In last year’s admission cycle, Gurufi editors and consultants helped nearly a dozen applicants earn admission into INSEAD. INSEAD’s approach and values are a bit idiosyncratic, and their multiple admissions essays require a lot more thought and planning than schools that use just a single, longer essay. Below is a comprehensive guide to INSEAD’s essays, but if you need additional help reach out to us. We have sixteen years of experience helping MBA candidates earn admission into their dream schools. Gurufi focuses on the written parts of the application -personal statement, CV, etc.
Applying to INSEAD's MBA program can feel like navigating a complex labyrinth, with its requirement of seven essays totaling 2,000 words, not including the optional ones. People looking to simply repurpose their other personal statements will be bitterly disappointed, as the structure and format of INSEAD’s application doesn’t really allow that. Their admissions staff suggests dedicating eight weeks to planning and wring their essays. With focus and a plan, it needn’t be that long (and certainly I can help you with that!), but the point remains: this application shouldn’t be an afterthought; it requires its own planning and effort.
Unlike many top-tier MBA applications that force candidates to choose between highlighting their career achievements or personal qualities, INSEAD provides ample space for both. This allows applicants to delve into the nuances of their career paths and personal journeys, presenting a well-rounded profile to the admissions committee.
The upside, though, is that INSEAD’s process aligns with its mission of wanting to assess you holistically. The multiple essays (along with the interviews and letters of rec), provide a chance for you to paint detailed, nuanced, granular, and vivid picture of your personal and professional lives.
- Career Essay 1: Career Essay 1 in the INSEAD application is your opportunity to provide a clear, concise snapshot of your current or most recent professional role. This essay acts as a foundational piece, setting the stage for the detailed narrative that will unfold in your subsequent essays.
This essay should be a succinct summary of your current or most recent job. You want to focus on major responsibilities, leadership roles, and significant achievements. Also think in terms of “what did I accomplish?” and “how did I contribute substantively?” Also, avoid industry jargon. Using too much jargon makes you sound less human and often people don’t quite realize that terms that are common in their industry aren’t universally known, even to business-savvy readers. Most importantly, though, jargon often obscures the basics of your job. You want to convey your role, how you’ve exceled, and areas where you’ve grown, and talking like an HR bot will obscure that.
Some additional tips:
- Contextualize Your Role: Begin by situating your position within the broader framework of your organization. Specify your title, the nature of the business, and your department’s function. This helps the reader understand the scope and scale of your role.
- Highlight Key Responsibilities: Distill your day-to-day responsibilities into a coherent narrative. Focus on aspects that showcase your skills and leadership abilities. If you manage a team, describe the size and scope of your leadership. If you handle budgets, give a sense of scale.
- Achievements and Impact: While brevity is key, weaving in one or two significant achievements can add depth. Choose accomplishments that demonstrate measurable impact, such as revenue growth, project success, or process improvement. Use quantifiable metrics to add credibility.
- Leadership and Teamwork: If relevant, mention instances where you led teams or collaborated on international projects. This demonstrates your ability to work in diverse environments, a quality highly valued at INSEAD.
- Avoid “leveraging”: People use “leverage” as a verb far too loosely. You want to be precise. As a rule, I usually tell clients not to use the word at all. Instead, think specifically about what you did and use that insight to select a more precise verb.
- Connect to Your MBA Goals: Implicitly, your essay should start painting a picture of why an MBA, and specifically an INSEAD MBA, is the logical next step in your journey. While you won't delve into future goals here, the skills and experiences you mention should align with the narrative you'll build in subsequent essays.
Career Essay 2: The Next Career Step
For Career Essay 2, your task is to outline your anticipated next step within your current organization. This essay allows you to illustrate your career trajectory and potential within your current context.
- Define the Next Role: Clearly state what your next position would be. If possible, include the job title and a brief description of new responsibilities and the potential for increased leadership. Obviously, all aspects of the essay that project forward should feel connected to your past, present, and the education you seek at INSEAD. The things you hope to do in the future should, therefore, inform which experiences and moments from your past you choose to highlight.
- Contextualize the Promotion: Explain why this role is the logical next step. Discuss any new skills or experiences you would gain and how they align with your long-term career aspirations.
- Brevity and Clarity: With only 200 words, be succinct. Focus on the essentials that convey a clear picture of your upward mobility within your company. Again, make sure your future is logically connected to your past and present as well as your goals at INSEAD.
Career Essay 3: Career Path Narrative
This essay is your opportunity to elaborate on your career journey since university.
- Chronological Narrative: Start from your first role post-university and work your way to the present. This chronological approach helps in painting a clear picture of your career progression.
