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INSEAD Essay Analysis

Note: The following essay questions pertain to the previous academic year. This section will be updated when the new question are released in early to mid-July of 2008. 

1. Give a candid description of yourself, stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors, which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (400 words approx.)

While “main factors which have influenced your development” comes later in the question, it seems clear to us that you would be best off providing this context for your experiences before discussing the strengths and weaknesses derived from them, as it is important that you show a cause and effect relationship between your formative experiences and personal characteristics. Although the question advises you to “use examples when necessary,” your story will be strongest if you offer anecdotes consistently; the details of your story will reveal each of your attributes. Still, this should not be a hodgepodge of strengths/anecdotes. You might focus on two/three strengths and one weakness in a mere 400 words.

An important note: it is vital that you be honest about your strengths (don’t tell the committee what you think they want to hear; tell them who you are) and especially about your weaknesses; transparent or disingenuous statements about your weaknesses will not fool anyone and will only reveal you to be a person who cannot critically evaluate him/herself.

2. Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date, explaining why you view them as such. (400 words approx.)

It is important to offer two anecdotes that reveal different sides of you as an applicant. While one professional accomplishment is “mandatory” for almost all candidates, the other accomplishment can come from your community, personal and possibly from your academic life. It is important that you not forget that there are two elements that need to be tackled, the story of your accomplishment itself and then a reflective element (“why do you view them as such?”). The second half of this question should not be ignored; your personal thoughts are no one else’s and can differentiate you from the pack.

3. Describe a situation taken from school, business, civil or military life, where you did not meet your personal objectives, and discuss briefly the effect. (250 words approx.)

The best failure essays are often those that show reasoned optimism and tremendous momentum toward a goal – a goal that is ultimately derailed. In most cases, you will need to show that you were emotionally invested in your project/experience, which will enable the reader to connect with your story and vicariously experience your disappointment. If you were not invested at all, it is hardly credible to discuss the experience as a failure or learning experience.

It is important to note that INSEAD is not only focused on failures; “not meet(ing) personal objectives” could include setbacks, which allows the door to swing open to include a range of personal experience. For example, you could not discuss an injury that prevented you from competing for an elite college athletic competition as a failure, but it would certainly qualify as “not meet(ing) personal objectives.” You can carefully consider setbacks in which you bear no responsibility for creating the situation; in such a case, again, it is crucial that you show that you were emotionally invested, that events were going in a certain direction and that the situation quickly turned in an unfavorable direction.

Even though INSEAD does not ask for reflection, you should still consider explaining what you learned. It is very easy to offer trite and clichéd statements about your response and what you learned about yourself (Note: everyone learns resiliency – consider another key learning). It will take time to truly create a unique statement about your road forward and lessons learned, but the payoff will come in an essay that is much more personal and self-aware than thousands of others.

4. Discuss your career goals. What skills do you expect to gain from studying at INSEAD and how will they contribute to your professional career? (500 words approx.)

Because of significant overlap from one MBA application to the next, we have produced the “MBA Mission Personal Statement Guide.” We offer our guide to candidates free of charge, via our online store.  Please feel free to download your copy today.

5. Please choose one of the following two essay topics:

a) Have you ever experienced culture shock? What did it mean to you? (250 words approx.), or

b) What would you say to a foreigner moving to your home country? (250 words approx.)

Clearly, with INSEAD priding itself on its international focus, the Admission Committee is trying to get a sense of your cultural sensitivity and international awareness. If you have traveled at all — on business or pleasure — we recommend answering Essay A, as it approaches you in the international sphere. In contrast, Essay B presents you with a stronger domestic knowledge, which is generally less desirable in the classroom. In either instance, it is essential that you offer anecdotes and try to capture the spirit of human interaction; simple country facts will bore, whereas placing the reader in the middle of your experience will be quite compelling.

6. Is there anything that you have not mentioned in the above essays that you would like the Admissions Committee to know? (200 words approx.) This essay is optional.

This essay should only be used if there is something quite compelling that you have not had the opportunity to discuss, or if there is a problem with your application (grades, GMAT, recommender, etc.). This is not an “all purpose” essay or a place to paste an essay from another application.




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