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For GMAT Score Holders: Analysis of the Application Essays for the MBA Program at INSEAD (2013- 2014)

The labor put into GMAT preparation invariably exhausts students in terms of time and energy but they need to brace themselves up and get ready for the next round of the bout. The time of the year for applications is here again and there is a lot that is new and much that has not changed for ages. Talking about business schools, there are some schools that feature on the wish list of every MBA aspirant. Irrespective of whether the applicant fits the school or vice versa, there are schools that everyone wants to be at. INSEAD, LBS, Wharton, Harvard, Cornell and NYU are the most popular of thepopular!

When it comes to applying to INSEAD, the most difficult hurdle to cross is getting the expansive set of essays ready on time. Yes, the GMAT test score apart, the most time consuming and effort ridden aspect of the application process is compiling the essays. With two professional essays of 250 words each and 6 (+ 1 optional) personal essays of varying lengths the INSEAD essay section is by all standards the most detailed. Of course the advantage is that the essays provide applicants with a vast platform to showcase their skills and talk about themselves. There is a little of everything – two achievements, one failure, career objectives, culture shock (this last one has been on the essay file for years!) and what not. So if a prospective applicant has nailed the GMAT and is ready to start applying to INSEAD, he should brace himself up, smile, take a deep breath and put pen to paper!!! Enjoy the opportunity.

For the professional essays there is one word of caution – read the question finely. The first question wants information about only your most recent job. So do not banter about your achievements in the company in general and about previous posts in the company. Remember all you have is 250 words. Be to the point and make sure you have adhered to the pointers in the question “the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/products and results achieved.” For the second question, be sure to describe your ‘career’ since graduating. Which means a summary of all employment before answering the question about what your next position will be were you to continue with your present employer. With a word limit of 250 words, this could be a tricky question for someone with a varied career history but then do not get wound up in descriptions. Just sketch the career history moving chronologically from since graduation to the present.

For the personal questions the most important thing to observe is the word count while drafting each essay. Surely you will have time to edit and shorten essays but once you have allowed your ideas to soar and your words to flow irrepressibly it is going to be difficult to curtail your expression to the stipulated word count and still make the sense you want to make. So from the onset observe the limits. The first essay allows a certain abandon; 600 words to describe yourself. That is fairly generous! There are schools that want the same essay in far fewer words. Apart from the word limit of this essay take care about the content. Most people thing this as an opportunity to brag. On the contrary, it is an opportunity to describe what you consider your most appreciable qualities (strengths), what you think are the qualities you might want to improve on (weaknesses) and an opportunity to share with admission committee the experiences that have shaped who you are. The best way to tackle this essay is to weave your qualities into the stories you tell about yourself and to construct an essay that makes for interesting reading.

Essay 2 is built around specific situations in your life and is anecdotal. So although a lot happens in our lives, make sure to pick one professional achievement and one personal achievement for a 400 word essay. The limitations in terms of words necessitate emphasis on the situation and some lines on why these two examples are achievements for you. In essay 3, there is more room for detail. We have to describe one instance of failure and have 400 words for this. But the real challenge of this question is not the situation – after all different people have different perspectives of failure- but the manner in which the writer is able to convince the reader why he considers this a failure and what he has learnt from it.

Essay 4 is the most dynamic of the personal essays and helps applicants express their understanding of different cultures. But understanding the term ‘culture shock’ is the first step to getting this response right. INSEAD has earned an impeccable reputation for internationalism and this essay is the school’s way of discovering each applicant’s experiences with different cultures and his potential to handle more such differences. In the first version of the essay the applicant needs to focus on one episode in his life that exposed him to culture shock while the second version of the same essay allows the applicant to describe his own country’s culture and identify what all about it might ‘shock’ people from other countries. The thing to be avoided here is any kind of ‘political’ statement that can offend someone. The key is to be chatty, culturally alert and politically right!

Essays 5 and 6 of 300 and 250 words respectively can well be handled like one long essay. Five asks for a statement of career objectives, both short and long term, so one needs to make sure to establish a vivid connection between what he has done so far and what he plans to do post the MBA and later. These points must then fit into the points outlined in Essay 6, “Why INSEAD?” Clearly INSEAD must be a logical component of your career horizon. So if you are a professional aspiring to be an entrepreneur in the long run, be sure to identify what there is about the INSEAD platform that will contribute to the realization of your goal.

And finally the Optional Essay. Does one need to write this? Well yes if there is something that you are sure lends credence to your candidature but that has not been shared through the essays. This could be a good opportunity to address an interesting aspect of your profile. But DO NOT repeat information shared elsewhere if you really want to use this opportunity to reach out to the admission committee at INSEAD.

At Option Training Institute we provide the best GMAT preparation classes frequently organize interactive sessions with graduates from business schools in order to allow students to develop a broad perspective of the whole purpose of preparing for the test. The obvious corollary to preparing for the exam is applying to programs. We make sure that the phase of preparation is holistic and not confined to acquiring test proficiency. We do not work for you but with you and allow our years of experience in the field of education to give the right impetus to your career.