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August 14, 2009

Q&A with INSEAD MBA Programme's Assistant Director of Marketing

Deborah Riger, Assistant Director of Marketing, MBA Programme, INSEAD, was kind enough to take the time to answer my questions about the MBA Program. Our interview was conducted both by telephone and email.

By the way, Deborah will attending the World MBA Tour this September (Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai, and Taipei). While these fairs can get crowded, this is certainly a good chance to ask her questions. If you are not attending and want more information about the MBA program, please email Deborah.Riger@insead.edu.

ADAM: How important are the application essays in determining who to admit? How about recommendations? Interviews?

DEBORAH: All of the components of the application are equally important and provide the admissions committee with valuable information. I would say that applicants need to take great care when writing their essays, choosing their recommenders, and preparing for our two interviews.

From the essays we need to learn what is unique about you as an individual. Please tell us what experiences and accomplishments you have had thus far and where you would like to see the MBA take you. Spend time clearly identifying goals and articulating why you feel INSEAD is the place for you and be sure your essays are an authentic expression of who you are. One tip is to have your family and friends read your essays to gauge if they sound genuine. The individuals who write your recommendation letters should be people who know you very well in a professional context. We would ideally like to hear from your current manager. Lastly, when preparing for your interview just relax and be yourself!

ADAM: Why does INSEAD require two interviews with alumni?

DEBORAH: The alumni help the admission committee determine if you are a good fit for the programme. Two is a good way to see if views about you are aligned. We expect our alumni interviewers to help us determine if applicants are applying to our program for the right reasons.

ADAM: Sometimes when I read or hear about INSEAD interviews, it almost seems like one interviewer is being intentionally aggressive and the other much less so. Sometimes I think this is probably just a kind of post-facto perception, but is there some real distinction between the two interviewers?

DEBORAH: The interviewers are given the same instructions. We don’t tell one to be more aggressive than the other. However, when possible, we do try to have applicants interview with one older alum and one more junior alum. We expect the more senior alum to have a stronger perspective on the overall leadership potential of the applicant and the future contributions one might make as part of the alumni community. We would expect a junior alum to assess the applicant from the perspective of a peer. i.e. Will this applicant be happy in the INSEAD programme?

ADAM: How important are campus visits? Do you keep track of who visits? Does it impact their chances for admission?

DEBORAH: Campus visits don’t influence admissions decisions. From our point of view, the visits are important for the candidates to allow themselves the time to better understand the programme. I encourage all students that are considering applying to the school to visit the campus, get a feel for the environment and understand if the programme is a good fit for them.

ADAM: How often does INSEAD waitlist applicants? Can you provide some information about that?

DEBORAH: INSEAD runs a short waitlist that is reviewed continuously to monitor diversity of class. The chance of being admitted from the waitlist varies by intake, but we certainly admit some of those placed on the waitlist.

ADAM: Can you provide my readers with some idea of how difficult it is to get into INSEAD?

DEBORAH: While I cannot provide information about acceptance rates, I can say that we had a 20% application increase from last year. Keep in mind that INSEAD attracts a highly self-selecting pool of applicants. Things like our language requirement mean that this program is not for everyone. In some cases applicants have to decide for themselves if they are willing to commit to learning another language. The programme is demanding and fast paced so applicants also have to be committed to completing the MBA over a short period of time.

ADAM: What would you consider to be the minimum iBT TOEFL level required for admission? Regarding English ability in general, it has always seemed to me that INSEAD actually only admits non-native speakers with very advanced English skills.

DEBORAH: A 105 TOEFL is our required minimum and that is sufficient. It is certainly the case that many who apply to INSEAD have very advanced English skills. This seems natural enough given our international focus. One thing that I will say is the admissions committee (faculty and alumni) are very aware of the need to make sure that anyone admitted can keep up in the classroom. The school doesn’t want to see anyone fail so they will try to assess when English ability will be a barrier to success in the program. If an applicant does not think their English skills are strong, they should consider taking more time to prepare for MBA. Still, only 20% of our students are native English speakers.

ADAM: Is it possible to be accepted to INSEAD without having international experience?

DEBORAH: Yes, it is possible to be admitted without significant experience outside of your home country. While it is important for all applicants to show their international motivations in their essays, it is especially critical for those who lack international exposure to do so. Applicants need to share how they are comfortable and confident in their own culture, why they are seeking out the international exposure in the MBA and sharing perhaps how the world has come to them at home.

ADAM: Regarding professional experience, what to do you look for in younger (very early twenties) and older (late twenties or thirties) applicants?

DEBORAH: For all applicants we want to see a track record of professional accomplishments that sets them apart from their peers. For those with only 1-2 years of professional experience, they must demonstrate something distinctive in their profile, perhaps they have started their own company. I would suggest, it is in the benefit of all younger applicants to work for a minimum of two years before applying to business school as they will get more out of the programme if they have experiences to reflect back on. For older applicants, we are looking for a strong professional track record and clear goals toward career change or advancement. If an older applicant has been in the same role for five years that might not demonstrate potential for growth, overall ambition or success relative to his/her peers.

ADAM: Can applicants get in touch with alums and current students? How?

DEBORAH: Yes, we can facilitate that. Applicants should write to us at mba.info@insead.edu. We recommend applicants write in with a profile of an alum they would like to be connected to and very specific questions.

ADAM: How has the financial crisis impacted INSEAD students and the programme?

DEBORAH: Recruiting activities are down slightly. Still, 87% of the Class of 2008 successfully changed their sector, function or geography. The results for July 2009 remain to be seen as we usual poll students 3 months post graduation.

The school has also responded to the crisis by taken action. First, we expanded the class size. The Class of 2010 will be approximately 960 students, up from the 937 for 2009. We added another section in Singapore to make this change possible without impacting the quality of our program. Second, we have made a Business Ethics course a required part of the curriculum. Other courses have been added as the market demands, for example we now have a Managing Corporate Turnaround Successfully elective offering. Lastly, in July 2010, we will be offering a Capstone Course that encapsulates everything studied in the program.

ADAM: I know that INSEAD only encourages reapplication in a very limited number of cases. When you do encourage a re-applicant, what are you expecting?

DEBORAH: We are expecting a significant change in the applicant’s profile. Perhaps it is a promotion, international assignment or change in job. An improved GMAT score is not sufficient however, an improved GMAT score shows initiative, so it is no problem taking it multiple times.

ADAM: Finally, can we expect to see another INSEAD campus in the coming years?

DEBORAH: A favorite question! No, not in the foreseeable future.

I want to thank Deborah for taking the time to answer my questions.

-Adam Markus

I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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