Exclusive Interview with INSEAD’s Current Director of Marketing, Admissions, and Financial Aid, Conducted by INSEAD’s former Director of Admissions

March 04, 2015 | by Matt Symonds

In an interview with INSEAD’s Pejay Belland (Director of Marketing, Admissions, and Financial Aid for Degree Programmes), Fortuna learned about some of the latest program updates and admissions tips for INSEAD in 2015. We’re delighted to share Pejay’s responses to our questions from the interview, conducted by Caroline Diarte Edwards, who served previously as INSEAD’s Director of Admissions.

Q: What tips can you offer to candidates who are concerned that their profile might be quite common in the INSEAD application pool? A: I would encourage such candidates to give some deep thought as to what element of their personality or profile can help them stand out from the crowd. It might be an unusual achievement at work or in their extra curricular activities, or it might be their future plans. There’s a myriad of possibilities.

Q: There are also candidates who have non-traditional profiles, who fear than they don’t have the required INSEAD profile. So what advice would you give them? A: There is no required INSEAD profile. We are not looking for cookie-cutter candidates, but rather we are seeking to craft a class with a wonderfully rich diversity in terms of professional and educational backgrounds as well as cultures. So you can play an unusual profile as a strength, as long as you can highlight what useful perspective you bring to the student community, and demonstrate how the MBA is relevant to your future career plans.

Q: Knowing who to approach to get a recommendation can often be tricky for candidates. What advice do you have? A: A classic mistake that candidates make is to get a recommendation from someone with an impressive job title, someone who is very senior, but who does not know the candidate well. At INSEAD we really want to see recommendations from people who know the candidate extremely well. Details and examples are important. A superficial recommendation from your boss’s boss is not going to help you. Authenticity is also important, and candidates should remember that INSEAD does conduct spot checks to verify the authenticity of recommendations.

Q: What’s new in the INSEAD Admissions office? A: We have started to offer admission to some candidates to a future class, one or two years later than the class to which they initially apply. Sometimes we see great profiles from candidates who we know can do well at INSEAD, but who we believe would do much better and benefit more from the program if they had applied at a later date. The average INSEAD student has 5.5 years of full time professional experience, and due to the intensive nature of the program, we admit students with solid work experience who can put easily their learning into real-life context. So now, if a strong candidate applies who would have less than 2 or 3 years work experience by the time they start the program, rather than asking them to reapply later, we put them through the full admissions process and offer them a place for a later class.

Q: So how does this work in practice? Do they automatically get enrolled to the later class, or do they have to meet any conditions?  A: Two months before the class starts, the candidate will need to send us an update on what they have been doing since they last applied. The feedback will be reviewed by the Admissions Committee, and then their place on the program will be confirmed.

Q: How is the application pool evolving? A: Application volume is relatively steady and we continue to see a good flow of outstanding applications. There is no big change in the professional profile of candidates: we see a good mix of candidates coming from classic MBA track backgrounds, as well as candidates with ‘non-traditional’ profiles – lawyers, journalists, doctors, etc.

Q: How about candidates’ and students’ career interests? Are there any recent trends?  A: In the past few years there has been a marked increase in the number of candidates who have an interest in ‘social impact’ careers. INSEAD offers a wide range of social impact related elective courses, such as “Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation” and “Business Sustainability Thinking”. INDEVOR, the INSEAD club for social impact and an affiliate chapter of Net Impact, is one of the most popular and active clubs on campus.

Q: What trends has the school observed as regards the job placement of graduating students? A: Finance recruitment has recovered somewhat following the finance sector crisis in 2008. Corporate recruitment as well as consulting have remained strong throughout. We’ve also seen growth in the technology sectors (for example Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung and Google were among our top recruiters last year)

Q: INSEAD has a language policy that can be off-putting for some candidates, especially native English speakers [as well as fluent English, candidates must have a working knowledge of a second language when they join the program, and a basic knowledge of a third language by the time they graduate]. Are they any plans to make this more flexible? A: Many of our non-native English speakers already speak more than two languages before coming to INSEAD, and for those that require a third language we have facilitated access to our language provider so that they can start to study before their arrival as well as, of course, during their time on the program.

Q: You’ve launched a new online application platform, and some revisions to the application essays. What other possible changes do you have in mind? A: We may introduce a video component to the application. The format would be that the candidate would record online a response to a randomly generated question. The candidate would likely submit this recording at the same time as submitting his or her written application.

