By Caroline Diarte Edwards
There are a lot of good reasons to consider an international MBA. For one, five of the top 10 schools in the FT Global MBA Ranking 2017 are European programs.
At the same time, unique factors abound when crafting a winning application. Two directors from our team of former MBA admissions directors and insiders recently joined John A. Byrne of Poets&Quants’ in a live strategy session to discuss maximizing your chances of admission to two top European MBA programs: LBS and INSEAD. INSEAD has held the #1 spot in the FT Global rankings for the past two years, and LBS among the top six.
This hour-long dialogue (below), which you can still watch in its entirety, produced many great questions. I shared advice from my perspective as former INSEAD Director of MBA Admissions, along with my Fortuna colleague Emma Bond, former LBS Senior Manager of MBA Admissions.
Emma and I consolidated our thoughts to six questions posed by session participants:
Q: I have 4 years of work experience – is that enough for INSEAD?
A: The range at INSEAD is typically two to 12 years; average is around 5.5 years’ experience. Remember that schools up until the start of the program in terms of length of work experience, not up until the deadline of application. For example, if you’re applying this fall in round 1 for Sept 2018 entry, the school calculates your work experience as one year more than you have at time of application (unless you’re not working, or, say, you plan to exit your job in the coming months).
Apply when the timing is right for you. The challenge at an early stage in your career—if you have 18 months work experience right now, for example—is showing strong progression and advancement, and also conveying what you’ll contribute to the school. In most cases, applicants get more out of the INSEAD program when they’ve had at least three years’ work experience upon starting the MBA. This kind of substantial work experience implies you have more context to which you can relate your learning.
Q: Do the schools consider a low undergrad GPA in context? Like simultaneously studying for your CPA and working a fulltime internship at 45 hour per week internship ?
A: Yes, schools take mitigating factors into account. Admissions officers will understand that if you had a heavy course load while working a fulltime job, you were less likely to garner a stellar GPA. However, it’s wise to balance your GPA with a very strong showing in the GMAT.
Q: How are re-applicants considered at LBS? In what ways will a previous year’s application affect an admission decision?
A: LBS does welcome re-applicants, however, bear in mind that the school will refer to your previous application also (same goes for INSEAD), and you’re likely to get the same outcome unless there’s some strong evolution in your profile since your previous application. Spend some time figuring out what went wrong the first time and what you can do to address perceived weaknesses before reapplying. Showing you’ve made the serious effort to improve yourself as a candidate and learn from your previous experience, which demonstrates motivation and commitment that the program will appreciate.
Q: Do INSEAD and LBS treat GRE scores any differently than GMAT?
A: Remember that the GMAT is a test designed for business schools, and as such, is seen as a better predictor of academic performance on an MBA program than the GRE. So if you haven’t yet taken either test, and the GMAT is an option for you, then you should definitely focus on it.
LBS takes a less strong view on the GRE. The school generally prefers GMAT – and perhaps most importantly, so do their employers – but GMAT holders don’t have an advantage over GRE takers. LBS only has the first cohort of GRE takers entering the MBA this year and will be monitoring their progress. That said, LBS has accepted it on MiM (Masters in Management) and MiF (Masters in Finance) in previous years and was happy with the students who took GRE.
Q: How to make the decision between January term versus fall terms at INSEAD?
A: The academic program is the same, so the key difference is the internship option. You have a two-month summer break when you can pursue an internship if you start in January; if you start in September you will graduate the following July and don’t have an internship option (unless you pursue an internship when you graduate, in hopes it turns into a full time offer, which happens). The internship is a key recruitment mechanism for investment banking in particular, so if you’re looking to make a career switch into IB, it’s strategic to focus on the January intake.
Campus exchange options are another difference: the Kellogg, CEIBS and Wharton exchanges are for the January entry only, while only the September entry has an opportunity to complete a module on the Abu Dhabi campus.
Candidates sometimes speculate whether one of the intakes is more competitive; the school does in fact get more applications for the September entry, but the yield (percentage of admits who actually join the program) is higher for the January intake, meaning the acceptance rate is fairly identical across the two.
Q: Can someone get into a top MBA program from an unknown university?
A: Yes. Hopefully you have a good GPA, and go on to get a strong GMAT that bolsters your academic profile overall.