The MBA Gatekeeper At INSEAD

One of three INSEAD campuses. Courtesy photo

One of three INSEAD campuses. Courtesy photo

When applying to an elite business school there are some obvious things to mention. Recent promotions at work. Timely and relevant accomplishments. Undergraduate sports and activities. There are also things to leave out. Too much information in a personal essay, says Virginie Fougea, INSEAD’s new director for MBA recruitment and admissions, is a mistake made by some candidates every year.

“It’s like they want to check if you are reading all of the application,” Fougea tells Poets&Quants in her Fontainebleau, France office.

After two decades in various roles in INSEAD’s admissions office, there isn’t much Fougea hasn’t seen. Over that time, INSEAD’s establishment as an elite business school has legitimized the one-year MBA. Intake after intake, the school’s mission to be the “business school for the world” has manifested in cohorts that regularly include students from at least 70 countries. What’s more, the “dominant” countries usually don’t make up more than 12% or so of a cohort. Everyone is in the minority, administrators say around the school’s European headquarters.


While INSEAD might be the most diverse school in the world in terms of nationalities, its admissions office might be the least transparent. INSEAD is the only elite school that doesn’t disclose how many people apply or how many are accepted. Previous Poets&Quants reports have speculated the acceptance rate to be around 30%.

“We feel it gives them the freedom to decide which school they want to apply to depending on their profile, depending on the network they want to belong to, depending on the family they want to be part of,” Fougea says of INSEAD’s decision not to disclose those numbers. “And they should make a decision based on what fits their need and career plan, rather than trying to speculate on their chances.”

That might be, but still, it’s odd not to disclose information that other peer schools have long divulged. But the school with campuses also in Singapore and Abu Dhabi certainly marches to the beat of its own drum. In a wide-ranging and exclusive interview, Fougea speaks about the school’s long-term efforts to increase representation of women, how to prepare for its four new video interview questions, prepping for the two alumni interviews, and some of her favorite — and least favorite — applicants over the years.

INSEAD is one of only a few elite B-schools that does not publish acceptance rates. Can you share why you don’t publish those rates and shed any light on chances applicants have for admission?

The reason why we don’t communicate those numbers is primarily because it drives people to wrong conclusions. It starts creating the thoughts of ‘I have more chances’ or ‘I don’t have any chances so I should not apply or even consider this.’ We feel it gives them the freedom to decide which school they want to apply to depending on their profile, depending on the network they want to belong to, depending on the family they want to be part of. And they should make a decision based on what fits their need and career plan, rather than trying to speculate on their chances.

Same thing on the number of applications per round or per intake. It is important to prepare a good application. That’s what matters — an honest and genuine application. That’s the aim behind that.

This was the first year INSEAD used a video portion to the application. How did it go?

We love it. The way the application process works, we were not meeting people for interviews. The admissions staff does not meet applicants. This is giving us the opportunity to see people, see how they think on their feet, how they communicate, and it’s nice to see them come to life.

After watching the first round of videos, do you have any advice on how to prepare for the questions?

We have seen a vast majority of very, very good videos. People got it right from the first round. It’s true that more and more, you can read articles and see how to prep for video interviews. Companies are recruiting more and more through video interviews. This generation is used to this and we could see that. They were at ease. They were looking into the camera. They were expressing their ideas in a clear manner. It’s a short video. It’s one minute for four times. And they got it right.

Besides looking into the camera and being at ease, can you give any more examples or tips on what applicants can do or what a successful video looks like?

We could tell people were prepared but not prepared in a rigid or strict way. They were prepared to give their honest answers. The questions are not tricky ones. The idea is not to trap people with difficult questions. The idea is really to get to know the people better.

Are you noticing any trends in who is applying to INSEAD?

We see post-MBA students aiming for telecom and engineering roles. Prior, we see a number of petroleum and oil and gas industries because of the economy and it hasn’t been easy for them. So we saw a number of people coming from that industry. We saw more Latin Americans this round. Definitely more Asians. Those are the major differences. For the U.S., it has been stable with a slight increase.

What do you make of the increases in Latin American and Asian applications? Have you put more marketing and recruiting efforts there?

Definitely. It’s a little more marketing. It’s always additions of efforts and you’re never really sure which it is. But it’s definitely a presence. We have somebody based in the U.S. and she travels from north to south. For Asia, the Singapore campus helps a lot. And also the Tsinghua program with the EMBA. That raised awareness for sure.

Did these changes in trends surprise you, or was it something you expected to see?

Not necessarily expected, but hoping, yes.

What about the population of women in the program? It’s lower compared to elite U.S. schools. Is this something you are working on?

We are actively working on this. We love diversity and that also means diversity in terms of gender. And 30% is a great number when you look at what it means in terms of numbers. Since we have a class of 500, it’s still more than 100 women. It’s a big number and reflects the pool of applicants. Because we recruit worldwide, in some countries and regions where we recruit, women are not necessarily thinking about an MBA program. So it is a fair proportion of the applicant pool.

We hope to raise awareness among women in countries where an MBA is not on top of their list. So it will be more of a long-term effort rather than tapping into people who know about the MBA and taking the GMAT.

Are there any types of people or backgrounds you are targeting now?

We’re lucky enough to have very interesting stories in the applicant pool. I cannot say what we are hoping to get, because it is the surprise that comes out of the pool that is exciting. When we receive the applications, it’s always a surprise to dig into this big pool and discover unique stories. You never know what you will get, and that’s what makes our life so interesting and ever-changing.

If you want an example of an extreme profile, there was this Syrian lady who was managing in Damascus just when the war started. Even for her GMAT, it meant she had to go outside (of the country), which was a bunch of tricky steps to do to apply. She was admitted and now works for L’Oreal. She is amazing. The personality is amazing. But it’s just one example.

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