Approximately 6,667 miles separate INSEAD’s two campuses in Singapore and Fontainebleau, France. But for the 900 students enrolled in INSEAD’s 10-month MBA program, the commute between campuses may be as commonplace as your commute to work. Here, a “global” MBA means travel between continents along with an MBA student body from over 70 countries.
Caroline Diarte Edwards, INSEAD’s director of MBA admissions talked with CHINA ECONOMIC REVIEW about INSEAD’s exchange program with the Wharton school in the US and what her school looks for in an MBA applicant.
Q: How do you take local background and different kinds of work experience into account when evaluating candidates?
A: Over the years, we have built up a database of academic institutions around the world that gives us information about the quality of an institution, so we can interpret the information about where someone went to university and how they did. The average MBA student has six years of work experience. So, since it’s a one-year program, it helps a lot if people have a reasonable amount of work experience and can put things they’re learning into context very quickly. If someone from the younger age-range is applying, he or she can demonstrate this by showing significant achievement [in a short period of time] before coming to INSEAD.
Q: What strengths and weaknesses have you seen from Chinese candidates?
A: Some of the applicants from China may not have as much international experience, but we take into account the fact that not everyone may have had the opportunity to work or study abroad. One of the things we’re looking for in a candidate is “international motivation,” which is whether this is someone who has a genuine motivation to be in an international environment like INSEAD, and whether it is going to be useful for them in the future.
Q: How could an applicant demonstrate his or her international interest if he or she didn’t have any international exposure?
A: Sometimes there may be someone who hasn’t lived abroad but has been working for an international company, or they have a significant amount of contact with people from other countries. That’s interesting for us to know. Or [they may demonstrate it] by how they communicate their goals for the future.
Q: What trends are you seeing from graduates?
A: We see about one-third go into consulting, one-third go into finance and one-third in various positions in industry. People have taken up positions in over 50 countries around the world.
Q: Are you seeing more growth in Asia Pacific on account of your campus in Singapore?
A: It’s definitely a draw. It’s a tremendous benefit for people outside of Asia to be able to study in Singapore and get exposure to the region. And our strongest growth in applicants has been Asia Pacific: China, India, South Korea, Japan and Singapore especially.
Q: Have you found that language has been a barrier for your MBA applicants?
A: It is occasionally a problem, but I think the pool is quite self-selecting and most students know that we have stringent requirements with regards to English ability. The vast majority of candidates have sufficient English. Sometimes, if we have a strong applicant with a lower TOEFL score, we’ll tell him or her, “We’re not proceeding with your file, but please come back to us with a higher score and we’ll re-evaluate your application.”
Q: How does INSEAD’s campus exchange work?
A: About 70% of students participate. A student will either start on the Singapore or the Fontainebleau campus and stay there for the first four months. After that, they’re free to exchange with the other campus and stay for as many eight-week periods as they like. And we also have a student exchange with the [University of Pennsylvania] Wharton school of business in the US, where some of our students go, and we have students who come here from Wharton.
Q: Do they apply for the Wharton exchange separately?
A: It’s open to any student and works on a bidding system, where students are issued points that they can use to bid for course electives and the Wharton exchange, where they can study for one eight-week period. Of our 900 students, we had 70 go to Wharton last year. Some of the students go there because of the recruitment opportunities in the US.
Q: How does the admissions interview work?
A: We have about 1,500 INSEAD alumni volunteers who we recruit to act as interviewers. Most interviews can be done in a student’s hometown. And when we match students with their interviewers, we’ll try to have one interviewer who is from a completely different line of work from the candidate and one who is in a similar sector.
Interviewers can often give an interesting perspective on the candidate’s career path because they may know some sector- and country-specific information about what would be a normal career path in a given field. There are some specific things that we need to know from a candidate, but how the interviewer gets it is completely up to him or her.
INSEAD launched its MBA program in 1959 on its Fontainebleau campus and has since produced more than 17,000 MBA graduates worldwide. In 2008, the Financial Times placed INSEAD sixth overall in its annual global MBA rankings, moving up one spot from the previous year. The school accepts around 900 people annually across September and January intakes and is both AACSB and EQUIS accredited.
The school’s executive-MBA program ranked 10th in the Financial Times’ 2007 global EMBA rankings. EMBA students’ ages range from 30 to 45 and older, with some older students. All applicants must have a minimum seven years’ work experience, including four years of managerial responsibilities.
Last year the school also began a dual degree EMBA with Tsinghua University. The 18-month program is based in Beijing, but schedules visits to Fontainebleau and Singapore for learning modules – totaling 12 weeks on campus with a final four months devoted to thesis writing. The language medium for all INSEAD programs is English.