INSEAD & LBS: Q&A From A Live Strategy Session With Admissions Insiders

Caroline Diarte Edwards Fortuna

Caroline Diarte Edwards, Director of Fortuna

There’s a host of great reasons to consider an international MBA. Not least of which is that five of the top 10 programs in the FT Global MBA Ranking 2017 are European schools.

There are also many unique factors to consider when crafting a winning application. Two directors from Fortuna’s team of former MBA admissions directors and insiders recently joined Poets&Quants’ John A. Byrne in a live strategy session, focusing on how to maximize your chances of admission to two of Europe’s top MBA programs: INSEAD and LBS. INSEAD has spent the last two years at the top of the FT Global rankings, and LBS in the top six.


Many terrific questions surfaced during this hour-long dialogue, which you can still watch in its entirety. I offered advice from my perspective as former INSEAD Director of MBA Admissions, along with my colleague Emma Bond, former LBS Senior Manager of MBA Admissions.

Below, Emma and I offer our thoughts to six key questions asked by session participants:

Q: I have 4 years’ work experience – is that sufficient for INSEAD?

A: The range at INSEAD is typically 2-12 years; average is around 5.5 years of experience. Remember that schools look at length of work experience as up until the start of the program, not up until the time of application. So, for example, if you’re applying in round 1 this fall for Sept 2018 entry, the school will calculate your work experience as one year more than you have at time of application (unless you are not working, or, say, you plan to leave your job In the coming months).

Apply when the timing is right for you; the challenge at an early stage in your career (if you have 18 months work experience right now, for example) is demonstrating strong progression and achievement, and also articulating what you can contribute to the program. In most cases, candidates get more out of the INSEAD program when they have at least three years’ work experience when they start the MBA. Having some substantial work experience means that you have more context to which you can relate your learning.

Q: Do the schools consider a low undergrad GPA in context? Like simultaneously working a fulltime internship at 45 hour per week internship and also studying for your CPA?

A: Yes, schools will take into account mitigating factors. Admissions officers are human too, and will understand that if you were working a fulltime job and had a heavy course load, you were less likely to gain a stellar GPA. However, it would be wise to balance your GPA with a really strong showing in the GMAT.

Q: How does LBS consider re-applicants? How will a previous year’s application affect the admission decision?

A: The school does welcome re-applicants, however bear in mind that LBS (and INSEAD) will refer to your previous application also, and unless there is some strong evolution in your profile since your previous application, you are likely to get the same outcome. Before reapplying, spend some time figuring out what went wrong the first time, and what you can do to address perceived weaknesses. Showing you’ve made the effort to learn from your previous experience and have made a serious effort to improve yourself as a candidate shows motivation and commitment that the school will appreciate.

Q: Do LBS and INSEAD treat GRE scores any differently than GMAT?

A: INSEAD does expect the GMAT rather than the GRE, if this is an option for you, so if you haven’t yet taken either test, and the GMAT is an option for you, then you should definitely focus on it. Remember that the GMAT is a test designed for business schools, and as such, is seen as a better predictor of academic performance on an MBA program than the GRE.

LBS takes a less strong view on the GRE. They generally prefer GMAT – and perhaps most importantly, so do their employers – but that doesn’t give GMAT holders an advantage over GRE takers. LBS only has the first group of GRE takers coming into the MBA this year and will be monitoring their progress. Having said that, LBS has accepted it on MiF (Masters in Finance) and MiM (Masters in Management) in previous years and has been happy with the students who took GRE.

Q: January term versus fall terms at INSEAD? How to make the decision?

A: The academic program is the same. The key difference is the internship option. If you start in January, you have a 2-month summer break when you can pursue an internship; if you start in September you will graduate the following July and don’t have an internship option (unless you do an internship when you graduate, in the hope it will turn into a full time offer, which can happen). Know that the internship is a key recruitment mechanism in particular for investment banking, so if you are looking to make a career switch into IB, you should definitely focus on the January intake.

Another difference is campus exchange options: the Wharton, Kellogg and CEIBS exchanges are for the January entry only, and the September entry (only) has the opportunity to complete a module on the Abu Dhabi campus.

Sometimes candidates speculate about whether one of the intakes is more competitive than the other; in fact the school does get more applications for the Sept entry, but the yield (percentage of admits who actually join the program) is higher for the January entry, so the acceptance rate is pretty much identical across the two intakes.

Q: Can someone from an unknown university get into a top MBA program?

A: Yes. Hopefully you got a good GPA, and go on to get a strong GMAT, to bolster your academic profile overall.

Fortuna Admissions Six Tips to Stand out in a Sea of ExcellenceCaroline is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions at INSEAD.  Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 8 of the top 10 business schools.

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