Try to think back to the events in your life which you can never forget. The events which you will always vividly remember as though they happened yesterday. You might think that you are making important decisions on a daily basis, but if you think carefully, there are probably no more than five life-changing decisions that you will have to make throughout the course of your existence. I turned twenty-eight recently, and I can count two important decisions.
It was in late October 2016 when my boss called me at an unusually late hour. That phone-call kicked into motion a series of events which would lead to me making my second life changing decision. “Devu”, he said, “have you ever thought of doing an MBA“, he asked. “Oh wait“, he added, “have you ever thought of doing an MBA at a top University FOR FREE?“. No, actually, I had not. I had thought about the workout I was going to do that day, the clothes I had to iron and the party I was going to that weekend, but I had definitely not thought about doing an MBA.
I guess some of you might find yourself in a similar position (hopefully the one where your MBA is fully paid for and not the one where you have no idea about your life’s plans), although the latter is much more likely. Well, fret not, dear friends, it is a luxurious choice you have. A life-changing experience, a break from daily work, the chance to learn more while getting paid for it and a (hopefully) massive career boost upon graduation, even someone with my IQ could see a fantastic opportunity. So I grabbed it and was thrilled, till I was introduced to my two best friends for the coming months – GMAT & application forms!
Now, while some of you might get a kick out of filling out application forms and giving aptitude tests, us “normal” folk find this rather tedious. Especially when, like in my case and most others, one chooses to apply to the top schools in the world (HBS & INSEAD for me), while juggling a full time job, holidays in Thailand & Singapore and a timeline of around four months before the admissions rounds end.
I need you to use your imagination here to paint a picture of how these next four months then unfolded. Imagine a beautiful beach in Thailand. Now imagine a cruise ship with a whole bunch of entertainment on it. Imagine Singapore with its various attractions and shopping. Imagine Christmas with your family. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Now imagine me missing out on almost all of that and sitting indoors solving quant problems and wondering why the grammar I learnt all my life suddenly made no sense. I told you I was going to paint a realistic picture, didn’t I? Applying to the top business schools in the world is no piece of cake.
The key question is, “do I regret it?“. Take away message number 1 for this post – I absolutely do not regret it and neither will you! Yes, I might sound sadistic, but truth be told, applying to an MBA at a top school like INSEAD is like skydiving. You initially wonder why you would do something like that to yourself, only to realize midway that this was the best decision ever! Why so? The application is designed to drill beyond the superficial you, not just the you which the girl you want to pick up at the bar gets to see, but the you that even your closest friends might not know of yet. Not only did the questions and essays provoke me to question who I am and what I want with my life, but it simulated me to answer these critical questions and in the process discover things about myself that were locked away.
Another great experience was the Alumni interviews. Realizing that you are far from figuring out what your life’s goal is, is perfectly acceptable. The year at INSEAD is about learning and discovery after all. I also loved the fact that INSEAD involves and trusts its Alumni to the extent that without their positive assessment during the Alumni interviews, a candidate has slim chances of acceptance. Yes, I wanted to be at a place which held me in high regard even after graduation.
Notice that I did not mention GMAT? Well that’s because it really was just a pain! For all you GMAT-phobic people out there, let me provide you with some reassurance (this is take away message 2) that if I could do it, so can you. The world won’t end if you don’t score well the first time (I got below 600). Stop sulking, sit down and work your butt off and the results will show the second time around. Yes it was miserable, but more than honing my math and English skills, the GMAT made me tenacious, thick-skinned and taught me a life lesson about overcoming failure (the from below 600 to 670 within 4 weeks story). There was no 7 in my GMAT score, which is living proof of how INSEAD is looking for people who can contribute with well-rounded personalities, not filling up classes with 800’s.
I am sitting in the library in the idyllic village of Fontainebleau typing this out and reminiscing about the journey that got me here. A four month rollercoaster ride it was. I rode the HBS and INSEAD rollercoasters and although both were great experiences in their own right, there was a clear flavor of humility, personalization, inclusiveness and empathy in the INSEAD one, which, for me, gave it a clear edge where my application experience is concerned and embodies what INSEAD stands for. Eventually INSEAD probably knows more about me than my mom did (or your therapist does), but it was worth every minute.
It’s been two weeks since I joined INSEAD & there is so much to tell. I guess it’s clear which of the two acceptance letters I got was more attractive to me. Surprised? Or maybe not? Either way, probably curious to know why. All I can say for now is stay tuned for my next banter where I shall spill the beans. For now all I am going to reveal is SPLASH, OHANA, BOR, MIMI.