Financing Your INSEAD MBA

Get tips for writing successful INSEAD application essays!

I was lucky enough to get accepted to study at INSEAD 10 years ago. But before the great news I had spent at least 18 months preparing: from doing the GMAT, writing essays, deciding which school to go to, and determining how to finance this unique and life changing experience. I probably spent the least amount of time on the financing point, but in the end it was the most important.

Here are a few recommendations to keep in mind when financing your MBA:

The first recommendation is that whatever you expect to spend on your MBA, you are going to spend at least 30% more on your living expenses, and other expenses that come up. Of course, I wanted to make the most of the experience, and every MBA program, including INSEAD’s, has more activities than anyone can imagine going to. And it’s very tough to say “no” to them due to lack of savings. So tip 1: save at least an extra $5,000 for “travel expenses” per year.

The second recommendation is to evaluate the financial difference between a 1 year and 2 year MBA program. It is not only the opportunity cost of not working and making money, but the 2 year MBA is normally 50%-100% more expensive due to cost of living and 2 years of tuition. Choosing a 1 year MBA like INSEAD was not a conscious decision on my part but I’m glad I decided on it in the end. There is a trend around the world for more 1 year MBAs because of this reason.

The third and most important recommendation is to look for other sources of funding aside from a loan – a few options include:

1.  Scholarships (there are a lot more per country than you may think. In Spain, there are at least 8 organizations that give scholarships)

2.  Ask family and friends for donations or savings

3.  Crowdsource your MBA experience

4.  Get a side job for extra money

I started with the 4th option and managed to save a worthwhile extra amount for INSEAD. Three months before starting the program, I got lucky and got an amazing scholarship from Fundacion Rafael del Pino in Spain for my studies.

Finally, I encourage you to look at what others are doing around you, search on blogs and forums, be creative, and most importantly: if you are set on doing an MBA, with a little bit of discipline and structure, you can save for the future.

Prodigy Finance - RicardoRicardo is Prodigy Finance‘s Head of Business Development. He got his MBA from INSEAD in 2006. After his MBA, he worked in management consulting for 8 years before shifting his focus to consult for startup companies in the Fintech space. He joined the Prodigy Finance team in 2014.


Related Resources:

• MBA Admissions A-Z: 26 Terrific Tips [Free Guide]
• INSEAD Essay 3: Writing About Cultural Diversity
• The Money will Sort Itself Out: IV with a Future INSEAD Student

INSEAD Essay 3: Writing About Cultural Diversity

Click here for INSEAD Essay Questions and Tips

Ready to answer the diversity essay question?

For those of you struggling with INSEAD’s cultural diversity question [Essay 3. Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way. (300 words max.) and the INSEAD EMBA choice of questions for Essay 5. Have you ever experienced culture shock? What insights did you gain? OR Describe the ways in which a foreigner in your country might experience culture shock. (500 words max.)], Pamela Druckerman has provided an interesting starting point in her New York Times Op Ed piece “Decoding the Rules of Conversation”.

Druckerman is an American expatriate in France and typically writes about the cultural differences she notices in French child rearing. On the other hand, “Decoding” explores not only how her de facto French children speak and interact, but also how French adults do, with added insight into UK culture thanks to her husband’s British background.

While Druckerman’s mention of British self-deprecation is well known, her description of the French emphasis on one-upping and even humiliating others will certainly come as a culture shock to many. Non-French INSEAD applicants exposed to these behaviors could discuss their own experiences navigating the team environment in France where, according to Druckerman, it is de rigueur to emphasize one’s intelligence at the expense of his or her peers’. Conversely, a French professional working in a global environment could share his experience adapting to a culture that places more emphasis on teamwork and gaining support from others – where he could no longer employ the French strategy of putting everyone else down.

Druckerman demonstrates the cultural astuteness that INSEAD is seeking in its students. Sharing an example of your own cultural insight and response to cultural challenges is essential to any applicant to this renowned international business school.

Applying to INSEAD? Check out our application essay tips!

Jennifer Bloom By Jennifer Bloom who has been helping applicants to the top MBA programs draft their resumes, application forms, letters of recommendation, and essays for 15 years. She is happy to serve as your personal coach and hand-holder throughout the entire process. There’s no time like the present to begin!

Related Resources:

Best MBA Program: A Guide to Selecting the Right One
• An Inside Look at INSEAD
• Tips for Applying to European B-Schools

Tips for Applying to European B-Schools

Click here for more European school essays and tips

Do you know what you need to do to get admitted to a European MBA program?

