Discover INSEAD’s unique one-year MBA [Show summary]
Virginie Fougea, Global Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at INSEAD, shares what’s new for the school’s MBA program and what prospective applicants with global business ambitions should know.
Do you aspire to do business internationally? Consider INSEAD! [Show notes]
Are you a citizen of the world? Do you aspire to be one? Do you have global business ambitions? Then you should be interested in the business school for the world, INSEAD. Its Global Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, Virginie Fougea, is our guest today.
Can you give an overview of the INSEAD MBA program for those listeners who aren’t that familiar with it, focusing on its more distinctive elements? [1:29]
INSEAD was started in 1960. We welcomed our first class around those years. Since the very beginning, we have had very international classes. We have a number of Europeans represented, but also people from outside Europe. Now we have, for example, 92 different nationalities in the current classes, so that is definitely in the DNA of the school. We have a campus in Fontainebleau in France, which is 60 kilometers south of Paris, as well as the campus in Singapore. We have a hub in San Francisco, that is the newest one, and we also have a campus in Abu Dhabi. The idea was to allow people to be on the ground, and not just talk about how to do business in Asia without having put a foot in the continent.
We have an MBA, MiM (Master in Management), Executive MBA, and Executive Master in Finance. For the MBA, we welcome two classes. One in September that starts in the end of August/beginning of September, and one starts in January every year. We welcome roughly 500 students, total per class, with 300 in Fontainebleau and 200 in Singapore.
It used to be really easy for students to move among the campuses, and most students did not attend the entire program in one campus. How have COVID travel restrictions affected that? [3:14]
It did affect some people during their studies. Those who were in the 2020 classes last year, obviously all the borders were closed and you couldn’t reorganize your plans. Those people obviously had to stay on the location where they were. However, quite a number of people decided, when the countries were closing down their borders, to go back home. We had a few people doing that. Others decided to stay in Fontainebleau or in Singapore and keep sharing their apartments with their roommates. To be very honest, now with the quarantine and the fact that the countries have reorganized the travel and the possibility to enter the different countries, we are able to have all our students in person on both our campuses in Fontainebleau and Singapore. For example, we just had the Master in Management students who just all went to Singapore all together. They spent the first part of the program in France, in Fontainebleau, and they all moved — the 90 of them moved — to Singapore for the rest of their program as planned. That’s the idea with the MiM is that they stay together. Obviously they had to plan the quarantine, and we facilitated all the visas and made sure that everyone could join.
What don’t people know about INSEAD that you would like them to know? What’s a common misconception? [5:11]
The first one I hear when I speak with prospective applicants is, “Do I absolutely need a 700 GMAT?” My answer is always, “Well, if you want one, a 700 GMAT for yourself, then go for it.” But if it’s just purely for INSEAD, maybe a 700 is fine, but maybe you want us all to be realistic. What is the score that will make you happy and that will make you feel, “I did well,” because not everyone is comfortable taking a standardized test. Not everyone is good at math, and not everyone is a native English speaker and can fully read and write in English. Depending on all this, we are happy with any score that is more or less above or somewhere close to 600. Anything above is a competitive score for us.
Another misconception is that INSEAD is a great school for consultants, but if you’re interested in finance, it may not be such a great choice. [6:27]
That’s a very good one. One thing that was really interesting, with the Lehman Brothers and all that in 2008, INSEAD managed to have one of the biggest cohorts or groups of people going into the finance sector, post-financial crisis, ahead of schools that had a higher reputation in the domain, in the sector. But we do hear that. To be very honest, I don’t mind; it’s not a reputation that hurts to have. I think it just needs to be put into perspective because an MBA with a fast pace like INSEAD’s intense MBA is very much appreciated by a consulting company. So I’m happy if the consulting companies find talent at INSEAD that are ready for their next mission. Why not? This is not something I would fight against. It’s perfectly fine if they find the talent here. It’s perfectly fine if people want to give it a try. It’s a good way of keeping the learning and the momentum post-MBA going, to go to a consulting firm where you’re put into different roles, in different sectors, different companies for short missions or longer. It makes sense. Why not?
