What You Need to Know About Applying To INSEAD In 2021-2022

INSEAD’s full-time MBA program took first place for the third time

INSEAD is the largest full-time MBA program among the world’s top business schools, welcoming approximately 1,000 students a year, with very diverse backgrounds and a wide array of ambitions. Even in a typical year (which this decidedly was not) the INSEAD Admissions team sets a uniquely intense pace, managing eight different deadlines over two intakes (in September and January) with campuses in both Fontainebleau and Singapore. Notably, INSEAD just enrolled its largest January intake in history, up 20% over previous years, absorbing students who had decided to defer from the September 2020 intake. 

Virginie Fougeau, global director of admissions and financial aid at INSEAD

It was a special reunion for me last Thursday to speak with Virginie Fougea, the Global Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at INSEAD, for the podcast I co-host with Poets&Quants Editor-in-Chief John A. Byrne and ApplicantLab’s Maria Wich-Vila. Virginie and I worked together for many years when I was head of INSEAD Admissions from 2005 to 2012, and I was thrilled that she took over the helm when I left nine years ago to help create Fortuna Admissions which has since become one of the world’s leading MBA admissions consultancies.

In a candid and far-ranging conversation, Virginie describes what learning looks like as the pandemic continues, why the school tends to attract (and admit) slightly older candidates compared to the top U.S. programs, what they’re looking for in applicants, and the success of its new Masters in Management (MiM) program, among many other topics. 

I’ve synthesized five top take-aways from our discussion, below. Do catch the full conversation on the BusinessCasual podcast.


1. More and longer essays require introspection + a chance to more fully share your story. 

We wanted to know if INSEAD was tempted to make the admissions committee’s jobless laborious by following the US trend to reduce essays and word counts. Virginie lauded the substantive nature of the application, as it pushes people to do the introspection required to take full advantage of everything the school and community offers from day one. With a one-year program, she emphasized that you really need to hit the ground running. Students like this intensity, and it’s also valued by recruiters, who appreciate INSEAD graduates’ ability to thrive in a fast-paced work environment. So the introspective application is about preparing candidates for this intensity and setting them up for success. The length of the application is also valuable given the incredible diversity of the applicant pool, giving everyone a chance to showcase different aspects of themselves, to demonstrate fit, and convey a richness of their personal, professional, international, and extracurricular experience. And in fact, I hear from candidates who we work with at Fortuna that when the time comes to hit the submit button on their INSEAD application, they often feel a sense of great pride in the multi-dimensional story they have been able to convey thanks to the range of questions in the INSEAD application.  

(For advice on how to tackle all 7 INSEAD essays, view this related article by my Fortuna Admissions colleague, Cassandra Pittman.) 

2. Slightly older candidates reflect a commitment to global diversity and lived experience. 

The whole MBA experience at INSEAD is based on what you will be able to contribute and share with your classmates. More professional experience is often – though not always – a reflection of more life experience. It’s true that the INSEAD admissions team sees impressive candidates who are 24 and already exhibit this maturity, who have lived in different countries or worked for one or two companies. But the global diversity of the applicant pool – that includes candidates from countries with required military service, or longer study periods that reflect that students work during study programs – means that people tend to be slightly older than if INSEAD were recruiting from a purely UK, US and Anglo-Saxon educational system. 

3. Your employability won’t factor into your evaluation. 

INSEAD doesn’t consider someone’s employability in admissions, unlike what you’ll hear about some US schools. The adcom has faith that our graduates will be able to find the job that they wish. It might not just be at graduation, upon graduation – it could be three months, it could be six months after. But the school trusts graduates without having to rate them on their chances of landing a plum job.  

4. The GMAT still matters. 

Due to the accelerated and intense nature of its one-year format, the GMAT is a valuable tool for both admissions and for applicants. INSEAD sees it more as a preparation for an intensive program rather than a race for a high score, as it puts the candidate back into study mode. Another reason relates to how truly globally diverse the candidate pool is: applicant transcripts offer an array of evaluation scales that don’t match one another. Although the INSEAD admissions team understands the different educational systems, the GMAT still helps level the playing field by offering a consistent data point for evaluating candidates against each other and understanding their academic capacity and ability to tackle a rigorous, fast-paced curriculum. 

5. Faculty perspectives provide unique & valuable input in admission decisions.  

Distinctive to INSEAD is that the admissions committee comprises alumni and faculty. It can make for an interesting debate; during the admissions committee meetings you might have an admissions staffer or alum who wants to take a chance on an applicant, but a professor feels otherwise from a teaching perspective. I well remember how this would often give rise to impassioned debates! This exchange of views on applicants and diversity of perspectives enriches the selection process, and by design, the faculty are invested in admissions decisions. This in itself is important: the dynamics of such an exceptionally diverse classroom is a unique teaching challenge, and faculty must be able to bring each group of people together and spark the magic that happens in the INSEAD classroom.

For more advice on applying to INSEAD, view my related features, Advice for 6 Common Profiles Applying to INSEAD, and Everything You Need to Know About the INSEAD Interview. 

Caroline Diarte Edwards is a director at MBA admissions coaching firm Fortuna Admissions and former INSEAD director of admissions, marketing, and financial aid. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.

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