In this episode the Associate Global Director of Admissions & Financial Aid at INSEAD discusses the school’s unique language requirement, the role of the GRE/GMAT in admissions, and what to include in the optional essay. [SHOW SUMMARY]
Are you a citizen of the world? Is it your goal to be a leader in international business? Then you should consider the Business School for the World: INSEAD.
An interview with INSEAD’s Teresa Peiro, Associate Director of Global Admissions, Degree Programmes. [SHOW NOTES]
Welcome to the 520th episode of Admission Straight Talk, Accepted podcast. Thanks for tuning in. Sometimes I am asked, “Is the MBA worth it?” And my answer is, “It depends on your individual circumstances.” But I’ve got good news. We’ve developed a tool that will help you evaluate whether an MBA is worth it for you and your individual circumstances and by how much. Check how much you’re likely to benefit – or not – from the MBA. And using it won’t set you back even one cent. It’s free.
It gives me great pleasure to have for the first time on Admissions Straight Talk. Teresa Piero, Associate Director of Global Admissions and Financial Aid at INSEAD, the Business School for the World. Teresa worked in marketing for several years before joining INSEAD in 2011. She focused more on MBA programs initially, but in 2021 became the Associate Director of Global Admissions and oversees the entire admissions process for all INSEAD degree programs on all campuses including the EMBA, which is going to be our focus today.
Teresa, welcome to Admissions Straight Talk. [1:52]
Thank you very much, Linda, for having me here today.
My pleasure. Now can you give us just a start, an overview of INSEAD’s MBA program for those listeners who aren’t that familiar with it? [1:57]
Yes, of course. Linda, our MBA program is a 10-month program that brings together around 100 nationalities per cohort. You can either start in January or in the August intake. It’s a very intense program. It’s shorter, but our participants make the most out of it and we commonly hear all of our alumni saying that it was the best year of their lives.
How do most students take advantage of that geographic diversity? If it was 10 months in Fontainebleau the whole time, that would already be intense. But if you have all these other options, how do they do it? [2:40]
Indeed. So, our applicants have to make a decision of which will be their home campus. So what are the core courses? They will have to stay in their home campus. After that when the electives start, they can either change campuses, so if someone starts in Singapore, they can go to Fontainebleau and vice versa. And then we offer different partnerships, as you mentioned, with different schools in the US and China. So what happens is that they can go to that school while they’re, say, in that school, they are full students from the welcoming school and they spend their period there and then they come back to INSEAD-
So, where are the three campuses again? I know it’s Fontainebleau, Singapore, and the third one- [3:31]
There are three campuses. Fontainebleau, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi. And we opened pre COVID San Francisco hub.
So it’s not considered a full campus yet, is it? [3:43]
No, it’s a hub.
Where are the partnerships? [3:49]
The partnerships are with Kellogg and Wharton in the US and with SIPS in China.
When you talk about your home campus, how much time are you required to spend there? What do most students do? Or is there a most? [3:56]
So there’s not statistically something consistent. They have to stay for the core courses. So for the first period they have to stay where they decided to apply to.
Because we consider that part the most intense part of the program, because they have all of these classes and all these exams and it’s like the core and they have to stay focused where they are. And then switch campuses. So it’s super interesting because now for example, for instance, we welcomed those who started in Singapore and they arrived to Fontainebleau and it’s like they discover a new school. It’s like a new campus and they get to see other participants that have started here in the program and they have moved or those who came with them. So I find it very vibrant, the campus exchange moment, because the campus is full of suitcases and they’re coming in and out, and they see new faces and you see, “Oh, I’m connected with you when we were applicants and now I see you here,” and it’s a good sense of community.
In terms of the partnership schools, is the 10 months, is it divided into semesters or you’ve mentioned periods? How does that work? [5:07]
There are periods of two months.
Five plus P Zero, which P Zero starts before they arrive to campus. So we’ve got P Zero and five periods.
Could you review the language requirements both at entry and graduation for INSEAD participants? That’s a very distinctive aspect of the program. [5:29]
Yes. And you know that is one very near to my heart. So as you know, or maybe you don’t, INSEAD was founded by George Doriot, who was a French Harvard professor.
I didn’t know that. [5:49]
The courses at the beginning, they were taught in those three languages. So German, English, and French, which were the languages in Europe.
We’ve been adapting to the different times. English has to be validated either by your native language or by other means of assessment. We need to ensure that every MBA or every student attending INSEAD is going to be able to follow the class and make the most out of the program. So English has to be validated. If it’s your native language, we will not question it, but then you will have to validate the second language for entry reasons.
