The INSEAD MBA for Indian Students

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INSEAD MBA

INSEAD MBA

As Europe’s leading business school, INSEAD is on the radar of most Indian students looking for an MBA abroad. INSEAD attracts students from all over the world, with a strong focus on Europe and Asia. Of course, there are many great schools in the US and elsewhere that attract Indian students. But there are three reasons why INSEAD is particularly appealing to Indian students:

  • It’s a great fit for Indian students who want to work globally
  • The school has a strong reputation in Asia (particularly India, China, and Singapore) and has a campus in Singapore too, much closer home for Indian students, and a great potential target geography to work in
  • It’s an excellent choice for those who want to work across industries
  • Its student body is diverse and includes people from all over the world who speak different languages and bring different perspectives to class discussions. INSEAD has one of the world’s most global MBA classes, and this is important for Indian students, many of whom have limited international or foreign cultural exposure
  • INSEAD is absolutely fantastic when it comes to consulting placements. Many Indian students are eager to get into MBB consulting roles after the MBA.

INSEAD has a large population of Indian and Indian origin students. That’s great for those who do get in, creating a rich network that is essential to finding the perfect job (and to enjoying the best kinds of parties). But it also means many Indian applicants are applying to the INSEAD MBA.

INSEAD’s admission rate for Indian applicants is around a third of its overall acceptance rate of over 30%.

What this means is that the competition for these valued spots at INSEAD is quite fierce among Indians. Indian applicants need to distinguish themselves from their fellow countrymen, who are likely as qualified as they are for admission.

Here are a few things to keep in mind to strengthen your application if you are an Indian student applying to INSEAD.

What do Indian students get stuck on?

Indian applicants often find it difficult to show their leadership potential on paper. For many Indians, leadership is about getting things done as part of a team at work or in volunteer activities out of the workplace rather than being “the boss”. Indians can sometimes underestimate the significance of their activities outside work, such as coaching sports teams or mentoring younger students. They need to articulate clearly how their experience has helped them develop leadership skills such as teamwork, communication and problem solving so that our admissions committee understands why they would be good leaders on our campus. It’s also important for Indian applicants to demonstrate international-mindedness through their experiences outside India and show.

Make sure your GMAT score is not sub-par

The average GMAT or GRE scores for Indian applicants are well above INSEAD’s GMAT average of 708. If you have less than a 70 and are an Indian applicant, you are probably better off retaking the test, unless you can bring something very unique and rare in your profile. Even then, staying close to 700 is highly recommended. INSEAD’s acceptance rate for applicants at a score of 750 is three times that of applicants getting lucky with a 650.

INSEAD is one of the few top business schools around the world that are a bit forgiving when it comes to evaluating GPAs, but they are quite particular about the GMAT.

There is good reason for them to think this way.

The MBA program at INSEAD is only 10 months long (there is a 12-month option as well), which means you’ll be in a rigorous, high-paced program. You should be able to demonstrate your ability to do well in this kind of an environment.

Highlight your international awareness

We’ve spoken about this earlier. INSEAD likes to see international experience, particularly if it’s something you’ve done within your own industry. You should include any international work experience that you have had, if any, in your essays. This will definitely boost your chances of getting admitted into INSEAD, since they look for diversity in their classes and value international work experience quite highly.

That being said, don’t worry if you don’t have much international experience—just as important is your openness to taking on new experiences and getting out of your comfort zone.

INSEAD has campuses in France and Singapore, with an additional campus in Abu Dhabi. The France campus is the original one, but there’s no need to feel like you’re missing out on anything by attending the Singapore campus. It’s only been established since the year 2000 (as opposed to 1957 when the France campus was opened), but it already has a strong reputation and is ranked just as high as its counterpart in Europe. You will be studying with peers from more than 65 countries around the world. An international outlook is critical to excel in this environment.

Be aware that INSEAD is really looking for diversity in its candidates. This includes diversity of work experience, background, and nationality. The more diverse your profile is in these three categories, the better, and the better your INSEAD experience will be too.

Remember to focus on the ‘why’ in INSEAD MBA essays, and be humble

INSEAD doesn’t like applicants who are overconfident. Make sure that your essays don’t come across as arrogant or pompous, even if you’re applying with some really great achievements under your belt. INSEAD likes students who are self aware and who can demonstrate humility as well as confidence in their essays. INSEAD is looking not just at how your career graph has shaped up, but also at how you took key decisions in your career and life.

First, it is important to note that the admissions committee takes into account that many applicants will have had a diverse educational background. As such, they want to know what you did at each stop on your journey. You should spend special attention on describing your accomplishments and activities in detail, just as you would for any other application. It’s also helpful to include anecdotes from your life that illustrate your personality and character. And remember: don’t be afraid to highlight anything unique about yourself! The admissions team wants to get a good sense of who you really are and how you compare with other candidates. This includes a mention of your weaknesses and your failures (the INSEAD MBA essays ask for at least one example of each).

