This part 2 is written onboard EK355 from Singapore to Dubai, on my way to France. So excited to start my journey with the school! This post will focus specifically on the INSEAD application process, and the preparation that I did.

P.S: Please feel free to contact me if you are interested to know more or if you have specific questions that I have yet to address here. Here’s the link to my personal website, but you can also contact me through LinkedIn or Instagram.

You can find part 1 here. It will cover my career journey and why I opted to pursue MBA at INSEAD.

What’s the admission process like?

Below you’ll find the exact step by step of the process taken from the INSEAD website:

INSEAD MBA Admission Process

The whole process from the time I submitted my application until the time I received the “CONGRATULATIONS” phone call took 65 days, broken down to:

  • 1-3 : Application submission to interview announcement : 22 days
  • 4 : Interview announcement to interview completion : 30 days
  • 5-6 : Interview completion to admission decision : 13 days

The application submission in step 1 requires you to submit:

  • Essays
  • Recommendation
  • GMAT
  • TOEFL

The whole process was pleasant, with complete support from the admission team and alumni interviewers. Completing the interview was a tad long for me because I was traveling at the time, and scheduling the interviews was a challenge in itself. Eventually, we managed to set up the meeting times and we had great conversations.

My alumni interviewers were both quite senior, but they were humble and eager to share! I noticed that they were trying to make sure that I knew what I was getting into, and whether taking an MBA makes sense for me.

Application Preparation

For this section, I’m shifting from a narration to Q&A format, as I’ve had people reach out to me regarding these, so hopefully I have a good idea of what you want to know

GMAT

What is this?

It’s basically THE exam to take if you want to go to a business school. It’s accepted in all the top programs. GMAT is administered by GMAC (Graduate Management Admission Council). GMAC is a global, mission-driven association of leading graduate business schools.

Here are the 4 parts of the exam and the range of score in brackets:

  1. Quantitative Reasoning (6-51)
  2. Verbal Reasoning (6-51)
  3. Integrated Reasoning/IR (1-8)
  4. Analytical Writing Assessment/AWA (0-6)

You sometimes see “Average GMAT for the program is 700”. The number that contributes to this score is only number 1 & 2. Number 3 & 4 has standalone scores. E.g: It’s possible to get 1 in IR, 0 in AWA, but 800 in the Quantitative & Verbal.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to prepare for IR & AWA. It’s still recommended to have a solid score for both.

What do I need to do?

  • Prepare & study.
  • Register for an account at gmat.com.
  • Once you register, log in and register for an exam close to where you live. I recommend you to register at least 1 month in advance so you have a clear goal during your study.

How long did it take to prepare?

2 months preparation

What was your score?

700+

How many tries?

1

What did you use to study?

Official GMAC books and online question bank (Amazon). I personally enjoyed the process, some of it felt like brain teaser quizzes!

Specifically for AWA, this is de facto the best guide I’ve seen.

Did you take a course?

No. I think a course is useful only if you need someone to help guide your study process, kick you if you’re being lazy, and ensure you make positive progress. If you’re confident that you can manage yourself, I don’t think taking a course is necessary.

How did I find the time to study while being in consulting?

I was lucky to have a project with decent work life balance, and I spent at least 8-9 hours per weekend to study.

How important do you think GMAT is?

I personally think GMAT is more of a checklist. It helps you understand whether you’ll be able to follow the curriculum of the MBA.

Did GMAT discussion come up during the interview?

No

Any advice?

  • Practice, practice, practice.
  • Do mock exams, especially the ones provided by gmat.com after you register for the exam
  • If you find it hard to study consistently, register and PAY for the exam. Once you have skin in the game, your motivation goes up exponentially

TOEFL

What is this?

It’s one of the accepted tests to certify English proficiency. I took TOEFL because I have taken it in 2009, so I have some knowledge of what’s the test is like beforehand. Some of my friends took IELTS because, in their own words, “It’s easier to score high”.

How long did it take to prepare?

1 month

What was your score?

115

How many tries?

1

What did you use to study?

Official TOEFL online resource that you can buy when you register for the exam.

Specifically, I purchased the Value Pack Prep Plus

Did you take a course?

No. Same reason as GMAT

Any advice?

Same advice with GMAT. In addition to that, if you are working in a multinational company and normally use English for day to day communication, you’re most likely fine. Just practice for the Speaking portion as it can feel quite awkward. The official online speaking practice is the reason I bought the value pack prep plus instead of just buying the guide.