Applying to a European MBA program isn’t quite the same as applying to an American program. The programs themselves often have a different focus than U.S. schools, and adcoms therefore look out for different skills and qualifications. I’d like to direct you to the following resources on our website – blog posts that focus specifically on how to answer specific questions on specific European b-school applications. Please check them out and be in touch if you have any questions!

Tip Posts for European B-Schools:

• ESADE 2015 MBA Essay Tips

HEC Paris 2015 MBA Essay Tips

HKUST 2015 MBA Essay Tips

IMD 2016 Essay Tips

INSEAD 2015 MBA Essay Tips

London Business School 2015 MBA Essay Tips

London Business School 2015 MiM Essay Questions and Tips

NUS MBA 2015 Essay Tips

Oxford Said 2015 MBA Essay Tips

For more advice, I recommend you check out these podcasts that feature interviews with adcom members from top European b-schools – it’s always good to get advice from the source itself!

• The Scoop on the London Business School Masters in Management Program

• Interview with Philippe Oster of HEC Paris

• An Inside Look at INSEAD

Linda AbrahamBy Linda Abraham, president and founder of and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.

Making International Student Loans a Prime Investment

Listen to the full recording of our conversation with Cameron Stevens.B-school students need funding, MBA alumni are looking to invest. Prodigy Finance brings the two together.

Listen to the full recording of our conversation with Cameron Stevens, founder and CEO of the company that provides loans to international students and a secure and meaningful investment opportunity for business school graduates.

00:01:30 – Cameron Stevens and the wonderful story of Prodigy Finance.

00:06:05 – An overview of how Prodigy Finance works for investors and student borrowers.

00:11:02 – The difference between Prodigy Finance and the bank.

00:17:52 – Who is eligible for these student loans?

00:21:03 – How the loan application process works. (And the story of Linda’s embarrassing first version of

00:26:46 – Where the funding comes from.

00:30:26 – Cameron’s INSEAD experience and the value of an MBA in launching and running a business.

00:42:34 – On the roadmap: job search help.

00:44:16 – Fit and goals: two tips for b-school applicants.

Listen to the full conversation to learn more!*Theme music is courtesy of

Related Links:

Prodigy Finance
INSEAD 2014-2015 MBA Essay Tips
• INSEAD B-School Zone

Related Shows:

• An Inside Look at INSEAD
• SoFi: Alumni Funded Student Loans
• CommonBond’s Story: A Revolution in Student Loans
• Financial Aid & Health Insurance for International Students

Leave a Review for Admissions Straight Talk:

Check Out Admissions Straight Talk in iTunes! Check Out Admissions Straight Talk in Stitcher!

Learn How to Choose the Best MBA Program for You!

INSEAD 2015 MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines

Need some more INSEAD tips?INSEAD is bucking a trend – whereas many b-school applications have recently leaned toward “minimalist” essays, for INSEAD you still have to write several thought-provoking and challenging essays.  In the program with perhaps the most intensive global focus, verbal acuity matters, because the ability to reflect on, synthesize, actualize, and communicate complex ideas across cultures is central to global leadership. 

The INSEAD essays are divided into two categories: Job Description Essays and Motivation Essays.  The use of the word “motivation” should be forefront in your mind as you draft those essays; the concept should appear directly or indirectly in each.  It means that the adcom wants to know what drives you, what propels your choices, decisions, and actions.

Job Description Essays:

Essay 1.  Briefly summarize your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of budget, clients/products and results achieved. What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (350 words max)

The key to strong job descriptions is “results achieved.” Definitely provide the other requested elements, but the distinguishing factor will be those results. Quantifying outcomes usually shines a spotlight on your impact and contribution.

The second most important element is “major responsibilities.” Don’t list the mundane or the aspects of your job that everyone with your title will share. Where did you shoulder “major responsibility”? Focus on responsibility above and beyond what is typically expected of someone at your level. Be specific in these descriptions to differentiate yourself, especially if you come from a common professional group in the applicant pool.  Address the hypothetical next step question succinctly; a sentence or two will usually suffice.

Essay 2. Please give a full description of your career since graduating from university. It should be written as if you were talking to someone at a social gathering detailing your career path with the rationale behind your choices. Discuss your short and long term career aspirations.  (350 words max)

Yup – this is a goals essay question, hidden within the “career summary” question hidden within the “job description” section!  The implication is that INSEAD sees your career goals as part of a continuum, and so present them that way – even if changing careers.  The emphasis on the decision points of your career trajectory underscores this implication.  The adcom wants to see how you conceive and conceptualize a career path as much as what happened in it.

Also, don’t confuse “full description” with “complete history.” Choose the most important elements — those elements that show contribution, leadership, and, since this is INSEAD, a multi-cultural and global perspective.  