So if English isn’t your native language, you have to validate it. So there are different criteria. Most common you need to have, your whole degree has to be taught in English and it has to be specified in your transcripts or through TOEFL iBT.
And if English is your native language and your second language is French, for example, or Spanish- [6:53]
There are other tests. There are local, so there are national tests that we accept many of them, but there are many different experiences. So, we’ll look at that very closely for your second language, if English is your native language. And for instance, if you for example, have completed your bachelor’s in Spanish, it would be validated too.
The second language is like a C1, so it’s fluency that we require, and it’s an admissions requirement. Now for the third language, it is an exit language, so you need it to graduate. And we do not give the diploma if you have not validated your third panel. Knowing that the level that we require is much lower. It’s an A1. When I’m talking to candidates or prospects, I always, always encourage them to get that language policy cleared before they start because the program is very intense. And they prefer to invest their time in other things than learning the language. But for us it’s like in our DNA, and this open mindedness and being able to make the most of this super international exposure, we wanted to have these three languages with you.
So I mean, in lay terms, if you want to use that, would your entry level requirement be that the person obviously have speaking and comprehension and speaking ability and some writing ability or fluent writing ability? And the exit requirement, what would that be in terms of, again, just a very approximate? I realize there are stricter requirements. I’m just trying to make it a little bit easier to grasp. [8:32]
No, of course. No, the second language is quite strict. You have to go through three levels and it’s a C1, which is fluent.
You have to be able to write. [9:08]
You have to be able to write. Yes.
The exit language, which is A2, is more of a little bit of everything. So, not very complicated sentences and not that you don’t have to be able to write a proper essay, but you would be able to write an email.
Very helpful. Now on one hand, you emphasize the program is intense since and it’s only 10 months. And that is, could be… I mean, it definitely is a plus on one hand. There’s lower opportunity costs, it’s very efficient, but also some applicants might be worried, “What about my internship? I want to change career paths.” Nobody goes for an MBA to do the same thing that on the way out that they did on the way in. How do you address that? [9:25]
Of course. So if you start in the August intake, it’s like the real 10 months because you graduate in July. However, if you start in the January intake, you finish in December and you do have time for an internship. When I’m speaking to candidates and to prospects, “Please make this a sound decision because whether you start in January and August should not only be based on your own timing, but also think about the internship.” So those who really want an internship will start in January.
Giving the option for those who fast track or know exactly where they want to go after versus those who really want to make the most and get an internship.
Do students or participants in INSEAD ever, who start, let’s say in the September intake, do they ever do the internship immediately following graduation? Is that ever done or not too common? [10:36]
I would have to ask. I’m not that sure.
What don’t people know about INSEAD that you would like them to know? What’s a common misconception, perhaps? [10:50]
Misconception. That shorter is lighter.
It’s not easier. And then I also hear the other side, some other students that of course that all the MBA community they after, they all have friends who went to different schools and then they come back and can tell you, “Well sometimes we went for two years.” They had some extra downtime. And actually it’s very interesting because that was the reason why the 10 month was created because our founder could see that sometimes the second year was a lighter pace. So he decided to put it all together and make it more intense.
Our campus is like 24 hours open and you can see how they are making all of it. And I was talking to some students before today, and they’re like, “The way that we click all together,” because you also have this pressure of time. It’s going to go so quickly. And we’re always telling them, “You have to make the most.” And you hear them like, “In one week. I had relationships with people that I thought I had known for years.”
INSEAD clearly lists its admissions criteria and your website says they are: ability to contribute, academic capacity, international motivation, and leadership potential. I’m sure you know this, you don’t need me to tell them to you. Where are you most likely to see those qualities and the different elements of the INSEAD application? [12:05]
So it’s interesting because when I’m running, I run application workshops very often, always my first slide is with this, four pictures of these four initial criteria. And I always tell them, “Whatever you share with us, be sure that it falls in one of these buckets.”
That’s great advice. [12:48]
Follow up questions like, “But what’s more important?” No. The INSEAD is holistic, and I’m always saying the same. I’m always sharing with people, “At INSEAD, we are human beings behind the admissions process.” There are people reading applications and people are like, they begin this conspiracy theories like, “Oh, so you put our CV in a scan and they give you like…” No, it’s nothing like that. It’s all about holistic and we try to see everything.
So we have a lot of essays, which we are aware. We know that we ask for many essays compared to other schools, but we really want to know. And it’s not only about us deciding if you are a good candidate for INSEAD or not, but if this is what you want, this is what you need to get wherever you want to go. So these four criteria, and that’s why we are so clear about it, they need to be covered in your application. It’s interesting because I think we’ll talk about the Kira video, but the pre-selection decision is purely based on what we’ve received in the application form. And we need to be sure that those four criteria are met.
