How to Secure a Competitive MBA Place at INSEAD

Tips to make your MBA application to INSEAD standout

As one of the world’s premier business schools, INSEAD attracts top talent from around the globe. With its strong curriculum, diverse student body and extensive alumni network, securing admission to INSEAD’s MBA program is highly competitive. The acceptance rate is estimated to be around 30 percent. 

Prospective students must navigate a complex application process while showcasing the qualities that set them apart from the crowd. 

Key factors INSEAD looks for in MBA applicants 

INSEAD, with campuses in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, seeks candidates who demonstrate exceptional academic prowess and strong leadership potential, as well as diverse backgrounds and a global mindset. 

To stand out, prospective students should highlight the following qualities in their applications, say former and current INSEAD admissions staff, along with admissions consultants who advise MBA applicants. 

Professional experience and leadership potential: Typically, INSEAD students have around 5 to 6 years of full-time work experience. “The school is looking to craft a diverse class, so there is no particular professional sector or function that has an advantage over another; it’s more about the quality of the work experience, and the impact that the candidate has had,” says Caroline Diarte Edwards, who was the admissions chief at INSEAD between 2005-12. 

Academic ability: INSEAD’s MBA is intense; students cover 80 percent of the curriculum of a two-year year program, but in just 10 months. “Some say it is like drinking from a firehose, so the admissions committee needs to be confident that students can flourish academically,” says Diarte Edwards, now a director at Fortuna Admissions, which helps MBA applicants. “They scrutinize the candidate’s undergraduate transcript as well as the GMAT or GRE score. An ideal GMAT is in the 70th percentile or above, and the ideal GRE is in the 80th percentile or above.” 

International outlook: The INSEAD community is incredibly diverse, with typically over 80 nationalities represented on the MBA. So the school is looking for candidates with diverse cultural and professional backgrounds, and ideally some experience of studying or working outside their home country, as well as genuine motivation to join such an international network.

Virginie Fougea, the current global director of admissions at INSEAD, says the school looks for “international motivation” in would-be MBA students. “As you will be interacting with diverse cultures and people, we want to understand how open minded you are, how sensitive and aware of other cultures you are,” she explains. 

“These can be demonstrated by sharing your background or experience, for example in living and working or studying abroad, working for a multinational company or in leading a multicultural team.” 

Application process and tips for success 

INSEAD has two classes per year, one starting in January and one in August, and four rounds of admission for each class. The application process for INSEAD typically consists of several stages. 

The first is to sit the GMAT or GRE. Experts say it takes candidates 2-4 months of preparation before they are able to take the test and achieve a score that represents their true potential. 

The next step is to prepare the written application, which includes three motivational essay questions, four career questions, a data form, and a CV. Supporting documents are also required: a scan of the candidate’s university transcript and a copy of the GMAT or GRE test results, as well as English test results for non-native English speakers (who have not completed their undergraduate studies in English). 

The candidate also needs to provide two recommendation letters to highlight their leadership and management potential. Additionally, there are video questions to submit within 48 hours of the application deadline. These are conducted on a virtual platform and candidates are asked four questions that are randomly generated from a large question bank, and are given 45 seconds to prepare, and then 60 seconds to record their response. 

The admissions team will then review the entire application and decide whether to interview the candidate. Candidates who receive interview invitations will then be matched with two alumni, usually from their local area, and will meet with them in person (or sometimes on zoom) for an interview that lasts about an hour. 

“It’s definitely worth preparing for the interview and having someone put you through your paces and give you feedback,” says Diarte Edwards. 

Common pitfalls and how to stand out 

Avoiding common mistakes can significantly enhance your chances of admission to INSEAD. 

“A common mistake applicants make is to think about London Business School and INSEAD as interchangeable because they are usually considered the two top-ranked MBA programs in Europe,” says David White, founding partner and admissions consultant at Menlo Coaching. 

However, he says the two programs differ in several important ways, with INSEAD’s MBA considerably shorter in length. “This requires students to be clear in advance about their career goals in order to have the best chance of achieving a great career outcome,” White says. 

Additionally, besides the international culture, INSEAD also stresses the idea of business as a force for good. “Applicants can show their fit with INSEAD’s culture by explaining how they would pursue a career in which business success and positive social impact are combined,” adds White. 

Demonstrating fit with INSEAD’s culture 

INSEAD prides itself on a diverse community, characterized by collaboration, intellectual curiosity and a passion for making a positive impact on the world. 

“INSEAD is a very social school – it’s a running joke that it stands for ‘I Never Stop Eating and Drinking’,” says Stacy Blackman, the founder of admissions agency Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC). “They pride themselves on being a rigorous program but with the work hard/play hard mentality at its core. Having an active social life, cultural activities, or sports engagements, even if not formal, are a huge plus.” 

Fougea adds: “My advice to applicants is to be themselves and showcase authenticity in their applications. It is important for us to discover the person behind the application form. We want to understand who you are, and what has shaped you in life, as well as whether you will be a good fit at INSEAD.” 


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