Essay 3 (optional). If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than 2 months before the program starts, please explain your activities and occupations between leaving your job and the start of the program.

State the facts straightforwardly  — not just what you’re doing but why you’re doing it.  If you have room and if it’s relevant, consider addressing why you are unemployed at the moment.

Motivation Essays:

Essay 1. Give a candid description of yourself (who are you as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (600 words max)

For a question like this I recommend two strengths and one weakness. If you can choose one anecdote that reveals both the strengths and the weakness, it’s efficient with space and can strengthen the essay. Don’t forget to discuss how these qualities influenced your personal development. For more on INSEAD 1 and writing about weaknesses, please see this video:

A word on weaknesses. Be honest without going overboard. Don’t make up a phony weakness. I attended an HBS info session a few years ago. One of the alumni said that he discussed a “phony weakness” in his essays (required for HBS that year), and his interviewer focused right on it, and basically said, “Come on. What’s a real weakness?” The applicant had to get real in a hurry. Take advantage of the essay: Give it some thought and respond with the benefit of that reflection. For more information, please see “Flaws Make Your Real.”

At a recent AIGAC conference one of the adcom members remembered that an applicant in response to a similar question had listed his weakness as “pitching new ideas in a meeting.” The adcom member felt that the applicant was specific, real, and showed self-awareness by revealing this flaw. In fact, by demonstrating these qualities in addition to the requested weakness that he was working on, the applicant actually enhanced his chances of acceptance with his response.

Don’t write about “weakness in pitching new ideas in meetings” as your flaw just because you saw it here. It will become the lame, stale example everyone uses. However, you all have weakness. Just be thoughtful enough and honest enough to reveal yours.

(NOTE: There is potential for some overlap in this essay with Essay 2, so look at both questions together and organize content before writing them.)

Essay 2. Describe the achievement of which you are most proud and explain why. In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationships with others? Comment on what you learned. (400 words max)

With only 400 words to describe 2 significant experiences, and the specified discussion points, you need to use stories that can be told without a lot of background information.  And keep in mind Essay 1 – don’t use stories that reflect exactly the same messages.  “Achievement of which you are most proud” is a high bar, and it can be from either work or outside of work. It also should be something that reveals qualities or attributes about you that are positive and relevant. I suggest using something from the last two to three years.  Luckily you don’t have to write about the failure about which you are most ashamed… 😉   Discuss a failure that is specific, fairly recent, and meaty enough to have rattled you a bit.  Again, work or non-work topic is fine.

In discussing what you learned from the experiences and how they impacted your relationships, identify one specific thing for each point for each story – there isn’t room for more.  And there isn’t need for more, because one can be very powerful if it’s insightful.

Essay 3. Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way.  (300 words max)

In choosing your topic story, think about “impact” – often people describe being surprised or emotionally challenged by encountering new or different cultures, but that’s not enough to make this a good essay.  Impact is what happens after the initial response: how did the experience change your behavior, or change your perception, or inspire you to learn something, or cause you to reconsider beliefs/ideas – these are impacts.

Narrate the story succinctly, vividly portraying the impact on you.  The adcom wants to see that you are thoughtful, resourceful, and responsive in encountering cultural diversity, because it is a key attribute of their program.

Essay 4. Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc). How are you enriched by these activities? (300 words max)

Simply discuss the range of activities you participate (or have participated) in – those that are major passions, and those that are “just fun” – clarifying their relative role and importance in your life.  Be straightforward in how they enriched you – no need to strive for something “different” that no one has ever felt or experienced before….  Imagine you are meeting with clients or superiors – between the business dealings (and perhaps over a drink); you and they might chat about non-work interests – approach this essay like such a conversation.  Not quite as casual as with a peer, but still conversational, straightforward, and intended to connect on a person-to-person level.

Optional Essay: Is there anything else that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the admissions committee?  (300 words max)

Use the optional essay to explain anything that needs explaining and/or to give them one more reason to accept you. DON’T use it for a superficial summary, a restatement of your other essays, or anything similarly boring and trite. If you choose to write it, produce a tight, focused essay revealing something you haven’t yet discussed.

INSEAD Application Deadlines:

Deadlines for September 2015 Intake (Class of July 2016)*
Insead chart 1

Deadlines for January 2016 Intake (Class of December 2016)*insead chart 2
Learn How to Choose the Best MBA Program for You!

Cindy Tokumitsu

By , author and co-author of numerous ebooks, articles, and special reports, including Why MBA and Best MBA Programs: A Guide to Selecting the Right One. Cindy has advised hundreds of successful applicants in her fifteen years with


Related Resources: