My journey towards INSEAD

Alice Chen

I've toyed with the idea of doing an MBA for the better part of my career, and the reasons for doing one had changed over the years. I came from an untraditional background of mathematical sciences (with a double major in English), and education. Due to my impatience as a fresh grad at the huge saturation of teachers in the Toronto region, I never actually had the opportunity to teach in a high school classroom. Instead, I quickly pivoted into banking and started my entry-level job in retail banking.

In the five years that followed, I considered doing an MBA three times.

The first time, I wanted to learn the basic business fundamentals that I never got in undergrad. I even wrote my GMAT, applied to three schools in the city, and got offers with scholarships. But shortly before I accepted the admissions, I received an offer for a role in corporate banking, and across the country away from home. An MBA was always a means to an end, and if I had a job lined up already, there was no urgent reason for me to forgo the learning opportunities that I can get from a job.

Two years later, I considered venturing outside of Canada, and explored going to business school in the UK. In some respects, the decisions were closely tied with my personal desire to live abroad. I even visited these schools, got all my references lined up, and finished polishing my personal essays for a second time. But again, days before I applied, I received an offer to go to Hong Kong to continue my career. Once again, the urgency of an MBA took a backseat, and I packed my bags.

The third time, I finally took the plunge, and I had only applied to INSEAD. After going through this process three times, I knew exactly what I was looking for.

I wanted a one-year program, in a region that I actually wanted to work in, which will help me to pivot into a new geography and function. The application process was lengthy and well put-together, and I remembered reflecting many times during the essay questions, how I had changed as a candidate from five years ago. My goals to do an MBA had changed from getting some basic business foundations, to a means to live abroad, and finally to now, a way for me to take my career to the next level and meet like-minded peers.

I believe that what helped me finally get an offer from INSEAD was due to my unrelenting goal-setting. I often joke that getting into INSEAD took five years in the making, but it really was. Five years ago, I had first heard about INSEAD from a colleague, and I had looked up INSEAD's admission requirements, just for fun. I recognised the huge gaps in my resume (specifically in building my varied work and volunteering experiences, language capabilities, and international exposure) and I knew that I would have had an overwhelming amount of work to do to get in. Yet I had always inadvertently targeted INSEAD's ideal candidate profile as something to strive for.

My reasons for going to business school shifted over the years, yet all of them were valid. People attend business schools for different reasons, and if you're looking to do the same, then my advice is to have clarity about what you want to achieve out of the experience, align your profile with that of your dream school, and work to fill in the gaps. Good luck!