INSEAD is very strong in general management, and its placement in consulting is fantastic, but it doesn’t mean that it can’t be good in finance, entrepreneurship, or other areas. There’s no conflict. Sometimes it’s thought that if you have strength in one area, you can’t be strong in others, and that’s just not true. [8:32]
That’s true. That’s also kind of limiting a career to a post-MBA job. We all work for 20, 30, 40 years, right? You don’t do an MBA just to join a consulting firm for two years post-MBA. You do an MBA because you want to gain access to your network. You want to gain access to continuing education. There are many different reasons. Some people do it for acquiring new skills. Others to change sectors. Others to change location. There’re so many different reasons for doing an MBA that limiting it to just a post-study job is a little bit narrow. We see in the statistics that 20 years post-MBA, more than 80% of graduates have had a stint with entrepreneurship. If you try entrepreneurial ventures at some point in your career, it might not be just right after MBA; it can be 10 years down the road or 20 or 25.
How has COVID affected the student experience on campus? Are they in class? Is it a hybrid model? What about the kind of informal interactions activities that students had enjoyed pre-COVID? [10:22]
Very early on, we decided to try as much as possible to remain open and to welcome people in person. We welcomed the MiMs on the 1st of September 2020 and the MBAs a couple of weeks after, at the end of September, in person. Obviously at the same time, some people had to be in quarantine, or started in person but then had to move online because they wanted to self-isolate themselves, or for any reason had to be online. We gave the opportunity to everyone who wanted to connect remotely at any point of time. We always have both people who log in and people who are in the classroom. It requires a lot of attention and effort from the faculty. All the faculty assistants have been amazing at facilitating the Zoom sessions and at the same time through the in-person classroom experience.
Whether you call it hybrid or asynchronous, we are all used to this, but whatever the new terminology, what I do know is that the bottom line is we want people in person as much as possible, respecting the fact that some will have to be online at some point, and that it might be just two weeks away and then coming back. We realize that. That is the bottom line.
Then to your question about what has changed, obviously it changed the delivery format, with a lot more content online. Also the recruitment activities obviously moved online, or the vast majority at least. A lot has moved online in format, but also in content. The content was adjusted to fit the new world and new opportunities. So the faculty developed new content to be relevant to what was happening currently in the world.
Are students meeting online or offline for club activities and extracurricular activities, or does that depend upon the location and the level of shutdown at a particular point in time? [13:03]
That will depend. Indeed, the student clubs are still meeting whenever possible in person. However, they also leverage what turned out to be good opportunities because we have seen, for example, the entrepreneurship club or the African club have managed to have guest speakers online that they would have never been able to bring on campus otherwise. That was really interesting to see that the quality of the speakers was mentioned more often from within the student population. They could have access to people that otherwise would have had to travel all the way to Fontainebleau or Singapore and who appreciated not having to commute.
You were last on Admissions Straight Talk in November 2018 for Episode 285. It was a really informative discussion of the different elements of INSEAD’s application: the essays, the CVs, the letters of rec, and the video interview. Has anything changed in the application or your evaluation process in the last two and a half years? [14:28]
Yes and no. No, in that the first essay remains the same, and the number of questions are the same, but it did change a little bit in what we see in terms of expectations and what people are writing to us, and applicants’ expectations.
We see more and more people being interested in or discussing their sense of purpose or how they could make an impact on their family, on their company, on their community. The reason why we did not change the essays and rarely change them is because we’re pretty transparent. We answer questions from a lot of prospective applicants all the time. We’re pretty transparent because at the end of the day, we want to offer a chance for people to join INSEAD. It’s not a process where we feel, “Who can we eliminate?” It’s the contrary. People can showcase who they are and why they think INSEAD matches their values, what they would like to achieve in the future, not just post-MBA, as we just discussed. Hence, the questions can remain the same as long as people have this understanding that it’s about them.