Q: What is the thinking behind this? A: Some candidates are great at expressing themselves on paper, but some are better in oral communication, and so we want to be more flexible in how we evaluate candidates and give them the opportunity to express themselves and showcase their strengths in different ways.

Q: Will this replace one of the interviews?  A: No. It does not affect the interview process. Candidates who are selected for interview will still be assessed by two alumni in separate interviews.

Q: What was the thinking behind the recent reintroduction of the 4th round of applications for the September entry? A: The idea is to give candidates more flexibility as regards when they can apply.

Q: Candidates applying in round 3 often worry that their chances are slimmer than they would have been in earlier rounds. Some US schools strongly encourage candidates to target rounds 1 or 2. What is INSEAD’s current policy on this? A: We try to keep the level of competition the same across rounds, so that we can admit the best of the entire pool. So I would still advise a candidate to take the time to prepare the best application they can, and not to rush to submit an application for an earlier round if they could do a better job by taking more time to apply later. The main difference with round 3 and now round 4 is not the level of competition, but rather that there is less financial aid available, as many scholarships are awarded to round 1 and 2 candidates.

Q: What’s new as regards financial aid? A: We are now awarding certain scholarships to round 1 candidates immediately, rather than waiting for R1 and R2 applications to be finalized. Currently our scholarship budget is around €3million and awards average about €13,500. Given the diversity of our students both in terms of nationality as well as background, we do recognize that financing the INSEAD MBA can be a big challenge, and therefore one of the school’s priorities under the leadership of Dean Mihov is to endeavor to provide more financial aid in the form of scholarships to continue to enable the best and brightest candidates from around the world to study at INSEAD. We plan to shift scholarship applications to the same online system as the admissions application, but that is not ready for launch quite yet.

Q: In 2013, INSEAD launched the new Masters in Finance program. How are candidates with an interest in working in finance navigating the choice between the MBA and the MFin?

A: Students on the MFin are already working in finance and plan to stay in the sector. It is a part-time program for working professionals, so a very different format from the MBA with very different objectives. MFin students are usually sponsored by their employers (at least in terms of time commitment) and are either planning on leveraging the Program to accelerate their career within their own company, or expand their skill set both in terms of finance and investment but also in leadership and management in order to move to a different organization. The MFin provides a far more in-depth coverage of finance and accounting than an MBA. For candidates who are looking to make a career change into or out of finance, the MBA is likely a better choice. The MFin is suited to those really focused primarily on career acceleration in the finance sector.

Q: A couple years ago, INSEAD launched a dual degree program with SAIS. (Students can gain an MBA from INSEAD plus an MA in International Relations from SAIS in a condensed period of time, 2.5 years). How is this going? A: The partnership is going well and whilst numbers are small, there is ongoing interest and engagement in the dual degree program. We have also recently launched two new partnerships: one with Teachers College of the University of Columbia, and the other with MIT. The objectives are quite different – the TC-INSEAD dual degree, similar to the SAIS-INSEAD dual degree enables candidates to address some very specific educational and career objectives by combining the general management content of our MBA with TC’s specialist content, training social entrepreneurs in education, whereas the MIT partnership enables candidates to delve deeper into a specific topic with a management concentration pathway once they’ve graduated from INSEAD.

Q: In 2013, INSEAD launched the Abu Dhabi module for MBA students. How is that going? What’s the feedback? A: It has been a great success so far! The module is a very intense mix of classes, speaker events, company visits, and networking with alumni and recruiters in the region. Students fly in for a week each in January and February, and then again for a long weekend in March which culminates in a Career Fair. This is a module we offer to our September class. Our December class also has an option to do a field trip to Abu Dhabi.

There is a short video offering some good insight into the Abu Dhabi module on the school website (http://mba.insead.edu/mba-videos/)

Q: The percentage of women on the program seems to now be fairly stable in the low thirties. This is a long way from where things stood 10 years ago, when it was typically around 20%, or even lower, but still not as good as some of the top US programs. Is increasing this percentage still an important objective for the school? A: Absolutely. Across all our programs, we have special outreach efforts to attract women candidates. We are now collaborating more proactively on women related initiatives across school departments. Getting to 40% is more of a challenge for INSEAD than for a US based school, due to the diversity of our applicant base, which includes countries from which there are typically low volumes of women applicants, but we are nevertheless committed to pushing up the number of excellent women students at INSEAD.

If you are considering applying to INSEAD and would like a free 30-minute consultation with Caroline Diarte Edwards to assess your chances for admission, please contact us. We can discuss our full range of services and how Fortuna can help you with your

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