I’m starting INSEAD in January as part of the 19D class.  Due to the end of my predetermined job posting last week and my habit of being compulsively early, I’ve already arrived in Fontainebleau and have plenty of time to reflect on how I got here.

I tend to be thorough and analytic in making decisions, particularly when those decisions are expensive and lifechanging.  I visited a total of eight schools in three countries over the span of four years before committing to INSEAD.  In no particular order, here’s a breakdown of the main factors that led me to choose INSEAD over those other MBA programs:

 

  • Top Rankings: Since I do already have a master’s degree in a somewhat related topic, I wanted to ensure that an additional master’s would add value to my resume by being from a top school.

 

  • Staying in Europe: I’ve loved working in Europe for the past two years. My right to live and work here ended with the job I just quit, so school seemed like a great way to be able to stay here legally while making myself more competitive for the European job market.
  • I Already Have a Master’s: In the US, it’s rare to have a master’s degree, and even more uncommon to have two. It would seem strange for someone with a master’s in an economic subject to also get an MBA in the US.  However, due to the differences in our education systems, almost all Europeans pursuing their MBAs already have master’s degrees.  In this respect, I would fit right in.
  • Language Requirement: Once I’d narrowed my choices down to Europe, I knew I wanted to be in a country where I could improve either my French or Spanish. I love learning languages, even if I’m not particularly talented at it.  The language classes at INSEAD—included in tuition—appealed strongly to me.
  • Diversity: Diversity is extremely important to me. As a Bangladeshi-American, I’ve always been a minority.  My hometown in Texas was quite diverse, and I felt that diversity in my environments declined as I got more education and obtained more competitive jobs.  I was a minority when I lived in Indonesia, too, with people regularly pointing at me as I walked down the street and yelling, “INDIA! INNNN-DIIII-AAAAA!”  Visiting Bangladesh wasn’t any better; I stuck out as an American as I struggled to speak two words of what was once my native tongue.  This lack of diversity amplified when I joined government, where people are disproportionately recruited from elite schools.  At INSEAD, I found a level of diversity unmatched by top US schools.  When I visited the school, it was the first time in a very long time that I felt I wasn’t a minority.  Rather, I was just among a group of kind, intelligent, and interesting people from all over the world.
  • Too Much Wisdom: This is my tongue-in-cheek way of saying I’m older than the average American MBA student. I didn’t want to do an executive MBA program since I’m changing sectors from government.  The average age in top US MBA programs (non-executive) ranges from 26 to about 28, and they increasingly admit students directly after undergrad or with less than two years of work experience.  INSEAD’s average age is 29, with an average six years of work experience.  It’s not much higher than the US schools, but I felt the difference when I visited schools.  At each of these sessions, I sought out the 30+ crowd and asked about their experiences.  INSEAD was the only school where the older students had a positive experience and encouraged me to apply, and the younger students specifically said they had a better experience because of the older average age.  With too low of an average age, students would have less to contribute in terms of sharing their past experiences.
  • Enthusiasm and Attitude: At the other schools I visited, I spoke with current students and some alumni. They were always polite and answered my questions.  INSEAD was the only school where people were enthusiastic, not just about the school, but about the prospect of me attending.  I attended an information session before applying, which included a cocktail hour with current students and recent graduates.  Everyone encouraged me to apply and was very positive about the experience.  When I told one woman about my background in US government, she said she knew of an American classmate in Singapore who also came from the public sector.  I connected with him on LinkedIn, and with no further context, this complete stranger arranged a phone call with me and talked to me candidly for 30 minutes about his experience.  Even moving into my house in Fontainebleau on the extreme early side has been a positive experience, because I get to network with students finishing up their MBAs who are full of great advice.
  • Curriculum: Visiting eight schools means I sat in on a lot of MBA classes and masterclasses.  It’s not an exaggeration for me to say INSEAD’s classes were the only ones that piqued my interest.  Granted, the first masterclass was with Erin Meyer, who I now know is some kind of international superstar professor, but I appreciate that INSEAD would bring out the big guns to attract new students.  I’ve often heard that most of the value of a top MBA comes from the networking opportunities.  However, when I’m paying for most of this myself, I want to know I’ll get an education as well.
  • Acknowledgment That This is a Major Investment: INSEAD wasn’t the most expensive school I visited. However, it was the only school where the administration went out of their way to tell a group of prospective students that they recognize the program is expensive and want to make sure you get your money’s worth.  This was incredibly validating after visiting schools that avoided discussing money or just assured you that the decision always pays off because of the alumni network.
  • Location: Many people complain that Fontainebleau is small, but I think this could be a positive factor, allowing me to focus on the program and the MBA experience rather than being distracted in a bigger city. Small doesn’t mean rural by any means; Fontainebleau is a tourist destination in and of itself.  There are plenty of supermarkets, restaurants, bars, and at least two artisanal bakeries on each block.  The campus is quite integrated into the town, so it’s easy to find a place to live that’s within walking distance of everything you’ll need on a day-to-day basis.  And of course, if it gets too small for you, a 45-minute train ride will put you in the center of Paris.

INSEAD checked all of these very specific boxes for me, and I probably would have chosen the school had it met only half these criteria.  Throughout all this research, every sign pointed to INSEAD, and I have no doubts I made the right decision in terms of school choice.


 

Bio:

Nadine Farouq is an MBA candidate in Fontainebleau in INSEAD’s December 2019 class.  Prior to INSEAD, she worked for the US government, most recently as a diplomat focused on economic policy at the US Mission to the European Union in Brussels.  She holds an M.A. in International Trade and Investment Policy (focus in Development Economics) from the George Washington University in Washington, DC, and a B.A. in Communications (focus in Advertising) from the University of Texas at Arlington.