Essay writings

How long did it take to prepare?

1 month

Any advice?

  • Get someone else to proofread and ensure what you write makes sense from a logical standpoint. You can’t just make a sentence of “I’m a nuclear physicist, but now I’m interested in business, so I want to do an MBA.” There needs to be logical step by steps. Focus on what’s YOUR story, what DRIVES you, and what’s the PROOF.
  • Grammar. Don’t slack off on this. If need be, use online services such as Grammarly to ensure that you’re making sense. I don’t think perfect grammar is required, but your writing has to be clear and without glaring mistakes.
  • Your essays are gateway for the admission team to understand who you are, what’s unique about you, and whether the school can help you reach your goals. Be sure the messages are clear.

Recommendation

How long did it take to get the recommendations?

1.5 months

Any advice?

START EARLY. Nudge your recommender as soon as you decide to apply for an MBA. Let them know your story of why you want to go to MBA, and persuade them to write the recommendation themselves. You can also discuss on specific incidents that they can put into the recommendation. Remember that just writing “he is patient, hardworking and works well with other people” is not strong without evidence of incident that showed those qualities.

Video Submission

What’s it like?

You’ll get a link to do the video interview automatically after you submit your application. Check your email for Kira Talent. It’s basically a back and forth between questions & your answers. There’ll be a question on the screen, you have 45 seconds to prepare, and then 60 seconds to answer. Rinse and repeat 4 times. Additionally, you have practice questions to get comfortable with taking the videos.

What questions are typically asked?

For a full list of questions I used to practice, click here.

Any advice?

Be genuine, look directly to the camera, wear comfortable business casual, test your internet connection & device beforehand, and finally, try to show a side of you that’s unique and not clearly shown in the application documents.

Interview

What’s it like?

You’ll get an email from the admissions officer that congratulates you for moving to the next round and asks you where are you based. This information is then used to determine your interviewers. He/she will then inform you who your interviewers are. It’s then your responsibility to arrange for the session with the interviewers.

You’ll get 2 alumni interviewers, and it can be a challenge to schedule. My challenge was that both me & the interviewer was travelling around, so locking down the time to meet was tough.

Any advice?

Be genuine, practice your pitch on:

  • Why MBA – Show that you understand clearly your journey and why an MBA fits in there.
  • Why INSEAD – Show that you know what you’re getting into and what you’ll get out of the experience.

Both of the whys should also cover “what’s next”.

In Summary

The application process seems long, but most of the work goes into the application submission. Most people face problems because of the GMAT, so allocate more time to prepare for that.

That’s it! I hope these 2 posts helped you and I wish you the best of luck in your application process.

Writing this on board of GA821 from Kuala Lumpur to Jakarta. I’m filled with both sadness and excitement. I’m sad that I left the family I made in KL, but excited to go back to school soon. This writing is also intended to help me sort out my thoughts and hopefully help you in one way or another. In this post, I’m focusing on the career journey and why I opted to do an MBA at INSEAD. In the next post, I’ll share specifically on the INSEAD application process and preparation advices.

P.S: Please feel free to contact me if you are interested to know more or if you have specific questions that I have yet to address here. Here’s the link to my personal website, but you can also contact me through LinkedIn or Instagram.

You can find Part 2 here. It will cover the INSEAD application process and my preparations.

Why MBA?

There are 3 key reasons of why I wanted to do an MBA.

The first is my childhood experience. When I was a kid, I had friends who seems to travel abroad every single holiday. To be frank, I was jealous every time I saw their Disneyland or plane pictures. My family were modest, and we couldn’t afford to travel abroad. In fact, the first time I went abroad was 2010, and that was because my mother had a business trip to China and I could come with her. I was ecstatic to see another country. I still remember that it was a Singapore Airlines flight, CGK-SIN, followed by SIN-Shanghai. I know that this doesn’t look like it relates directly to MBA, but this experience kickstarted my ambition to see the world.

