Today I’d like to say a few words about the criteria you should consider when you’re making a campus choice/exchange decision.
1. Finding a job. The most popular strategy is to spend P4-5 in the same location/region where you are looking to be employed (Fontainebleau for Europe, Latin America and the US, Singapore for Australasia). Naturally, people choose to start at a different campus and then exchange closer to the recruiting season. This, of course, has an explanation – towards the end of the program INSEAD starts to organise various company presentations, coffee chats and interviews. Sometimes (especially in a bad economy) employers aren’t very eager to sponsor air flights for interviews and might prefer to choose the nearest available candidate. However, one shouldn’t overestimate the importance of being present at a particular campus either, especially if you wish to work in consulting or for a big MNC; most of which are able to interview you on any campus as the recruitment process is the same for them worldwide. Big international conglomerates very often manage with just VCs or phone interviews. But the devil is in the detail. If you plan to work for a smaller company, a startup, or set up your own, you’ll need to network a lot. Some of my classmates manage to do investor pitches across 10 time zones, however, it’s not the most convenient option. Asia is also very different from Europe in its recruitment customs. You really need to be here if you want to secure a job at a local office. Even if a company comes to campus (and most don’t), they expect you to network a lot before they call you for an interview. The local job market is less mature than in Europe, so employers are used to interacting face to face, and it is also part of the culture. This is why I am a little skeptical as to finding a job in Asia if one is based in Fontainebleau in P4-P5. If Singapore is your target, come here early enough to build your network.
If I already had a job offer before INSEAD, I’d probably go somewhere far from my original culture and would travel a lot!
2. Professors. Having spent almost 4 periods at INSEAD, I realise that the quality of the education you get depends on the professors who teach you. Had I known this before, I’d probably have contacted the MBA Office long before the start of the program with questions on who’s teaching where. Usually the schedule for the incoming class is formed a lot in advance, so I wouldn’t neglect the opportunity to collect such information. INSEAD alumni are also very approachable and ready to share the names of the stellar professors.
3. Electives. Not all electives (though most) are offered on both campuses at the same time – this information is usually available at the MBA Office. I can hardly imagine a situation in which you’d choose a campus for the sake of a certain elective, but this is still a possibility.
4. Lifestyle. I have noticed that many people mistakenly disregard this, but Fontainebleau and Singapore are definitely two different experiences! Singapore is a big bustling city. It’s perhaps not as big and glamorous as New York, but definitely a very exciting and diverse place, offering a unique multicultural experience. Every Wednesday, INSEADers go to popular local night clubs for Ladies’ Night. Every weekend is filled with trips to neighbouring countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and many others. The airport is only 20 minutes from the city center, and flights are generally quite affordable. As a downside, many Europeans find it hard to adapt to the local culture, although Singapore is regarded to be the most “westernised” of all Asian countries; a sort of “Asia for beginners”. Still, many people miss their native cultures here.
Fontainebleau is a dolly village in the middle of a forest in France. You have wonderful landscapes and amazing European food (cheese and wine in particular) there. Despite the popular belief, it is not exactly near to Paris, so going there every evening isn’t feasible. It’s quite important to have a car there (forget about having a car in Singapore!), as public transport is quite unpredictable and not very common. Thus, the socialising part of INSEAD usually happens in chateaus during parties as basically this is the only option to have fun there.
I’d highly recommend Singapore for couples with children, as nannies are very affordable here, whereas in France they cost a fortune.
4. Budget. Singapore is a ridiculously EXPENSIVE city. For example, you pay on average 1500 SGD (~1000 Euro) for a room in a 3-bedroom apartment, excluding utilities. In Fontainebleau, for the same amount you’d get an apartment of your own. For 400-500 euro a month you’d easily get a room in a chateau.
5. Climate. Being a Russian person, I’d like to emphasize this point as a very important one! =) I was very happy of the mere idea to spend one winter in a warm climate. Some of the Indian people in my program, were no less happy to spend the winter in a really cold climate, because they hadn’t ever seen snow before and wanted to try mountain sking, so they went to Fontainebleau for the January-February (P3) period.
6. This is perhaps not a priority to many people, but still it seems important to some – figure out where your friends are going to be. The MBA programme is not all about study and recruitment, it’s also about making friends for life. So make sure your friends are in the right place =).
This are my two cents on campus exchange. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!