I have received some emails and inquiries about INSEAD and advice relating to the GMAT, essays, and the admission process as a whole. Instead of writing back to the people who asked, I decided to write about it on one single post. Here we go :)
First of all, I am not an "authority" on INSEAD selection process, I consider myself to be a very average guy, reading the profiles of my future classmates the least I can say is that it was a very humbling experience :)
I can just give you my own personal opinion based on my own experience and that of other people I have talked to including alumni, present students, and recent admits.
The GMAT is a tool to spot weaknesses but it is NOT a tool to verify strength. Let me elaborate on that, if you get a low score on the GMAT (below 600) it shows that you may have some weaknesses (it could simply be that you didn't prepare enough which is by itself a weakness). If you get a 800 GMAT score, a perfect GMAT score, it doesn't mean anything...
It may simply mean that you had nothing to do but to cram and devour GMAT books, or simply means that you took it many many times, almost everyone with the right preparation can get a perfect GMAT score.
My advice for the GMAT: get a decent score (above 650) with above 75% in both verbal and math, a balanced score that is. If you get a balanced 680 score in the GMAT, a score that is indeed below the 700+ average for INSEAD, don't write the GMAT again.
My other advice, if you are a native speaker or if you have lived for a considerable amount of time in an English speaking country, don't even bother writing the awa essays. I did not write them and had "0" in my awa score and it didn't prevent me from getting into INSEAD. Most schools don't even look at these scores (if you google GMAT long enough, you will find an interview with the head of admissions at Harvard that said that for native speakers, the admission committee doesn't look at those awa essays).
Now, what that does, is that it enables you to tackle the verbal and math parts fresh as you wouldn't have had to spend an hour working on the essays.
- Admission Package:
Admission Essays are probably the single most important part of your application package. I repeat, I personally think this is the single most important part of your application package.
But in general, here is my advice relating to the admission package:
1st: DO NOT deal with MBA admission consultants: The ones who write MBA essays for living. In order to write a meaningful insightful essay, you need to know what you are talking about. These consultants do not know YOU. No one knows you better than you, your partner, your family, your friends, your colleagues, your roommates. Write your essays and get them reviewed by the people close to you. Don't pay a professional bullshitter to write your essay (he or she is probably copy-pasting from an earlier essay he got paid to copy-paste from an earlier essay... you see the pattern?).
2nd: Spending time and effort on your essays is going to force you to think about where you were, how you got to where you are now, where you are now, what you want to do, and how you are gonna get there. The essays will force you to revisit your life and build your strategy for the future. It will also better prepare you for your job hunting during your MBA.
Needless to say that it will make you shine during your MBA interviews.
3rd: Present your job and job responsibilities without bullshit. If you have a perfect job and a perfect situation, why would want to do an MBA anyways? You would be stupid to quit your perfect job to go for an MBA (except if your job is hectic and you need a break ... that's a different story ... if I need a break, I would rather spend it with family and friends or in front of a beach).
4th: I heard that some inflate their salaries in the application thinking it will help them. It won't help you. First, you would be lying which can come and bite you later on. Plus, if you plan on applying for scholarships at the school, your inflated salary will screw you over because scholarship committees usually have access to your complete application package.
5th: When it is time to write the essay when you describe a failure, don't talk about "your attention to detail and how it frustrated some customer or frustrated your boss" ... bullshit :) ... Talk about a real stupid mistake that you have made, a real stupid mistake that made you look real bad.
If you talk about your “attention to detail” incident, you will be insulting admission committee members (there is a saying in Morocco that goes like “Are you trying to teach monkeys how to make funny faces?”) and worse you will be insulting your interviewers who take extra time, out of their busy schedules, to read your essays and meet with you.
Everyone makes mistakes; everyone makes stupid mistakes (as long as you recognize it and work hard not to repeat it). It is the complete opposite; it shows that you are confident to talk about your mistakes and imperfections.
Bill Gates confessed to making a stupid mistake, among many others, when he didn't venture into the online search business and left the road paved for Google to come in ... Make no mistake: every single person on Planet Earth makes mistakes.... I love the "jeu de mots" ...
Once you get to this stage, you can breathe because it is probably the easiest part. If you have done your homework revisiting your life thinking about why an MBA, why now, who you are, what you want to do, how you are gonna get there, your interviews will probably be pleasant meetings.
Be yourself, be yourself, be yourself. Do not be intimated by a successful entrepreneur, a partner, or a top executive. She or he was in your shoes couple of years back and understands you... more than you think :)
All I am saying really is that if you have done your homework, you already know the answers to all the questions they may ask you.
For details about my interviews and how they went, please refer to my previous posts.
This is the posting that I wished was available when I was applying, I am hoping that it will make someone's life easier through the admission process.