As admissions consultants, this is a fun time of year for a lot of reasons - mainly because people are getting into top programs left and right (and seemingly with more scholarship offers than ever before), but also because the current clients are laser focused on a small set of programs. For us, almost all the work right now is on HBS 2+2, Columbia's J-Term, and, of course, INSEAD. With it's January intake and looming May 28th deadline, INSEAD is the ultimate "spring school" when it comes to helping people prepare apps. It's also a fun school, a challenging set of essays, and an app that we believe must be crafted in just the right way, which explains why we have created a full "How to Apply" guide for INSEAD. It's also why we wanted to complement that guide by discussing an element that is so crucial for INSEAD: the idea of "readiness."
As discussed in the guide, "readiness" is a massive aspect of an INSEAD application. It's a school that wants - no, NEEDS - it's applicants to be ready for the experience. To unpack this, we're going to explain three specific ways that applicants need to be "ready" for INSEAD:
1. Professionally ready. This one is likely most obvious to an INSEAD applicant. The program is intensive, truncated, and dispenses with the traditional summer internship (yes, we know there are technically internship opportunities, but they are not of the usual variety). This is not a school that is ideally suited for students who wants to find themselves or embark on a massive career switch. It's not that INSEAD is making a value judgement of those pursuits; it's that the program isn't set up to support that path. Therefore, when applying, make sure to indicate that you are very much in tune with what you want to do. Explain that you have the transferable skills to master the post-MBA job with relative ease. Showcase your maturity in the workplace and your ability to lead *right now.* There are many schools that would be a great fit for someone looking to ease into things or sort of feel their way through - INSEAD is not that school and you simply can't give off that vibe when you apply.
2. Socially ready. This seems to be less obvious to people when they apply. If there is one thing I have had to consistently do with my INSEAD clients (probably 15-20 in the past three years), it is push them towards a more "social" platform in their apps. I don't mean Facebook, Twitter, or Vine here - the opposite in fact. INSEAD is a vibrant place with a dynamic community. "No wallflowers allowed" might well be the sign out front. Therefore, you have to show that you are someone who is dynamic, social, and team-centric. Choose stories that put other people in the mix. Talk about feeding off that kind of energy. Be about social connection. Then, when you get a chance to interview, be sure to lean into your personality, be friendly, fun, outgoing, etc. More than any other school in the world, our experience is that you have to be "fun" and "social" to get in (and then thrive) at INSEAD.
(NOTE: if you are not fun and social, don't force it! Just apply somewhere else. Granted, you might be in for an uphill battle at all business schools - as MBA programs are generally pretty social and vibrant experiences and not terribly suited for loners or anti-social types - but you are really asking for trouble if you try to "trick" INSEAD into admitting you, only to get there and shrink into the shadows. Our clients hear us talk about this often, but let the school be a matchmaking partner with you. Don't lie or deceive because you are only lying to yourself and setting yourself up for failure if you do that. Be honest about who you are and then trust the readers at these schools - people with far more institutional knowledge and sense of place - to help find proper fits.)
3. Culturally ready. This goes to the international aspect of the school. People know about the language requirement and the program's preference that it's applicants have significant international experience. Somehow, this all gets misunderstood as "whoever has been to the most countries." If you talk to someone at INSEAD, you will realize this is not true. What this school wants is a global *perspective* that you are willing, ready, and able to share. It doesn't matter how many countries you've been to if you have no interesting take on the ways in which they are different. It doesn't matter if you grew up in a really unique culture if you aren't willing to talk about it at INSEAD. Your multi-national goals are irrelevant if they aren't going to inform who you are in the classroom. Don't just "check the box" as someone with global experiences; be someone with a global perspective that will be added value to the experience of others.
Hopefully INSEAD applicants find this helpful - first as a self-examination checklist and then as a guiding light for the app content. If you need help on your essays, you know where to find us: email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up a consultation.