An Insider’s Perspective on INSEAD’s New Essays
February 21, 2014|by Matt Symonds
By Caroline Diarte Edwards, Former Director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD
If you’re in the process of applying to INSEAD, or plan to in the future, you should be aware that INSEAD just released a revised set of MBA essay questions. These changes are not as far reaching as those made by some U.S. schools in the past year or two. INSEAD prefers to make small, incremental changes to their admissions process. However, it’s important to understand what these changes mean to an applicant, especially with less space to communicate important information about yourself. Here’s a summary of the changes:
Reduced Word Count and Essay Consolidation
The school has made an effort to reduce the overall length of the application, recognizing that INSEAD’s application is the longest amongst top schools, which can deter some candidates. The reduction is not dramatic: the total word count for required essays goes from 2700 to 2300, with the number of required essays dropping from 7 to 6. These changes show that INSEAD is seeking to balance their desire to gain a very complete and wide-ranging picture of the candidate, with streamlining the process to make it more manageable for candidates.
Greater Emphasis on Soft Skills
The changes to the essay questions are subtle, and largely reflect a desire to get deeper insight into the soft skills of the candidate. The school is making a slight shift in emphasis in the essays away from hard facts (many of which are in any case evident in the resume data contained in the personal profile section of the application) and towards reflection and soft skills. For example, in the essay about accomplishment and failure, there is a new element: “How did these experiences impact your relationships with others?” The essay focusing on cultural awareness and sensitivity has been reworded to: “Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity”. The school is looking for more personal reflection and evidence that the candidate has learned and grown through exposure to other cultures – not just the sequence of events.
Elimination of “Why INSEAD?” Question
At first glance, it seems surprising that the school is no longer explicitly asking for any explanation of why the candidate wants to go to INSEAD! However, it is virtually impossible to write anything very original in 250 words on this topic, and the essay therefore typically gave rise to a lot of platitudes about what a great school INSEAD is. Instead, INSEAD will assess the candidate’s motivation through the interview process. This makes a lot of sense: in a conversation, it is much easier to gauge how genuine the candidate’s motivation actually is, whether they have done their research, and whether they really have a strong sense of affinity with the INSEAD community.
New Essay about Extra-Curriculars
There is a new question simply asking about the candidate’s extra-curricular activities and interests, and, equally significantly, “how are you enriched by these activities?”. This addition is a consequence of the introduction of a new online application form last year, that has less room for candidates to explain extra-curricular activities than the previous version of the form, and had been a source of frustration for candidates and INSEAD admissions file readers alike. The extra-curriculars are an important element of how INSEAD evaluates the candidate on one of its four key admissions criteria: “Ability to contribute”. They want to know if the candidate has the right personality for the program, and whether they will make a good contribution not just to interaction in the classroom, but also to the life of the community outside the classroom, during the MBA, and later, as a member of the alumni network. Candidates who have other interests outside work that they are passionate about, and who perhaps have some noteworthy achievement outside a professional context, are, in the school’s experience, more likely to become students who will take the lead in student clubs and be actively involved in the alumni network.
If you would like to discuss your INSEAD application with Caroline, contact us at Info@nullfortunaadmissions.com.
Show Tags29 Aug 2013, 14:53
INSEAD has made very subtle tweaks to its essays this year, and the school has decided to buck the trend and not go the route of significantly cutting down its number of required essays. When a business school only makes subtle changes to its essays, that usually means that the admissions office likes what it’s been getting from applicants.
Here are INSEAD’s admissions deadlines and essays, followed by our comments:
INSEAD Application Deadlines for September 2014 Intake
Round 1: October 2, 2013
Round 2: November 27, 2013
Round 3: March 5, 2013
We only cover INSEAD’s September 2014 intake deadlines here since the school’s January intake deadlines have already passed for 2013. Note that applying to INSEAD in Round 1 means that you will receive your final decision by December 20, giving you a couple of weeks to get your Round 2 application in order for other schools if you need to do so.
INSEAD Application Essays
Job Description Essays
1. Briefly summarise 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)
This essay carries over unchanged from last year. In a nutshell, the INSEAD admissions team wants to understand exactly what you do on a day-to-day basis. As easy as it is to become consumed with your GMAT score and your extracurricular activities, at the end of the day, the most accurate predictor of your professional potential is what you have done in your career to date. Don’t worry about the fact that INSEAD asks for the number of employees under your supervision and the size of the budget you manage — if you haven’t managed a team or owned a budget yet, that’s okay. The admissions committee just wants to understand exactly what it is you do in your present job.
