INSEAD MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines [2020 – 2021]

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Communication is key for INSEAD – in part because it is a key factor that their recruiters look for. Hence the INSEAD application elicits your communication effectiveness. First, INSEAD asks you to write reflective essays – and to do so succinctly. Balancing this emphasis on written communication is a video component – the adcom wants to see you articulate your thoughts in a spoken, interpersonal setup as well. Ultimately, verbal acuity really matters in the INSEAD program because the ability to comprehend, synthesize, communicate, and act on complex ideas across cultures is central to global leadership.

Motivation is the second driving interest of the INSEAD adcom. The application form terms its three essays “Motivation Essays.” Keep that word “motivation” in clear focus as you draft those essays; it indicates that you should express not just what you’ve done but why – what drives you; what propels your choices, decisions, and actions. These written essays are the first “getting to know you” element. Taken together in both form and content, the written and video components should portray both sophisticated communication abilities and self-awareness of who you are and what inspires you, moves you, propels you forward.

INSEAD MBA 2020-2021 motivation essays

INSEAD MBA essay #1

Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (Maximum 500 words)

This question gets to a key point: how well do you know yourself, and are you able to openly acknowledge your motivations and shortcomings? (Perhaps one could interpret it as “Are you mature?”) Note that “strengths” and “weaknesses” are plural – and they should be personal, not professional, characteristics. A personal weakness such as “impatience with detail” could certainly have professional impact, but don’t cite a weakness that is purely work-related.

I suggest 2-3 strengths and 1-2 weaknesses. Provide examples for all of them – these examples can vary in length – sometimes a sentence will suffice. Also, try to bring in anecdotes/examples from outside work and from work. Sometimes, one anecdote can cover both a strength and a weakness, and, also, sometimes, a strength, taken to excess, can turn into a weakness – just possibilities to keep in mind when deciding on content for the essay.

The main formative factors you choose to cite may be related to and integrated with the strengths/weaknesses; in addition, you can discuss key elements of your background that differentiate or distinguish you and are truly key to your personal development.

(NOTE: There is potential for some overlap in this essay with Essay 2, so look at both questions together and organize content before writing them.)

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INSEAD MBA essay #2

Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (Maximum 400 words)

With only 400 words to describe 2 significant experiences, and the specified discussion points, use stories that can be told without a lot of background information. And keep in mind Essay 1 – don’t use stories that reflect exactly the same messages.  

“Achievement of which you are most proud” is a high bar, and it can be from either work or outside of work. It also should be something that reveals qualities or attributes about you that are positive and relevant. I suggest using something from the last two to three years. Luckily you don’t have to write about the failure about which you are most ashamed… 😉 Discuss a failure that is specific, fairly recent, and meaty enough to have rattled you a bit. Again, work or non-work topic is fine.

In discussing what you learned from the experiences and how they impacted your relationships, either identify one specific thing each for each story, or integrate “impact relationship” and “what you learned” into one point – avoid broad learnings, as targeted, specific insights will be more thoughtful and illuminating.

INSEAD MBA essay #3

Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc.). How are you enriched by these activities? (Maximum 300 words)

Simply discuss the range of activities you participate (or have participated) in – those that are major passions, and those that are “just fun” – clarifying their relative role and importance in your life. Be straightforward in how they enriched you – insight is what’s important. Imagine you are meeting with clients or superiors – between the business dealings (and perhaps over a drink), you and they chat about non-work interests – approach this essay like such a conversation. Not quite as casual as with a peer, but still conversational, straightforward, and connecting on a person-to-person level.

INSEAD MBA essay #4 (optional)

Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the admissions committee? (Maximum 300 words)

Use the optional essay to explain anything that needs explaining and/or to give them one more reason to accept you. DON’T use it for a superficial summary, a restatement of your other essays, or anything similarly boring and trite. If you choose to write it, produce a tight, focused essay revealing something you haven’t yet discussed.

INSEAD MBA video component

After you hit the “submit” button on the application, you will receive on your dashboard 4 questions (a link will also be emailed to you). Your application will be deemed completed only after you submit your video interviews. The questions will likely further explore your motivations and perspective. Finally, presentation matters. If they only wanted the content, presumably they would have had written questions. Find that perfect balance – be yourself, but be professional. Polished, but not slick or contrived. This “perfect balance” will be different for different people, depending on their culture, their personality, their profession. To prepare, if you haven’t had formal training in presentations or communication, it would be a good idea to try some self-videos with random questions and analyze them, looking as well as listening.

For expert guidance with your INSEAD MBA application, check out Accepted’s MBA Application Packages, which include comprehensive guidance from an experienced admissions consultant. We’ve helped hundreds of applicants get accepted to INSEAD’s MBA program and look forward to helping you too!

INSEAD MBA application deadlines for September 2021 intake

Round 1September 11, 2020
Round 2November 6, 2020
Round 3January 8, 2021
Round 4February 26, 2021

Source: INSEAD website

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***Disclaimer: Information is subject to change. Please check with individual programs to verify the essay questions, instructions and deadlines.***

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