Since we are all different, we all think differently. We all have different value sets. As long as you have an opportunity to explain those passions, those motivations, then that makes a unique essay, right? That’s the way we go about it. Also, the application journey, we view it as part of a starting point. It starts a little bit with the marketing activities and those first initial contacts, but it also, together with the application form, is a career journey that people start. This self-introspection and reflection. Why do they want an MBA at this point in their career? Why this school rather than the other one? For that reason, the essays can remain pretty much the same.
Wasn’t two and a half years ago also a time when there was a little bit of a rebranding at INSEAD, when INSEAD started to focus more on the greater social good in its mission? [18:02]
Yes, the “Be a force for good” motto. I think that’s a very good point. Maybe it’s linked. I think this is more of a generational expectation. My kids are 25 and 23 and have the same sort of expectations for themselves, and when they are looking for a company to recruit them, they look at the values of the company. I must admit that when I started my career, I was not paying too much attention to the values of a company, and barely the gender diversity within the company. I was probably looking a little bit for some role models, but not so much. This generation pays a lot of attention to this sort of information.
Is the admissions interview at INSEAD entirely virtual now? Do you see them going back to being in person when we get beyond this? [19:32]
Yes. Since the very beginning of this pandemic, yes. I think we will let people decide. Pre-COVID, we were more or less requiring face to face interviews because not everyone was at ease with a conversation like we are having at the moment, and we didn’t want to jeopardize people’s chances by putting the computer between them and their interview work. I think now people have figured that out and can be very persuasive and can have this kind of contact and the right level of body language, which is also part of an interview. I think people have got that now. So it remains to be confirmed.
Thanks to the wide network, most of the time we could find alumni within the country where the applicants were based. However, you’re very right. Sometimes that wasn’t possible. The interview selections done by the admissions officers on my team are not random. It’s a match. It’s purposeful that two people have been selected to interview a specific profile. Sometimes we didn’t have the opportunity to have the right profile of interviewer in the country, so we were struggling a little bit. That could stay with us, the online interview, the virtual interview, for countries where we have less alumni.
What’s the most common mistake you see applicants making? [19:28]
Some people are over-prepared. When I say over-prepared, I mean that you try to scratch the surface and dig further to try to understand who the person is behind that, but we just get canned answers and pretty, prepared, emphatic speeches that could fit any school. It makes us ask, well, have you done your due diligence? Do you know what INSEAD is all about? It’s more of this sort of common mistake, when we read essays that are very, very dry in a way where you don’t really get to know the person.
With the virtual interviews, it can be a little trap for some people when it’s as if people are reading a script. We tend to limit our gestures when we are on the computer obviously, and we kind of look a little bit stiffer than in person, and if people are over-prepared, then even more so.
In light of the pandemic and the crazy end to last year’s admission cycle, are you reading applications with a slightly different perspective, looking or weighing differently certain qualities and attributes than you did before the pandemic? [23:06]
I think this pandemic offers an opportunity to push our limits, to stretch ourselves a bit further, a little bit more, and to work on our resilience. These are things that they can showcase in an application form. From my perspective, when we select people, we also look at some sort of resilience because you learn from your failures. I’m convinced that we learn more through failures than achievements, and building your resilience is very important and can be very beneficial when it comes to recruitment and the interviews and being denied an interview for the job you thought was your dream job, but then you give it a try again, or you prepare again. But you get the feedback, you accept the feedback, and you use this resilience that I’m referring to, and initiative, and adaptability.
One of the things I think that COVID has triggered, at least in the United States, is a move to go test-optional. Does INSEAD have any plans to go in that direction? [24:59]
Not at all. Let me be very honest with you: If we were to recruit from a very predominant market like France, or where everyone had similar type of undergrad studies and GPAs, yes, we could apply a template and a pattern and know that above a certain GPA, the likelihood that you get a good GMAT score is very high. If you graduate from a well-known school in the US and you score a certain GPA, I can predict your GMAT. Sorry to be blunt, but it’s very true.
