My MIM Journey: When Plans Change, You Need to Adapt

Robin Duppui

While I was nearing the end of the penultimate semester of my bachelor’s degree in early 2020, I was starting to plan my next steps. Write my bachelor thesis, finish my degree by late summer and then start an internship as a first step towards securing an entry-level position. After that I was planning to work for a few years and then maybe start an MBA.

At least, that was the idea.

The Coronavirus pandemic and the accompanying restrictions hit Germany in late March, just a week before the last exam of my fifth semester. Exams were postponed indefinitely, in-person classes were cancelled indefinitely, and the 10+ companies that I had applied to all rejected me, some even stopped hiring people altogether.

Well, plans are always subject to change, so I had to adapt. I decided to extend my degree by another semester, which would give me a lot more flexibility with regards to my final classes, since for a long time, it was not clear how and when exams were going to take place. It also gave me significantly more time for writing my final paper and my bachelor thesis. After all, six months more or less wouldn’t make a big difference and whether I started working in September or in February the following year wouldn’t either. By summer, things were already looking up.

Exams started taking place again (although in-person classes did not), the first wave was ending, restrictions were lifted and the stock market had rebounded. The outlook was great, I assumed that the job market would also normalise towards the end of the year again. Things could only go up from here, right?

As we all know, that was not how it went. By autumn, infection numbers were on the rise again and one by one countries started reinstating and toughening restrictions. By winter, Germany was back in lockdown. Things were not going well to say the least. I could not extend my studies forever, and I wanted to take the next steps in my career. I started applying for internships and entry level jobs. I thought, how bad could it be? 

Pretty bad, it turns out.

I received rejection after rejection, sometimes not even an hour after I had submitted my application.

It took me half a year and about five dozen applications from when I started applying in October until I finally secured an internship in March of 2021. Luckily, I was able to extend my studies by another semester, bringing the total up to eight, two more than the standard study time. This initial success only helped soothe my worries momentarily, however. The question of “What next?” still loomed over, or more rather in, my head like a Damoclean sword.

So, I started to weigh my options. I could try to follow my original plan and try to secure an entry-level position, with the danger of being forced to take whatever came my way no matter whether I was actually interested or not. This also meant going through the whole ordeal of countless applications and rejections again. The other option was to amend my plans, and pursue a Master´s degree.

This made me face a seemingly massive challenge earlier than I expected: applying to universities. It also brought one of my deeply seated insecurities to light. My grades. 

I was never the valedictorian type, never far from it but never on the top spot. I never considered “learning” for the pure aim of repetition one of my strengths, I was always better at the application of knowledge rather than its pure memorisation. During the second semester of my bachelor studies, I faced several personal challenges in my private life, which caused my academic performance to take a severe hit. Throughout the rest of my degree, I tried to salvage as much as possible. I am relatively happy with the end result, but I missed my goal of landing on the Dean's list.

My alma mater follows a path that is relatively common in Germany. Instead of extensive selection during the application phase, the programme weeds out through its very challenging curriculum and exams. As such, my GPA on paper was not that impressive either. Through the years, my grades silently became my mental weak spot. I never doubted my abilities, but I more and more believed that my perceived lack of academic excellence took away my chance of showing the full extent of what I could do.

The past application phase did not help either. See, what I realiaed is that the first five, ten, twenty rejections actually hardened me off, but after the thirtieth rejection, the question “Am I just not good enough?” started creeping in. After the fortieth or fiftieth rejection, it took center stage. I fell into a deep hole, fearing that I missed my shot in life, because of two or three tenths on my GPA.

But what to do but soldier on, so I started preparing my university applications.

I realised that regardless of where I wanted to go, I had to take the GMAT. Having heard the horror stories of how difficult it was, I did not expect much. I just hoped that it would suffice to get me accepted somewhere. When I received the result, I was staggered. I had scored 700 points, way more than I had ever expected!

That moment was a gamechanger for me. Suddenly, the top MIM programmes were within my reach! INSEAD was within my reach.

Be it the international exposure, the diverse cohort, the intense and focussed structure - for me, INSEAD had always been the shining city on the hill.

The best school there is, although always out of reach. INSEAD was not a place for ordinary people, only business royalty goes there. As such I could not believe it, when I got the call that I had been accepted. Finally, the shot at greatness I had been looking for!

As I am writing this, I am finishing my P0 courses and completing my final preparations before moving to Fontainebleau. I am extremely impressed by the programme so far. The courses are highly interesting and taught by incredibly motivated lecturers and even though I haven't met a single one of my fellow students personally, the sense of community and belonging I already feel purely by conversing with them via messages is amazing. I am finally feeling the kind of exhilarating stress I had been yearning for throughout the dreary wait-and-see pandemic year.

My biggest takeaway so far however, is something a lot more personal.

Through my negative obsession about my grades, I had forgotten to consider all the other things I had to offer which made me who I am. My years of living abroad, my professional experience and my personality itself. A good INSEADer, and a good candidate in general, is not just someone with good grades. There are many other things that are equally if not more important than the number at the bottom of your diploma.

So, if I had to give one piece of advice to anyone who is experiencing the kind of feelings of inadequacy that I have felt, it is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Are you really a lost cause or are you just obsessing over some small detail? You might be surprised what you will find.

I am excited for the time ahead and I am actually looking forward to all the work and stress everyone prophesises us. I have been granted my first shot, now it is up to me to use it. And I fully intend to do that.