I would assume that academic capacity you typically find in the transcript and the test score? [13:53]
International motivation would probably show up in my guess both in your resume and your activities as well as the essays. [14:02]
International motivation is my favorite..
Because it’s who we are. So, international motivation is about us being sure that you’re not only going to be comfortable with such diversity in the class, but they’re going to embrace it and that they’re going to be… And you know how much you’re going to learn from this diversity, and you’re going to make the most out of it. So we need to be sure of this. And how do we see it? So the most common, and where most of our candidates really check those boxes is because they’ve gone through international experiences before themselves, either studying, either working abroad. And we do believe that this aspect in your life, it’s a big experience that makes you who you are, in a way. You’ve gone abroad, you’ve gone to a different culture, you had to adapt. You had to make some compromises. You learned so many things about it. And you had to melt in. You had to-
You had to adapt, I think it’s the key thing. [15:06]
So, we get that from previous experiences. Also, in other cases, we have candidates that didn’t have the opportunity of living abroad or having this experience. So we also ask them to tell us how they’ve been in an international environment and how they felt about it. So, either you are working in a country where there are many people from different nationalities, either you work in a very international company and you have to… I was going to say deal, but you have to collaborate and you have to interact with other nationalities from other countries. So that’s what we are looking. So we do ask in the essays, “What has been your experience?” And we also ask a detailed list of your international experiences you’ve had in the past.
Some applicants, they might live in a diverse country, right? And many different cultures within their own country. It’s not homogenous. It’s a heterogeneous culture. [15:57]
And nowadays most of the countries are like that. That’s why companies are always looking for people who are thriving in these kinds of societies.
And ability to contribute I would assume also will come really through throughout the application, really. [16:19]
Ability to contribute and leadership potential come a lot also through the essays.
What is it? And the question is like, “What is it that you bring to the class?” We want to be sure when you raise the hand, you’re going to share experiences, share what you know, ask the correct questions. And where those questions and those contributions are going to come from your past experience.
Now you mentioned the video a second ago. What is the role of the video interview in the evaluation process? [16:26]
We are very happy with the video. We love the video. And our message to candidates is always like, be yourself. So when I’m presenting this application workshop, I put a picture of Salvador Dali, who is one of our most well-known artists in Spain, because he was genuine, he was himself and he wasn’t shy to show who he was. And it’s about that. I’m always telling, we are not expecting you to be a BBC reporter unless you were a BBC reporter.
So don’t try to use those fancy words or things that you think that are, but be yourself. So what we’re looking here, the role is to see who you are in a way, and communication skills. The video will reassure us a lot also on the English level and the fluidity when people speak. I understand it’s stressful so we always recommend candidates, there’s like a practice part in the platform. I always say, “Practice, practice, practice.” There are four questions, and you’ve got 45 seconds to prepare and 60 to respond. I strongly recommend to candidates, that they use those 45 seconds to work on their structure. What is it that they want to say? And then be yourself. I always tell the story that we had a candidate who was a professional break dancer, and he just went on the floor and he danced. Amazing.
That’s great. Great. That’s a great story. [18:18]
It’s a great story. And this is because sometimes, and I understand look, “Oh, instead I’m going to try to use fancy words.” No, because you’re going to lose the point of the video, which is what we want to hear YOU.
He must have had something before and after to convince you that he knew English and then he showed you who he was. [18:41]
That’s why we’ve got four questions and they are not… I always say that we read applications to try to look into it and accept you, not to reject you.
And so that’s why it’s important that you are yourself because for the writing, we already have your essays.
We also had someone who was doing the Kira interview, and his cat came like this. And he was so impressive how the candidate just did like that with the cat and he continued speaking.
But everything, we were all home. So we all could have, we’re human beings and that’s an important message for me. We’re human beings looking for human beings.
I’ve been trying to tell that to candidates for years, that the admissions people are not automatons, they’re human beings. [20:08]
No, no. But I also see it impress us. And they really want it, but like, but we want to accept you for the correct reasons and for who you are.
Just show who you are.
What’s the INSEAD interview like? [20:38]
Okay, so INSEAD interviews are purely run by our alumni. So, staff is not involved in the interviews. We do the matching. So we decide. So the missions officers will match the candidate with two interviewers for our MBA program. They’re purely by geographic and/or industry. And then our alumni interviewers, they will run the interview in their own style knowing that we do give them some tips. We don’t tell them what we want, what they shouldn’t do, what they should not do. But then each one has their own style, as I mentioned.