Consider the diversity we recruit from, the number of languages that are spoken. It’s only 20% of the class that will have English as their native language. When you bear that in mind, your ability to speak English becomes important, hence the verbal section of the GMAT. That cannot be found anywhere else in the GPA from your undergrad studies, except if you have studied in an English-speaking institution, but that’s not the case for the majority of our students. Similarly, the way you teach math in an anglophone country is very different from the way you teach math in a francophone country or in Spain or in other countries in the world where we recruit from. So for that reason, we will need a standardized test. Again, not to eliminate people or to make a cutoff, but just because otherwise we have no understanding, as you rightly pointed out. We don’t have enough elements to be able to fully and fairly assess future academic capacity.
What advice would you give to someone in the midst of preparing for an application for your January 2022 intake? In other words, that would be your June 18th or your July 30th deadline. [27:41]
We will have places for the last round. However, if people are heavily dependent and relying on scholarship, then round four is a little bit risky because we will have fewer scholarship offerings for that round. Also, it can be a little bit stretched. We have an onboarding online module that is happening before the start of the program. The program is one year, but we kind of start two months or three months before by releasing some material. This material is not mandatory, but highly recommended. So if people are admitted with the last round, sometimes, if they’re not taking days off and they plan to work until the start of the program, they find it very difficult to complete the material. We have things like CV preparation, how to prepare a winning CV, mock interviews. We have a number of activities with the career development center. They’re quite important. We also have a management course. We also have a coaching program that starts before. People can complete it in one week, by locking themselves in their bedroom for a week. It can be completed in a week, but it’s recommended you do it approximately a couple of hours per week, over a window of two months, for example. So that’s much better and more beneficial.
Round four has a little bit of this disadvantage, unless people are ready to quit their jobs the moment they hear about the final decision, and they already have the finances sorted and they’re ready to come to Fontainebleau, and they don’t need a visa, or are ready to go to Singapore because they already have an entry pass for Singapore, for example. Bearing that in mind, the selection will be the same and the quality we’re looking for will be the same.
What advice would you give to someone thinking ahead to a fall 2022 matriculation or later? Any suggestions for them? [30:15]
First of all, well done, because it’s something that takes a couple of months or more, maybe even a couple of years to decide to do an MBA. The GMAT prep, we covered that. The essays, it’s important to dedicate time. But it’s also informing the people you will ask for recommendations. It’s not doing you any favors to write to the person, “Can you please recommend me for this program?” 24 hours before the application deadline. It’s usually recommended that you explain your thought process, explain “why an MBA,” and then maybe what you would like to showcase, and then the person can write a meaningful letter of recommendation. Otherwise, it’s a missed opportunity. We see answers like, “I cannot comment on this.” I always feel that’s a pity, and we just disregard the letter of recommendation. It’s a waste of a recommendation.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [31:46]
Maybe a question on the size of the class, and of future classes. We had a smaller class in September 2020, and we had a bigger class in January 2021. So what we decided to do for next year is go back to normal class size. The idea was that when we reduced the class size for the September 2020 intake, we didn’t know, first of all, what to expect. We all had heard about clusters and social distancing, but technically, logistically, how do you make that happen? So the dean had a number of town halls and forums with the incoming students asking them, what do you expect? What would you recommend we do? And a number of people requested the possibility to defer, which we agreed to. So we welcomed 300-plus in September 2020, and we increased the January class to accommodate the deferrals.
Where can listeners and potential applicants learn more about INSEAD’s MBA program? [33:27]
We’ll be happy to stay in touch with any prospective applicants. People can always check the website at insead.edu.
- INSEAD’s website
- INSEAD MBA Essay Tips and Deadlines
- What is INSEAD Looking For?
- Get Accepted to INSEAD, an on-demand webinar
- Accepted’s MBA Admissions Consulting Services
- What It’s Like to Apply for a Master’s in Finance or MBA in 2021
- What to Expect From the MBA Experience at Cambridge Judge Business School
- How the ESADE MBA Program Aspires to Make a Positive Impact
- Applying to Wharton Lauder? Do Your Research!
- What’s New at INSEAD?