An INSEAD MBA applicant writes one of the lengthiest set of application essays. I say lengthy and not rigorous since INSEAD doesn’t baffle its applicants with questions like Stanford’s “What Matters Most to You, and Why?”.
Instead, INSEAD chooses a simpler yet detailed approach to understand the MBA applicant.
A blessing in disguise, the amount of INSEAD’s MBA application essays can seem intimidating at first. A closer inspection, however, reveals that this can be highly favourable to the MBA applicant. more questions mean you get to share more about your life and story with the admissions committee.
If you didn’t already understand this fact, the more clarity that a business school admissions committee has about your profile and your story, the better they can evaluate whether you fit in with their business school environment and what your presence would add to their MBA program.
Business schools are looking for diverse individuals that share the schools’ values. This diversity helps them create an MBA class where multiple perspectives can prepare students for the challenges of a dynamic business environment.
Now that you know how a lengthy MBA application essay section can affect your chances at business school admissions favourably, let’s get into the MBA essay questions that INSEAD asks.
INSEAD MBA Essay Questions
Job Description Essays
Briefly summarise your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of the budget, clients/products and results achieved. (200 words maximum)
You might ask yourself why you need tips to write the answer to such a straightforward question. This question is asking for your job description, right?
Unfortunately, MBA application essay questions, no matter how straightforward they are, are your only chance to appeal for an interview call and need to be attempted with the right mindset.
If you simply CTRL+V your job description in this essay, you will be wasting 200 precious words that could have painted an amazing picture of your professional charm. Also, this essay is fro the admissions committee to understand how deep is your knowledge of your current job role. Having this knowledge will help you when you start the recruiting process in the early months of your INSEAD MBA.
This is also an indirect test of your communication skills.
A lot of applicants tend to use jargon when referring to their professional accomplishments or responsibilities. However, not everyone you meet would understand those jargons. Just imagine meeting an astronomer and he casually starts discussing how the Chandler Wobble has become one of his favourite topics of research lately. I wouldn’t be shocked if a random scene from the TV series F.R.I.E.N.D.S. starts playing in your head.
Now, this doesn’t mean you aren’t accomplished. It just means you don’t have an in-depth knowledge of astronomy to understand the jargon. Similarly, admissions committee members that will read your MBA essays are impactful leaders in their own field of work, however, might not know enough about yours to understand the jargons.
Communication is one of the most important skills that an MBA needs to have. How will you deal with clients in your post-MBA role if you can’t explain difficult concepts to them?
Thus, answer this question detailing your accomplishments, quantifying them as much as possible, while also keeping your communication simple (not juvenile).
What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (200 words maximum)
I am sure you have already started thinking of the million ways you could grow in your current organization with the help of an MBA. You will probably start by saying that you cannot move vertically in your organization currently due to a lack of qualification or an MBA. And you won’t be wrong in doing so.
Most MBA applicants will look at this question and think along the same lines. However, this essay is about you having a plan B.
The INSEAD admission committee wants to know what happens if INSEAD rejects you and you decide to stay with your current organization. They want to know whether you would adapt and find a way to grow and if yes, then what that way might look like.
Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. (300 words maximum)
This question doesn’t just ask you to describe your decision-making process, but also take accountability for those decisions.
Don’t try to be a perfect person. It’s okay if you messed up in one of your career choices. The INSEAD admissions committee doesn’t want to admit perfect students only. They want people who can identify their mistakes, take accountability and grow from these mistakes.
They want applicants that identify their decisions as their own. You might have taken a certain career decision due to certain factors like prestige, parental pressure, family expectations. However, these were still decisions you took and their outcomes, whether right or wrong shaped your professional ethics and character.
Discuss your short and long term career aspirations with or without an MBA from INSEAD. (100 words maximum)
This is a COVID-19 essay!
