INSEAD's Unique Application Process

Elias Charara

Hey everyone!

My name is Elias Charara, MBA’19J. I will be joining the Fontainebleau campus in a week, and am very excited to write this first post, hopefully of many that I will be writing during the year. I am grateful to have been given the opportunity to share what I believe will be a great year (“the best of your life”, in the words of all alumni I met), and to encourage potential future INSEADers to join the family.

In the last few weeks, besides enjoying my vacation and meeting 19J’s in France and Lebanon with whom I will be spending the year ahead, I have been reminiscing about the INSEAD application process. From writing the essays and filling out the online application forms, to interviewing with alumni and figuring out your financing options, the process alternates between the intellectually challenging and frustrating (especially if you are anxious to perfect the essays and make sure no answer overlaps another), but ends up being very, very enriching.

INSEAD’s 7-essay-application is unique among other business schools. Not only does it break down the questions to get to know the applicants inside-out, as opposed to limiting their ability to present themselves under many lights by asking one broad question, but it also allows them to (re)evaluate their career to date and previous decisions, and to think about their future, professionally and personally.

As a fellow 19’J told me: “I felt the INSEAD process of strengthening my self-awareness was fully launched with the application process.”

And how about these interviews?! As I was residing in New York at the time, I was assigned to two alumni who worked in the city. From the get-go, they told me that they obviously would have to ask the usual “why an MBA?”, “Why INSEAD?” among others, but that the bulk of our time together would focus on me as a person and as a professional. With my first interviewer, who had a few years of experience in the Middle East like I did, the conversation turned at one point to the gender gap still very strongly felt in this region. With the second, who turned out to be passionate about history like me, we discussed how the Greek civilization (and then the Roman) set the foundations for the whole Western culture as we know it today (don’t worry, you will find many other interesting points to discuss during the interviews). And all that while my two interviewers were closely evaluating my communication and analytical skills, as well as my self-confidence and general culture. Both discussed openly their INSEAD and professional experiences to date and displayed their enthusiasm that the school was attracting this kind of attention and numbers for the last decade. They advised me on how to best manage my time and to enter the campus with an open-mind regarding careers, courses, and everything else.

The open, non-scripted interviews do not mean you do not have to be prepared to explain why you want an MBA, why INSEAD, and why you made the decisions that led you to this point in your life. But if you indulged in self-exploration and dug deep into your motivations and interests while writing the application essays, there is really no need to prepare much for the interviews. During the process, you will find that you are taking a journey down memory lane.

You will recall your achievements, your failures, ask yourself why you have done so and so and how you would do it differently.

And this is not a one-off exercise just to perfect your essays and interviews: once at INSEAD,  you will be assisted by Career Development Centre professionals to build on all these thoughts to find your preferred professional roles, ideal fits, and acquire the tools to continuously do so over your career.

This leads me to my last point: enjoy writing the essays and benefit from the fact that the questions are all laid out for you. Give yourself time; there is no right amount as it all depends on individual experience, writing proficiency, and current life occupations (how busy you are). I would say that I started late on the essays, leading me to see the writing process as frustrating and cumbersome at some point. But when I took a step back and looked at the big picture, I realised how eye-opening and personally enriching the whole process had been. The tip: give yourself time.