Getting into INSEAD MBA - GMAT, Essays, Recommendation Letter & Scholarships

Insead MBAIn the Second Part of the Interview with Minh Huy Lai, the Managing Director of INSEAD MBA Programme, we discuss the Admission process (Essays, Recommendation Letter and Interviews), the entry criteria (GMAT, International Exposure, Experience), and the scholarship opportunities for MBA Applicants.

Read the first part of the interview to learn about INSEAD's MBA Curriculum, Campus Structure and the program's success in attracting top recruiters from Management Consulting.

Are there any criteria in terms of International exposure when you accept INSEAD candidates? Should they have travel experience or is it just working with an International (Multinational) company that counts?

Minh (INSEAD MBA): First, let us discuss what International experience means. An applicant might be working in their home country for an International company, but if they have traveled and stayed in another country for work, we consider it an international experience. Or they should have worked with an international team and interacted with them on a regular basis. Even if the applicant has no opportunity to travel abroad or work with an international team, their experience on projects outside of their work will also be taken into consideration for our Admissions. If you look at a typical profile, they would have done their undergraduate in a different country or at least taken an exchange program. They would have traveled extensively for work and hold an international outlook.
Do you accept applicants with less than 3 years of experience?

Minh (INSEAD MBA): It has happened before, but it is rare. I would say that the chance of admission is one in a hundred. We tend not to accept younger candidates for the simple reason that half of what you learn is from your peers. If you are young, you won't have a perspective that would be of much value to the more experienced class. When we admit young candidates, they tend to have extensive experience in their family business or 2-3 start-up experiences under their belt.
What would be a typical profile look like? Who should join INSEAD?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): The candidates would already have an international background with the capability to speak a couple of languages. They have the ambition to see and work around the world. Students come here to change. People who do well at INSEAD tend to be agile, and tolerant with a high threshold in facing complexity and uncertainty. Companies want candidates who can be sent to any corner of the world and be confident that they will fit in, interact sensitively and meet the objectives set for the project.
Do Entrepreneurs or aspiring Entrepreneurs join INSEAD MBA program?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): Many INSEAD students are aspiring Entrepreneurs. 4-6% of Entrepreneurial candidates start their company during or after their time at INSEAD. Our electives in the Entrepreneurship area is one of the most comprehensive in the industry. We have an amazing Entrepreneurs-in-Residence programme, an incubator, and some support funds. 
The latest INSEAD MBA class has an average GMAT Score of 703. What are the chances for someone scoring in the 650-700 range?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): Once you score above 650, we know that you are capable, academically speaking. We have a case, let us say, a US Marine, who has shown remarkable leadership skills - two-terms in Afghanistan, kept his men safe, and managed a platoon efficiently. He does not have a typical background, but the applicant would be a good fit for INSEAD. We look at the full profile of the person. We have someone who is from Symphony Orchestra - a violinist with a lower GMAT score, but she had an amazing creative mind. So GMAT score is just one indicator that we consider for INSEAD.
You use essays to understand the story. Do you encourage creativity?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): We want the applicants to write their own essay and convey authenticity. There are consulting firms that write the essays for applicants, but we find them too polished. With thousands of essays reviewed every year, our admission team knows which applicant hired a consultant. Getting help is one thing, but we don't recommend MBA Admission Consulting firms to write the essay for them. One reason is that the essay is one tool that we use to measure the applicant's personality. The Video Essay is used to assess the level of English because some of the International students have very high TOEFL score, but the video gives us confirmation on their communication skills. We also want to see the applicant's body language, presence and their ability to articulate an argument. Written essays reveal the applicant's thoughts, aspirations, and concerns.  We want a well-rounded candidate for INSEAD.
A few of our readers have shared that they were able to articulate the answers but the 60 seconds timeline for Video Essay was too short to complete. Will the performance in Video Essay Impact their Admission chances?

Minh (INSEAD MBA): I would not say that Video Essay has no impact, but it is very small. We look at other application elements - essays and recommendation letter, before considering the Video. There are no right or wrong answer in the Video Essay. We want you to be spontaneous and be yourself.
What do you measure with Interviews?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): Our Interviews are entirely conducted by Alumni. We trust them to know that they will bring in candidates who would be a good fit for INSEAD, mainly those who have an international perspective. Also, if we come across an obnoxious or arrogant person, despite their brilliant careers, we would not accept them. INSEAD is a kind and caring community.
Do Alumni have the final say or do you have an Admission Committee?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): We do have an Admissions Committee led a faculty member, but Alumni interviewers (two each for a candidate) have a strong voice. They have the complete dossier on the applicants with information on the work experience, GMAT score, and potential. If both the Alumni say no, then we don't accept the candidate. If the decision is split, we look at the recommendation letters and could ask a third alumnus to conduct the interview. In exceptional cases, the staff from INSEAD comes into the interview for a final say. 60% of the Admissions Committee members are alumni themselves.
So the recommendation letter plays a big role in the admission process. What do you want to see?

Minh (INSEAD MBA): We want an honest opinion about the applicant - leadership potential, personality, fit with INSEAD as an international candidate and their ethics.  
Should the recommender be briefed about what INSEAD is looking for before writing the letter?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): They should be candid about the candidates, evaluate their strength, and summarize the potential as an INSEAD MBA.
Should recommenders go for specifics or general advice?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): The recommendation letter should cover general traits but give examples to demonstrate open-mindedness, emotional intelligence to recognize mistakes, and listening skills. 
What about the scholarship opportunities? How many are offered to the latest class
Minh (INSEAD MBA): We have an extensive list of scholarships which you can find on our website. We have streamlined our application process to avoid repetitive applications. More and more, we offer spot scholarships without any need to apply. This year, we are giving 5.4 million euro as scholarships. Typically, 32-34% of INSEAD MBA students get scholarships with an average grant of Euro 15,000. For some African and Asian students, the scholarship covers the full tuition fee. The criteria include high GMAT score and underrepresented profile, although we look at the candidates’ profiles holistically.
What do you mean by a high GMAT Score for Scholarships - 20 to 30 points above the mean GMAT score of the class?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): For us, high GMAT means applicants with a score above 700. People apply based on Financial Needs. We look at their pre-MBA salary among other criteria, before offering a scholarship.
Should candidates apply by Round 1 or Round 2?
Minh (INSEAD MBA): I would say sooner than later, but for Scholarships, we only consider applicants in the first 3 rounds. Also, two-thirds of our offers are made in the first two rounds.  

Visit INSEAD MBA Programme page to learn more

About Minh Huy Lai

Minh is the Managing Director of the INSEAD MBA Programme. He was formerly the Executive Director of Degree Programmes at HEC Paris. Prior to his move to the higher education field, he has worked in investment banking and international development.

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