique is that we have a very firm commitment to recruiting outstanding individuals like this and creating amazingly diverse classes where no one culture, nationality or industry dominates.

We are very proud of how we craft a class over a very long and arduous admissions year. We don’t just fill the class in the first two stages, as experience shows us that certain types of applicants tend to apply later in the cycle and if we want them, we have to hold our nerve and wait for them!”

Global: Candidates should either have experience outside their home country or have a huge desire to broaden their global exposure. It isn’t compulsory to have worked abroad – in fact, we believe it would be detrimental if everyone was already moulded into global citizens. To ensure that the London Business School collaborative classroom environment works at its best, we need students with viewpoints grounded from their origins e.g. views on ‘how things work’ in Japan, Nigeria, Iceland, Indonesia etc.

Open-minded & collaborative: We look for students who have the personality type to really want to learn from and help educate others.

Energetic, inquisitive and creative: The most successful students question theory and build their opinions from interaction with others and through deep exploration of the subject matter. Exploring every angle of a problem and researching opinions and theories from different sources takes time, effort and energy. The best solutions to problems often require new and creative approaches. Our 15-21 month flexible programme length can give the time for students to explore and experiment.”

Do you have any advice for a prospective candidate?

David Simpson (London Business School): “Be yourself, emphasise your energy and passion and show us that you really want an MBA from London Business School rather than from just any top school.

Focus on what you can add to the incredibly diverse community and tell us about it. You don’t have to be from an under-represented background. Far from it - we value and really need candidates with say, accounting and finance experience, just as much, or more, than those ‘interesting backgrounds’ like cardiac surgeons, theatre directors, ex professional sportsmen, or submariners!”

Pejay Belland (INSEAD): “Foremost, candidates should ensure they have thought carefully about their reasons and motivations for pursuing an MBA and understanding how INSEAD can help them achieve their goals, as well as what they can contribute to the program. This analysis helps them both ensure they are a good fit for the programme but also gives them a head start for the application process. 

Secondly, we advise candidates to do their research thoroughly and try to absorb as much about the ‘INSEAD experience’ as possible – visit our campuses if possible, attend one of our worldwide or virtual events, connect with us via social media, and importantly speak with alumni or current participants. 

Thirdly, applicants should dedicate sufficient time for their application – both in terms of the GMAT preparation but critically the essays themselves, which offer the admissions committee a unique insight into their professional and personal profiles.  The admissions committee rely upon the essays heavily to develop a complete and more comprehensive assessment of the candidate, in addition to the other quantitative assessments which make up the application file.”


This article was originally published in April 2016 .

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Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.