- Rationale Behind Choices: Emphasize why you made specific career moves. This insight is crucial in understanding your decision-making process and career strategy.
- Highlight Transitions: If you’ve made significant shifts, such as industry changes or geographical moves, explain the reasoning and what you gained from these experiences.
Career Essay 4: Post-MBA Aspirations
With a tight 100-word limit, this essay must be direct yet impactful.
- Immediate and Long-Term Goals: Clearly state your post-MBA goal and your vision for 10-15 years down the line. How does one lead to the other?
- Specificity: Mention specific roles, companies, industries, and locations. Explain briefly why you are passionate about this trajectory.
Motivation Essay 1: Candid Self-Description
This essay is a deep dive into your personal characteristics, strengths, weaknesses, and influential life events. Be honest, but make sure that you’re neither overly negative nor too effusive in self-praise. One good trick is to ask that person in your life who both loves you AND can speak to you bluntly about your missteps. Ask them, “what’s my superpower, what’s my kryptonite, and if you had to introduce me to a stranger at the start of a long trip together, what would you say?” These sorts of lighthearted questions can help your friend provide you with useful insights that can inform how you write this essay.
- Personal Qualities: Identify and discuss the personal traits you consider to be your strengths and weaknesses. Be honest and introspective.
- Life Influences: Reflect on the key factors and events that have shaped your personal development. Use examples to illustrate these influences.
- Depth Over Breadth: Choose a few significant themes rather than trying to cover too much. This approach allows for more meaningful insight into your personality.
Motivation Essay 2: Achievement and Failure
This essay requires you to discuss a proud achievement and a situation where you failed.
- Balanced Narrative: Allocate roughly equal space to both the achievement and the failure. Be specific about the circumstances, your role, and the outcome. Also, you’re likely smart to avoid something that is cringy and overly personal, BUT don’t humble brag. Saying something like, “I fail because I just work too hard and care too much” will make your reader groan with annoyance.
- Lessons Learned: Reflect on what these experiences taught you and how they have affected your relationships and personal growth. Frankly, the lesson you learned is the most important part of the failure piece of this essay, so focus mostly on that. The specific mistake is less important than your response to it, how you grew, and how it highlights the kind of person you aspire to become.
- Professional and Personal Balance: While professional examples are valuable, don’t shy away from including a personal story if it provides meaningful insight into your character.
Motivation Essay 3: Extra-Professional Activities
This essay is about your life outside of work and how these activities enrich you.
- Diverse Activities: Discuss various involvements such as volunteering, hobbies, or sports, focusing on those with significant time commitment or impact.
- Personal Enrichment: Explain how these activities have contributed to your personal development. What skills or insights have you gained?
- Depth and Insight: Go beyond a mere listing of activities. Delve into why these activities are meaningful to you and how they shape your worldview.
NSEAD's Holistic Admissions Approach
Finally, a note about INSEAD's holistic admissions approach. They take this very (!!) seriously, so make sure that your essay shows lots of different aspects of your life and passions. Their admissions process is multifaceted and seeks to understand applicants as individuals, assess their fit with the program, and look beyond mere test scores or
professional achievements. This approach is about uncovering the person behind
the application. As such, keep these things in mind:
- Understanding the Individual: INSEAD aims to grasp the entirety of an applicant's journey, including their personal experiences, values, and motivations. This understanding allows the admissions committee to see how applicants have evolved over time and how they respond to challenges and opportunities.
- Assessing Fit: Fit is about more than academic ability. It's about how an applicant's aspirations, personality, and values align with INSEAD's culture and ethos. The school looks for evidence that applicants can thrive in its dynamic, diverse, and rigorous environment.
- Looking Beyond Clichés and Test Scores: INSEAD values uniqueness and authenticity. The admissions committee seeks applicants who can bring fresh perspectives and diverse experiences to the table, rather than those who fit a stereotypical mold.
- Comprehensive Evaluation: Every aspect of the application is important. Essays, recommendations, interviews, and academic records collectively paint a picture of the applicant. This comprehensive approach ensures a fair and thorough assessment of each candidate's potential. They values:
* Originality is Key: Avoid clichés. Be honest and reflective about your unique
experiences. Balance professional details with personal insights.
* Diverse Profiles: INSEAD values diversity. Whether your background is in business, medicine, humanities, or the military, focus on what sets you apart.
* Personal and Professional Anecdotes: Use stories from different stages of your life to illustrate your points. Ensure these narratives are relevant and add depth to your answers.
For more help with your personal statement, check us out at Gurufi.com. Our personal statement editors and consultants have decades of experience helping clients get into top Masters and Ph.D. programs in STEM, humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. Our specialty is helping you craft compelling personal statements that move the needle in your admissions process! For questions, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check us out on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.