So, some of our alumni interviewers prefer to organize the interview in a much more formal setup. So they will invite them to their meeting, to their offices. Others prefer a quiet cafe. But at the end of the day, who’s been selected means that those criteria are checked. And what we are looking for is the fit with the school and the program. And our interviewers are thinking, “Would I like to have this person in my class? Would I want to have this person in my group?”
So the interview is really just be about almost fit with the community, if you will? [21:42]
Almost fit with the community. And also, is this person motivated? Does this person really want to do an MBA program? Why does this person want to come to INSEAD?
Do they have those four criteria? [21:59]
The four criteria are, but it’s also about the soft skill motivation. Is the motivation there? So sometimes we’ll hear this person was not passionate about INSEAD. So it’s more about passion, I would say.
And because our interviewers, they are volunteers and I always tell candidates, “They’re volunteers. They’re doing this in a way of giving back to us, to the school.” And because someone was there for the interview, they want to be there for someone else’s interview.
What’s the most common mistake you see in the application? And it can be plural too. [22:02]
I would say lack of motivation. We know that our application process is long and it takes time. And we’re always telling, our recruitment team is always like, “Focus on the essays, focus on what you’re writing. You need to prepare.” So a sloppy application is a no-go. Essays that aren’t well structured, essays that are not well prepared, or things that are mismatching, lack of consistency, that would be a killer.
And does that translate to you as lack of motivation? [23:13]
And this is a big investment and it’s not only about money, but it’s also who you’re going to be. This INSEAD will follow you for the rest of your life. We tend to say that you’ll never travel alone, for instance. So it’s something that you really, we want to be sure that you are really going because you’re really going to enjoy and you’re looking for. I always say that we are looking for motivated candidates, engaged students, proud alumni.
And they know. Candidates know that pre-selection is purely based on your application form. So it’s like your business card.
Does INSEAD have any preference between the GMAT and the GRE? Any plans to go test optional? [24:05]
Test optional is a no-go.
We are finding GRE and GMAT as good. Both as good predictors.
Because there was a time when I think there was a preference for the GMAT, but at this point…[24:29]
At this point, no. And we see the numbers of GRE takers increasing.
And we understand that there are two different tests and they test differently. So, candidates should do some research before they prepare and they should sit the tests that fits better themselves, where they’re going to perform better.
But there’s no different expectations in terms of percentile? You should be 85% on the GRE and 75% on the GMAT? That’s no more, no longer the case? [24:50]
We’re moving away from giving a strict score. It’s very difficult to get this into the candidates’ brains.
Because you hear so many, I’m sure you do too, right? Like, “Oh, I only have a 720. Am I going to get in?”
And now my latest sentence is like, “A GMAT score doesn’t define who you are.
But sometimes they’re so terrified. I met someone who told me, “I’m not going to apply for scholarships because I’ve got a 660 and I’m never going to get a scholarship with a 660.” I’m like, “And what’s the connection? Can you please share with me?”
It’s not looked at in a vacuum. [25:43]
Yeah. We’re looking for… It’s not only what score you took on that day, but also what you’ve done before. Where are you working? So the academic capacity, we are broadening what we’re looking at. So your academic past background, the past background is also very important.
Linda, I had an event on Saturday, and I said, “GMAT score doesn’t define you.” I even said that I was going to get it at a tool here, like GMAT score does define who you’re. So I will show them like, this is how true this is. And afterwards we’re having a discussion, “I have this score. Am I going to get in?”
You weren’t hearing what I was saying. We just need to be sure because it wouldn’t be fair to the candidate, but they’re not going to be academically following the program and that’s what we need to be sure about. And it’s one of those four admissions criteria.
I’m glad you’re emphasizing that. Thank you. [26:57]
In my application workshops, I repeat this sentence three times. Next time I’m going to ask everyone to stand up and we’re going to repeat it all together.
So let’s say I’m in the midst of preparing an application for the January 2024 intake, and there’s a deadline April 18th and June 27th, and this interview should air before the deadline. What advice would you give someone in the midst of preparing an application for an upcoming deadline? Let’s say if it’s April 18th, it’s really close or the June 27th deadline. [27:15]
In the midst. I always say that applicants should aim an application deadline not because they think of those myths that they have around the application. Because then you’ve got also those myths like, if I reply to round X, I’m going to have higher chances of being accepted than in round Y. That’s not true. Apply when you, you’re ready. When you’re ready. You need to have your score. You’ve taken your GMAT or your GRE. Your applications should be towards finalizing, like proofreading more than beginning to write because it does take a lot of time.