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)
This essay is also a repeat from last year. Here is where your career progression comes into the picture. Of course, doing this in 250 words is a tough job, so you will really need to stick to the highlights in terms of what you have achieved and the reasons for the moves you have made. Plan on skipping most of the flowery prose in favor of clear, easy-to-follow facts. The second part of this question is interesting in that it pretty directly hits on something that INSEAD and any other top business school wants to know — that you are interested in pursuing an MBA to turbocharge an already successful career, not to bail out of a stagnant one.
3. (Optional) If you are currently not working, what are you doing and what do you plan to do until you start the MBA programme? (250 words)
It is a reflection of the times that this essay remains on INSEAD’s application after several years. Here the INSEAD admissions committee is saying, “It’s okay if you’re unemployed. We know a lot of terrific young professionals are out of work for reasons beyond their control. But, you had better be doing something productive with all of that free time.” Presumably you are looking for work, but that is hopefully not all that you’re doing. Are you bettering yourself professionally with some additional training or accreditation? Have you decided to use some of your spare time to help those around you, perhaps by doing some pro bono work? There’s no right answer here, but a wrong answer would be to say that you haven’t done much of anything besides browsing job listings while you have been unemployed.
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)
This essay also carries over unchanged. While the Job Essays above required you to really stick to the facts and simply summarize your resume, here is where you can start to provide more narrative. Many applicants see the word “weaknesses” and tense up, thinking, “I can’t tell them anything bad about myself!” But the admissions committee knows that no one is perfect. INSEAD truly wants to understand what you’re good at and where you need some work. The school wants to see evidence of strong self-awareness and a desire to build on your strengths and improve on your weaknesses. The most obvious place to go from here is to explain how INSEAD can help you with these areas, although note that this is not a pure “Why INSEAD?” essay prompt. Keep the focus mostly on you and what your current strengths and weaknesses are.
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)
This question has also not changed since last year, although a couple of years ago INSEAD added the “one personal and one professional” part. This prompt gives you a great opportunity to spell out at least two main themes that you want to emphasize in your application. Remember, the “why” in your story is even more important than the accomplishments themselves, so be sure to spell out why these accomplishments are so critical to describing you as an emerging leader. We like that INSEAD asks for one personal and one professional accomplishment, since many applicants tend to be reluctant to write about personal achievements because they seem to be off topic. Nothing could be further from the truth… If a personal accomplishment helps to illustrate the dimensions that admissions officers want to see in your application, it is very relevant!
3. Describe a situation taken from your personal or professional life where you failed. Discuss what you learned. (400 words)
First INSEAD asked about your weaknesses, and now you have to answer a failure question! Don’t worry — as we wrote above, INSEAD knows that you are not perfect. The question is how you are able to overcome your failures and grow as a result of them. We like how short and direct this essay prompt is; what the admissions office really wants to hear is what you learned and how you improved (both as a professional and as a person) as a result. And, ideally, you can even work in an example of how you put what you learned to use when faced with another challenge. Of course, the word count is tight, but being able to work in this example makes your story that much more palpable and believable.
4. Please choose one of the following two essay topics:
a. Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain? (250 words maximum)
b. Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (250 words)
This question is a repeat from last year, and its existence helps illustrate how much emphasis INSEAD puts on an applicant’s ability to blend well with people from other walks of life. Both of these essay prompts try to help the admissions committee understand you a little bit better. Really, what the school is trying to gauge is your emotional intelligence and cultural sensitivity. More than perhaps any other MBA program, INSEAD truly is a melting pot of management education. You may be in study teams with people from four other continents — how well will you work with them? A little bit of humor and humility can go a long way in answering these questions. Help the admissions committee be able to envision you sitting in a study group on INSEAD’s campuses in Fountainebleu and Singapore.
a. Discuss your short and long term career goals… (300 words)
b. … and how studying at INSEAD help you achieve your vision? (250 words)
Here are the “Why an MBA?” and “Why this school?” questions that most MBA programs ask. Don’t overlook the fact that INSEAD asks these as two separate questions, with a specific word count for each. As important is it is to make a convincing case about your career goals and your reasons for wanting an MBA, you also really need to spell out why specifically INSEAD can help you achieve your goals. This is where you need to show that you’ve done your homework, and convince the INSEAD admissions team that you’re applying for reasons that run deeper than the fact that INSEAD is a top-ranked business school.
6. Is there anything that you have not mentioned in your application that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? (350 words)
INSEAD gives you so many chances to tell your study in the above essays that we wonder what you might have left to tell at this point! Our advice here is what it is for every other school’s optional prompt: Answer this question if you need to explain a low undergraduate GPA or other potential blemish in your background. No need to harp on a minor weakness and sound like you’re making excuses when you don’t need any. If you don’t have anything else you need to tell the admissions office, it is entirely okay to skip this essay.
If you’re ready to start building your own application for INSEAD and other top business schools, get a free profile evaluation from an MBA admissions expert today.