Secondly, make sure that your application shows how unique you are—not just in terms of your work experience or academic background (which are important), but also in terms of the way you think, what drives you and how you make decisions. It’s important to stand out in the crowd of thousands of applicants who will be applying to INSEAD next year.

Show leadership outside work

Extra-curricular activities and leadership outside the core work domain are very important for INSEAD, and Indian candidates should not take this lightly. INSEAD is not just looking at your numbers (GMAT and GPA) but also how much you are likely to contribute as a student on campus.

A lot of Indian applicants tend to focus too much on their achievements in their professional life. The fact is that INSEAD’s class profile is such that you have people from all walks of life, who bring with them various experiences. They will look at a variety of factors while evaluating the application: GMAT score, work experience, family background etc. And they do this so that they can build an interesting class with varied backgrounds and experiences.

In terms of your extra-curricular activities, there is no hard-and-fast rule about what you should have done and how many items you need to list out. For example, if your area of interest is social work then it might be better to list out a few organizations where you have been involved with regularly and actively in the past few years, instead of listing out a larger number just for the sake of having more items listed. And remember that your application will be read by real people, so it’s okay to talk about extra-curricular involvement without necessarily an achievement tag attached to each activity.

INSEAD places a lot of emphasis on the quality of your work experience, leadership accomplishments and extra-curricular or community involvement. A close review of the profiles of the class of 2014 reveals that INSEAD wants people who are going to contribute beyond the classroom (and beyond just career related activities). This is an area where Indian candidates should not take things lightly – many applicants do not realize this and this can be a huge negative when they are being evaluated.

For example, if you have done some community work with poor children in India, that is certainly a plus. Even if you haven’t done anything like that in India, but have been very active on campus or in your workplace (e.g. for an NGO), then that too would count towards your application.

So what does INSEAD want to see? They are looking for quality and breadth of experiences outside the core work domain. For example, if you were part of some student committees on campus or helped organize events at work, then put them down as part of your leadership experiences. If you played sports at an inter-school level or captained your company’s cricket team, list them down as well. We even had a YouTuber client who spoke about his passion for food blogging online and made it!

Get your recommendations in order

Indian applicants often do not focus enough on their recommendations, and this results in references that offer little insight into the applicant. Indian students applying to INSEAD should engage their professional recommenders and ensure that they put in thoughtful responses. Most recommenders will only take a few minutes of your time asking you about your key achievements, but if they do not respond with anything meaningful then they are not helping you as much as they could be! The best way to avoid this pitfall is by engaging your recommenders well in advance, so that they can write a thoughtful response that will give you an edge over your competitors.

Also, please work with your recommenders to ensure that your recommendations are authentic! INSEAD values genuine feedback more than praise. This means that it does not expect every applicant to be perfect and will make exceptions for exceptional candidates with less impressive academic records or work experience. Indian students who are applying to INSEAD should therefore not feel shy in sharing their areas of improvement or failures with their recommenders.

Don’t go with consulting as a default post-MBA goal for INSEAD

Indian students are usually keen to state consulting goals believing that this is where INSEAD’s strength lies. While that is true, you should not be choosing consulting for that reason. Think deeply about what you really want to do after the MBA, and be clear about it, because INSEAD gives you just 100 words to state your goals!

The next question is “Why do you want an MBA?”. Here again, don’t think in general terms such as “I want to enhance my career prospects” or “I want a higher income” or “I want to gain international exposure”. Also, don’t say something like “After my MBA I plan to work with a top-notch company like your school’s alumni!” That will not impress anyone at INSEAD!

Remember, your goals should be authentic. You don’t need to fit in as a statistic in the school’s placement report.

If you really want to get into consulting or investment banking after INSEAD, then go for it! However, realize that these are not your only options as an INSEAD student — there are many other exciting ways to build your career after completing the MBA program. Some students go on to work at start-ups or NGOs; others go into education or public service; and some even start their own businesses after graduation.

Applying to a top MBA program?

GyanOne has strong experience in helping applicants make it to EACH one of the top 100 MBA programs in the world. Whether it is helping you in creating the perfect resume, arriving at the perfect essays, or just thinking your objectives through, we have deep expertise across the process. Contact us today! to know how we can help you to succeed too, or just for a profile evaluation!

Conclusion – following an Indian-specific strategy when applying

In our experience, we find that many Indian applicants make the mistake of applying without an Indian-specific strategy. They end up writing the same essays as everyone else, but don’t get accepted because they haven’t clearly differentiated themselves from the other applicants. It’s important to do your research and have a clear idea of what INSEAD is looking for before you apply.

We have helped several people get into INSEAD, and we pride ourselves on our ability to help Indian applicants stand out from other international applicants. If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you get into INSEAD, please schedule a free consultation today!


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