And once you have this, the sooner the better but only because about them, because onboarding takes time. Some places you need to get visas, they have to remove transatlantic, they have to sort their lives before they come to Fontaine or Singapore. So the onboarding is better on them. And we always tell, “Be kind to yourself, so don’t try to rush it.”
But you need onboarding time.
I also just realized this show will actually air after the April 18th deadline. So we’re really talking about the June 27th deadline in terms of the January 2024 intake. And obviously there’s another deadline for the September 25, 2025 deadline. [28:47]
My advice too when I’m speaking to candidates that are thinking of applying, now what I say like, take a white piece of paper and you make a circle and you write INSEAD MBA. And with the four admissions criteria in your there, you begin to write what do you want INSEAD to know about you? And you write. You write. When you fill that paper and you go and with some friends and you come back and you continue writing, and the next day you wake up and you continue writing in your brainstorm. And then you look at the application form and you look at your essays. And in each line that you wrote in that brainstorm, you put which essay you’re going to write this. And I always tell them, “If there are things that don’t fit in any other essays, you highlight it in yellow.” I like office supplies a lot, so.
And then you write. Then you get it proofread, then you read it again. Then with those that weren’t highlighted in yellow, that’s your optional essay.
That’s great advice. [29:48]
But of course, because sometimes they go into it, “Okay, I’m going to reply to this essay.” Yes, but you have to read because somehow they’re connected and it depends how you want to tell your story. And it’s important. INSEAD will love your story and we want to understand who you are. I always say that when I’m looking on a file, I create someone and I add layers, who you are, where do you live, your previous experience, what do you want to do next? And that’s a good way to just don’t bias your application responses with what you thing we want to hear, but what you really want to tell us and what you want INSEAD to know about you.
I have something, a very similar system, but where I say, “Write down everything you want an individual school to know about you, look at their criteria, what do you want them to know about you? And then write down their questions.” Very, very… So I say do use a spreadsheet, but that’s basically because they all love spreadsheets, but- [30:02]
I’m taking those out of their comfort zone already.
And I’ll also say some use a mind map, which is more similar, but digital. But the idea is first, figure out what you want them to know, and then figure out where you can take those things that you want them to know in the application based on the questions. And the good news is that INSEAD does ask more questions than normal, so there’s more opportunity for them to tell their story. Yes, it takes more effort, takes more work, but there is that opportunity there. [31:05]
But we also see that once they’re accepted, they appreciate the time that they’ve spent thinking about… Because for us, it has to be a sound decision. You just don’t apply. And just like, “Okay, I want this school, because of these reasons.” Oh, another cater is when someone has copied and pasted their essays and you can see because they left the other schools.
That’s a killer. No, that is a… Yeah, it definitely shows a lack of motivation and attention to detail. [31:29]
It’s super sloppy. Right?
Let’s say instead of applying for this upcoming cycle or a close deadline, I’m planning ahead. Okay. I want to apply in fall 2023 for the September 2024 intake. Right. So we’re really… I know the dates are, the year’s dates are nuts.
Any planned changes for the application? Are you at all concerned about Chat GPT? [32:03]
Planning ahead. No major changes are seen for… We would never do a major change from one application to another.
So if someone wants to start ahead, download the application, look at the essays. If we were to change, maybe we would change one or we would do a minor change, but not nothing yet very major.
What would you advise the applicant planning ahead to be doing now? [32:40]
Doing research. When they come to our campus, I’m so grateful. This is what you have to do. Go visit the schools. Do you feel you belong there? Talk to students. I think that they should spend much more time looking at the school. We are always welcoming to come and see it. We organize, for example, in-house events. Every two months we get to organize a master class. We have a chat where I tell them about all of these things. And we discuss like today an application, how to prepare your application.
We have also someone from my colleagues from careers sharing the career outcomes and what’s the career journey. We’ve got also people from student life sharing how is a day in an MBA program? And last but not least, we have students coming, in and it’s an open question and answer. It’s like an open mic. They just raise a question, and they ask and they reply. So for example, I think that the best thing they could do, organize to come and join us one of those. Come and meet us.
Where can listeners and potential applicants, or potential participants,learn more about INSEAD’s MBA program? [34:05]
The best recommendation would be our INSEAD.edu, our website where you can find everything and reach out to us. We’re always very happy to help you.
- How to Get Accepted to MIT Sloan MBA [Episode 498]
- How an MBA Can Help Entrepreneurs [Episode 492]
- Approaching Your MBA Application [Episode 487]
- Empowering International Students with the Financing for Grad Ed [Episode 475]