Not many schools have structurally changed their MBA essays to accommodate the major life changes that COVID-19 has brought this year. However, some schools like INSEAD did. The “Without an MBA” part of this essay question is a new addition.
The first part of this question “with an INSEAD MBA” is the standard “Why MBA?” essay question. it requires you to detail how an MBA will help you achieve both your short-term and long-term goals with your current transferrable skills from your work experience.
The “without an MBA” is the difficult part of this question. If you change your goals for this part, it could make you seem unsure of your goals. However, you could still stick to your previous goals but choose a longer way to reach them. This helps you show decisiveness in your ambitions and a change in circumstances didn’t make you leave your dream behind but also subtly justifies the need of an MBA to speed up the upwards trajectory of your career.
If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than 2 months before the programme starts, please explain your activities and occupations between leaving your job and the start of the programme.
Please read the question carefully. This is not an optional MBA application essay that you should be attempting irrespective of what your situation is. If you plan to work with your organization up until the INSEAD MBA programme starts, skip this question.
However, if you do plan to leave your job early, have a work gap, or even a gap in extracurricular or community work, you can use this essay to lay out a plan of how you can make up for it. You can pick up volunteer projects to fulfil any gaps in your profile, or travel or maybe get a quick certification in a hobby of yours.
Even if you plan to just stay home and catch up on a few shows or books, explain to the admissions committee why it is worth your time and how it positively affects your life.
Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), 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. (maximum 500 words)
This question will tempt you to write a plethora of praises about yourself. It will tempt you to mask a few strengths as a weakness just to balance the narration without actually owning up to your real weaknesses.
But this is exactly what you need to avoid. To answer this question bare it all on paper. Talk about your background and the things that happened to turn you into the amazing individual you are. Share your weaknesses. But share them remembering that accepting is the first step to growth.
Don’t try to showcase yourself as the perfect candidate who has leadership skills, is hard-working, a team player and so on. Dig a little bit deeper and find your unique strengths. What values or virtues are you proud of? List them down.
Write down your good, bad and the ugly. You don’t need to share it all, but the self-awareness will help you create a censored (as per a professional environment) version of you as a person and share a vulnerable, authentic, and memorable essay.
Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (maximum 400 words)
Having done the introspection for the previous question, this answer would come comparatively easier to you.
Don’t try to create a shallow version of what you think the INSEAD admissions committee would consider an achievement and a failure.
The achievement could be seemingly the smallest thing. What the admissions committee is interested in is why that is an achievement for you. Let’s say your achievement is having three proper meals a day. You’ll probably be confused at that statement. But for someone who might have struggled most of their life with an eating disorder due to body image issues, would consider this one of the biggest wins in their personal life.
In fact, listening to someone’s struggle with the same and how they worked on themselves and how much it meant to them and their loved ones can be heartbreaking and beautiful to read.
The thing is, something that is close to your heart will automatically create vulnerability and passion in your expression and that’s exactly the kind of thing that admissions committees want to see when getting to know prospective students better.
Moving on to failure, take responsibility. Don’t try to paint yourself as a victim who lost due to someone else’s actions. Choose to talk about an oversight or a lapse of judgement and how you learnt to deal with the same.
Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc). How are you enriched by these activities? (maximum 300 words)
This is another essay question where making a list before starting the first draft of your essay will come in handy. You might have participated in or took up various activities over your lifetime but you can only mention the most impactful ones in this 300-word limit essay.
Due to the word limit, we will leave out most activities from your list of extra-professional activities. The first one to cross out from your list should be activities that you took up for small periods.
The second ones to go should be ones that don’t showcase amazing new skills and interests or don't back up any other skills that you’ve mentioned in your MBA profile.
Now categorize the remaining into four categories and mention in the essay:
- Volunteer Work
- Activities you undertook in university
- Hobbies or passions you have awards for.
- Hobbies or passions you have been following for years.
The best way to go about fitting all these activities in your essay would be by creating about 4 paragraphs that each deal with one of the points above.
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