There are lots of things that go into the decision of where you want to go for your MBA. You are likely to look into job prospects, geography, faculty, diversity of candidates, tuition cost, opportunity cost, loans and scholarships, strengths of program, reputation in market, famous alumni and a host of other extremely logical reasons of why you should or should not choose a particular school. While all these are extremely important, I decided to go to INSEAD the moment I knew I was in. Not necessarily because it was a clear winner in all the above mentioned criteria but because they did one simple thing—they called me to tell me that I got in.
I was on a bus in New York heading to work when someone from INSEAD administration, whose name I instantly forgot in excitement, called me. She introduced herself and congratulated me on getting into INSEAD. She informed me that I would be starting on the Fontainebleau campus and that she was excited to meet me on campus. While this is fairly vain, this extra bit of personal attention on that call that lasted about a minute was all it really took – a personal touch.
When you start doing MBA applications, you realize all schools basically ask you the same things. Why MBA? Why this school? What can you bring to the table? However, INSEAD’s essay questions were a little different. To me they felt like a career counsellor was walking me through different portions of a personality test, trying to get to know me better as a person and not just my professional background. INSEAD wants to know the personal anecdotes that make you who you are.
All questions in the INSEAD application ask you to reflect in a way most other applications don’t. For example, essay #1 while asking you to summarize your career also asks you to consider the opportunity cost of going for the MBA.
“Briefly summarize your current (or most recent) job. […] What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company?”
You are forced to consider exactly what you are giving up. Are you really willing to give up a promotion in a year’s time to start at the bottom rung of the ladder in a different industry? Are you sure you want to leave a secure life and relocate? Are you sure you are willing to take this risk? “What are the main factors that have affected your personal development, provide examples?” “How did these experiences impact your relationships with others?” “How are you enriched by extracurricular activities” INSEAD doesn’t just want to know what you did, but wants to know the “So What?” How did this effect you? How did this change you?
Another essay asks the candidate for a description of their professional history and goals “as if you were talking to someone at a social gathering detailing your career path with the rationale behind your choices.” The important thing here is that the tone should be true to yourself, as you would describe your professional journey to a friend and not necessarily to an admissions committee.
The one essay I truly loved and thought set INSEAD apart was the one on cultural diversity.
“Tell us about an experience where you were significantly impacted by cultural diversity, in a positive or negative way.”
This is a question that truly signifies the importance of diversity at INSEAD and the intimacy the admissions team is looking for. The answer to this question doesn’t have to be a work-related one and definitely cannot be one with shallow cultural involvement such as “I was a tourist in Thailand for a week.” You need not have travelled the globe for you to be aware of the different cultures around you, especially in a globally connected world. I myself talked about the different cultures growing in India as one part of the population modernizes swiftly while another holds on to more traditional values and how this dichotomy affects me as someone who is a part of both worlds. All of us have been touched by cultural diversity on some level and this question asks you to share a very intimate, personal experience with the admissions team.
We’ve all heard this piece of advice when starting MBA applications – be yourself, don’t project yourself as the admissions committee wants to see you. Yet, we often try to find out what are the key characteristics a school is known for and tailor our essays accordingly. For INSEAD, I can truly say, relax and be yourself. The committee wants to know you personally because that is the way things are done at INSEAD.
MBA Application Essays: Diversity essays are an important aspect of application essays for business schools. They are intended to know the candidate's surroundings, values, beliefs which are not possible through other essays. The common questions in this group are:
1. How will you contribute to the diversity of the University/School?
2. Why you?
3. If you could choose one song that expresses who you are, what is it and why?
4. What is unique about your background and experience that you would bring to your classmates at MBS?
5. How will you contribute to your classes and to the AGSM community?
Click here to know the MBA application essay questions of the Top 10 Business Schools.
Click here to know the MBA application essay questions of the Business Schools ranked 11–20.
Popularly known as diversity essays, these questions are an attempt to look into the applicant’s non-academic or social background. Diversity here does not only mean cultural, national, or racial diversity. Through the question, the Admission Committee (ADCOM) wants to understand how unique you are. What is the trait about you that is different from others in the course? How will you as a person contribute to the course? Is there something worth learning from you? MBA Application essay on Diversity is not just about race; here it is about geographic, socio-economic, cultural, religious, people with various disabilities. Read on to know how to write MBA application essays on diversity.
Stuck with your essays? Download MBA Application Essays Guide E-book.
Every MBA Application essay should have an apt title, to make the ADCOM or anyone for that matter to read on. While titles are glimpses of what’s to come, they should never be a gimmick. The reader should get more information when they read the whole essay and not feel tricked.
As the information about other applicants is not known, deciding why one is unique is a difficult task. Physical achievements know no bounds, it can be a big feat for someone to go down the Grand Canyon but then there might be someone else there who has visited the Challenger deep.
The uniqueness has to be about the person and their thoughts and the actions they have taken or the lessons they have learnt. It can be something as basic as philately, pottery, and origami or as big as participating in a Desert car rally. What is notable here is take-away of these activities. Teaching origami or chess to kids, or may be organising pottery workshops for old age home residents as a part of therapy and entertainment, counts towards diversity.
For that matter, a sports person, or someone who has learned a different language and experience the culture, or someone who plays in a band, anyone who has shown initiative in his life in however small a way matters.
Leadership, Focus, and Team spirit
Before writing an MBA application essay, it is important to remember that business schools aim to create future leaders and are, therefore, looking for people with team skills and leadership traits. You do not need to have performed exceptional feats to be able to write about your possible contribution to the school/university. So, in case, you have climbed Mount Everest, which would be very good but if you have led your school group on a treasure hunt successfully or unsuccessfully also works. The aspect to focus on here is to be able to showcase how and to what degree the situations or challenges you have been in have affected or changed you, the changes can be positive or negative, or both.
While being honest is good, we should be politically correct at the same time. In the present scenario, racial diversity is not as important as diversity of experience. In case, you decide to write about racial diversity, instead write about cultures, people, family, travel, social discomfort, maturation and introspection without the racial characteristics. The MBA application essay write-up should be more about the diversity observed and changes incorporated within the self. More than prejudices, the diversity essay should be showcasing your response to the situation you were in, what have you learnt from your experiences and more importantly how has it moulded your world view.
Similarly, views on LGBTQIA issues should be best avoided.
The diversity essay is about YOU, so instead of trying to impress the ADCOM with some great unachievable feat you have been planning, explain who you are, what are your life experiences, perspectives and background. Mention a story or episode from your life which has affected you.
There is a fine line between humour and offence. Keep the humour to a line or two. If you have doubts on the humour, remove it. Culturally, what is humour for one person might be offensive to someone else.
ADCOM members read through numerous MBA application essays and can smell a fake or doctored essay from a mile. They have already read about all the great feats done and planned. Rather than explaining why you are unique, concentrate on who you are, your upbringing, your culture, your environment etc. to naturally set you apart from the other applicants.
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