It’s been a little over 2 months since I received the +33 call that changed the direction of my life. Whilst there has been a flurry of mixed emotions ranging from excitement and anticipation to apprehension and homesickness, the realization that I’m starting in Fontainebleau on Jan 3 is only now sinking in. I’m one of 12 Australians represented across campuses in the 18D promotion with half of us starting in Fontainebleau and the other half starting in Singapore. I’ve lived in Melbourne my whole life and having left home a month ago to travel through Singapore, Vietnam, Dubai, Spain, and Italy, I’m told I have a strong Australian accent. Although with the amazing blend of nationalities and cultures and the incredible number of languages spoken by students, both of which INSEAD are renowned for, my accent will just be another one in the melting pot.
There have been celebrations and congratulations aplenty, a theme I have a sneaking suspicion will continue throughout 2018. I’ve also received lots of questions regarding the program and my journey to admission so I thought I’d put fingers to keyboard and shed some light on my experience.
Firstly, lets get the pronunciation right. INSEAD is pronounced in-see-ad and originally was an acronym for Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires or, in English, European Institute of Business Administration. As the school’s vision became more global, the acronym was dropped and now it’s just a name. However, ask any alumni, current or prospective student and it represents so much more. With 2 consecutive years at the top of the Financial Times MBA rankings, INSEAD is distinguished for the quality of the MBA program, faculty, and cohort.
There are a plethora of MBA programs available, ranging from 1-year online to 2-years full time on campus. When I was looking into MBA programs, it was important that I found a school that was reputed for the quality of not only the curriculum and faculty but also for personal development and leadership opportunities. What drew me to INSEAD was that I’d spend only one year out of the workforce, the emphasis on learning through diversity and the quality of interactions I had with alumni across the world. I felt that INSEAD would equip me to become a future leader in business and more importantly, a meaningful contributor to society. So having navigated through and deciding to apply only to INSEAD, the real work began.
There’s a reason why everyone who’s completed a top-tier MBA program encourages you to get started with your application early. If you think you’ve allocated sufficient time to dedicate to your application in between work and family commitments, my advice would be to add a little extra on top. As with most MBAs, you’ll need to sit the GMAT, which is done globally in test centers in most capital cities. INSEAD has 4 pillars that they consider when reviewing your application and whilst academic capability is one of them, it isn’t the end of your application if you don’t ace the GMAT. That’s one thing I found really encouraging about INSEAD – the school values more than your ability to perform in a 3.5 hour exam.
The other three pillars are ability to contribute, international motivation and leadership potential and these areas are reflected in your CV and essays. The dreaded essays! I wrote 4 essays on my career progression and aspirations. On top of this, I wrote 3 personal essays that required insight into my strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, and the main factors that have influenced my personal development. The last required me to describe how my life is enriched by all the extra-curricular activities in my life. As you can imagine, the level of insight and self-reflection required to deliver an eloquent response to these questions that made me stand out amongst the thousands of applications made these the toughest to write. My suggestion to anyone tackling these essays is to start early and break it down into manageable chunks. Then spend time iterating until you have a version you are satisfied with and seek feedback from family and friends. Ask them if your personality is reflected in your essays and if the response is ‘I think you’re more than what you’ve written’ you need to dig deeper.
Embrace the process of self-discovery and the vulnerability required to honestly reflect on your experiences. I think the more you are able to bring your story to life, the more engaged the Admission committee will be when reading your submission. That level of insight also makes for a more enriching MBA experience as I believe it’s an environment to not only share your hopes and dreams but also your fears and failures so others can learn from your experience whilst you grow from embracing your vulnerability.
And so here I am, enjoying the last bit of normality as I’m just under two weeks away from Launch Week (if you consider normal being thousands of kms away from home, experiencing a European winter for the first time and being technically homeless until I move into my villa!) I’m excited beyond belief to get this life-changing ride started. I’ve also met a few of my classmates through the pre-MBA trip in Milan and already have a taste of what’s to come. There is also a feeling of mild terror as I’ll be thrown into an intense INSEAD-bubble with about 300 people but at the same time, there is excitement and anticipation for the stories, experiences and learning ahead. I sincerely hope this journey of discovery doesn’t end at graduation and that we all walk away from this with the knowledge and the belief that we can create a better world by becoming better leaders.