The second is my experience living in Jakarta. The city is well positioned as the center of economic growth of Indonesia. People migrated from villages and small towns to Jakarta in hope of fortune. I daresay it’s the “Jakarta Dream”, much like how the Americans have “American Dream”. A key advantage of being in Jakarta is availability of good jobs. This is further reinforced with the rise of tech startups such as Gojek, Tokopedia, Shopee, Lazada, etc. But living in Jakarta also has some issues that fueled my desire to move. A key issue is the traffic jam and living cost. I lived at the outskirts of the city and I regularly took 1-2 hours for a one way trip (driving) from my home to office. Why not rent a room in the middle of the city? 2 reasons. First, because I work in Services/Consulting. I move around based on where my client is. Second, because rent is expensive and mostly with no facilities. Another key issue is inclusion. I think that we’re moving to a more conservative direction and I’m not comfortable with that. Some politicians are making it worse by utilizing divisive messages based on race or religion to win elections. This experience encouraged me to look beyond Jakarta in hopes of finding another place to call home. What do I need to do to achieve that? I need to build a strong foundation and network to be able to actually move abroad. Without a solid network, I wouldn’t be able to find a job or do business anywhere.

The last is my career journey. I’ve accumulated about 5 years of work experience and I reflected upon where I want to go in the future. My experience in tech, startup, and consulting showed me what kind of work excites me. I’m excited to work with people to create innovation and transformation. I prefer to forge new ways of working instead of just following the old. I believe open discussions with no hard feelings are extremely important. Finally, I dislike it when I don’t have clear goals. So with those in mind, what’s next? I would like to be a business leader that is known for transforming organizations. To go there, I want more experience in strategy development & execution leadership work. Unfortunately, based on my experience, I don’t have a proven track record yet of strategy development work and I don’t have a lot of leadership experience. And thus I want to improve those skills.

Combining all 3 drivers, my experience in Kuala Lumpur is an indicative sign that I’m going to the right direction. I lived in Kuala Lumpur for roughly 9 months, and worked on a blockchain project for a Resources company. I felt like it was a long holiday. I was able to comfortably live outside of Jakarta, and even though the work was tough, the team was awesome and the work was exciting.

So in conclusion, I assessed that an MBA would help me build skills and network quicker to be able to achieve my goals in the future.

Why INSEAD?

First thing I checked to find the right school for me was MBA rankings. Unlike other masters’ degree, MBA has so many published rankings with various methodology. Universities proclaiming “we’re a top business school in the world” is irrelevant. What’s relevant is what other people think about that university and MBA Rankings helps you understand what’s the general view or consensus about the schools. When you check most MBA Rankings, it’s highly dominated by the US schools, think Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, Kellogs, Booth, Berkeley. But there are several business schools outside the US that consistently rank great, such as INSEAD, LBS and HEC Paris.

Then the next question was, “In an ideal world, where everything goes according to plan, where do I want to settle down in the long term?” For me, the answer was Europe/Australia/Canada. Thus, the school I picked need to have a strong name in those 3 regions.

And finally, “what industry do I want to go to after MBA?”. As I wanted to go to strategy development and execution leadership, I looked for schools that produces a lot of strategy consultants.

Combining the answer of the 3 questions, INSEAD becomes a natural choice for a few things:

  • It’s a highly regarded business school with alumni all around the world.
  • There’s more than X nationalities in a class, and there’s 3 campuses (Fontainebleau, Singapore and Abu Dhabi). There’s flexibility of where I want to be based on, and it’ll help me experience many cultures quickly. Both will help me understand what kind of culture I’m most comfortable in.
  • It’s basically the “consulting school of the world” where most graduates go to Strategy Consulting.
INSEAD Singapore Campus

Thankfully, INSEAD has a campus in Singapore. I managed to visit the campus and set up a time to talk to Aidan from the MBA recruitment and marketing team to understand more about the school and the admission process.

Aidan shared to me about the school’s diversity, and the admission director’s (Minh Huy Lai) passion on inclusion. That was the first thing that resonated with me. After that we discussed on what INSEAD is looking for, he emphasized the international experience requirement, and open mindedness requirement. When I say open mindedness, the school will pit you with people from very different culture that without being open minded, you’ll struggle. Then we discussed my career journey, and which parts he thought I need to emphasize in the application. Finally he shared the results of the program for current students and the strength of the INSEAD alumni community. This discussion cemented my decision to apply because I identify with the school’s values and directions for students.

In Summary

Based on my childhood experience, Jakarta experience and career journey, an MBA is a great way to achieve my goals. Then based on school reputation, geographic location and industry focus, INSEAD is the school of choice for me.

Read the part 2 of this post for the application process and preparation advice!