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How to Get into INSEAD: Advice for 6 Common MBA Profiles

INSEAD MBA students celebrating success at INSEAD Business School

During my seven years at the INSEAD University, where I served as director of MBA admissions, marketing & financial aid, I oversaw all aspects of candidate evaluation and policy decisions for INSEAD MBA requirements. Here’s my advice for positioning a stand-out application for six typical profiles to help you learn how to get into INSEAD Business School.


1. Career-changers

Most INSEAD MBA students are making some significant changes in their career. The MBA program measures change across three dimensions: industry, function and country. In fact, typically about 80% of applicants make a change on one of these dimensions, and about 25% make a change on all three dimensions after they’re admitted. If you are planning a pretty dramatic career change, you could be well advised to join the January intake, so that you can take an internship in July and August (the September entry doesn’t have an internship option).

However, the share of career changers quoted above do not vary much between the January or September entries, so if you are targeting a September start, you can still count on a big change being possible. And while many INSEAD Business School students end up changing their minds about their future plans during the year, be warned that a 10-month program doesn’t give you a lot of time for mulling over infinite options. You need to be ready to make decisions about your future direction fairly quickly, and you also need to be able to juggle an intensive academic schedule with an ongoing and regular investment of time in your job search.

2. The ‘Common’ Profile

There are some profiles that pour into the INSEAD MBA admissions office by the hundreds: for example, management consultants based in Europe or Indian IT professionals. While the program has no hard-and-fast quota, they also want to create a diverse class, so in reality, the competition can be tougher for some than for others. This can impact your approach when figuring out how to get into INSEAD University.

If you have a common profile, then you need to be strong across all elements of the application, including your academic profile, your professional track record, your international experience, and your activities and achievements outside of work or study. Try to weave a memorable, open, and honest story into your application that will help you stand out in the mind of the file reader. It’s not uncommon for file readers to review apps from candidates with similar profiles at the same time, so reflect on unique or distinctive elements that help make your INSEAD essays is a lively read.

3. Nontraditional Candidates

Contrary to the notion that you’re at a disadvantage without the typical MBA track record, an uncommon background helps you stand out more easily and can increase your chances of getting into INSEAD Business School. Schools like INSEAD work hard to craft a diverse class — and diversity includes personal life and professional backgrounds. There are always several students with non-business backgrounds on the list, such as scientists, doctors, journalists and military officers. There have even been performing artists, and a monk! As a non-traditional candidate, you need to demonstrate that you have a clear rationale for taking the INSEAD MBA: a vision of what you want to achieve — and this has to be credible. The admissions team has to be convinced that you have the skills and drive to make a big career change work. And as with other candidates, you have to demonstrate that you are a high achiever in your work, whatever that may be.

4. Limited Work Experience

On average, INSEAD University students have five to six years’ work experience, however the range is about two years to 10 years. Remember also that the length of work experience is measured as how long you will have worked by the time you start the program, not how long you have worked by the time youbegin the application process. If you would only have two to three years’ experience by the time you start, you’ll need to work hard in your application to demonstrate that you already have some significant professional accomplishments, that you have interesting experience and perspectives to share with team mates who may be further ahead in their careers than you, and that you have the maturity to fit in well with class-mates that on average are likely to be a bit older than you.

5. Limited International Experience

INSEAD takes great pride in the international diversity of its MBA program: both as regards the range of nationalities represented (94 in the class of 2018), and the international experience of the students. But not everyone at INSEAD University has a lot of international experience. Typically, those who gain admission without much experience beyond their own borders are from emerging markets (they may not have had financial means to travel), but are still able to demonstrate that they have the ability to collaborate in an incredibly diverse environment (qualities such as openness, flexibility, curiosity about other cultures, interpersonal skills, maturity — all these elements help). They have also demonstrated that they need to join such an international community – that it will be highly relevant for their future career plans. If your focus, past, present and future is really on your domestic market, then think twice before applying.

6. Lower GMAT Score

The average INSEAD MBA GMAT was 708 on the traditional GMAT test for the class admitted in 2023. This translates to a 655 score, or just under the 90th percentile, on the new GMAT Focus Edition. In the past, the range has typically around 600 to 800 on the old exam, (53rd to 100th percentile).  INSEAD University pays close attention to component scores on each section of the test. For the new GMAT Focus Edition, they recommend at least a 60th percentile on the Verbal component (a score of 80), and a 66th percentile on the Quantitative (80) and Data Insights components (77).

As a one-year program, the school needs assurance you have the academic ability to keep pace with your classmates. So if your GMAT score is borderline, consider shoring up your academic profile with a standard quant-based course such as accounting, statistics and finance. Online quant courses, such as those offered by Berkeley Extension, or HBxCore, offer an opportunity to build your skill set while demonstrating your ability to handle the academic rigor.

“There is a lot of myth about the ideal GMAT score at INSEAD and some well-rounded applicants tend to exclude themselves just because of a lower GMAT,” said INSEAD Director of Admissions & Financial Aid Virginie Fougea in an exclusive interview with Fortuna Admissions. She emphasized: “A lower GMAT needs to be paired with strong academics for sure. However, we are welcoming applications from those with lower scores because if everything else is of good quality, we can either interview these applicants or ask them to retake a test.”

For a deep dive on how to get into INSEAD, view this hour long strategy session with Fortuna’s INSEAD experts:

Want more insider advice on applying to INSEAD?

View our MBA Admissions Masterclass above, or read our related articles on applying to INSEAD:

You can also request a copy of our Insider Tips Report for applying to INSEAD Business School.

Fortuna Admissions Co-Director Caroline Diarte Edwards is the former INSEAD director of admissions, marketing and financial aid. She is also an alumna of INSEAD’s MBA program. For a candid assessment of your chances of admission success at a top MBA program, sign up for a free consultation.


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