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I got into INSEAD, twice

You’ve read many stories on our blog about success after failed attempts. You haven’t? Well, here are some reapplicant success stories.

But, the one that we are covering below is unique. It is a ‘successful’ success story that happened after multiple ‘failed successes’. Confusing?

INSEAD MBA student ‘MBA Juggernaut‘ (her parents gave her a much better name, but this is what she prefers to be called in this post) had to take a pretty long ride from the time she started her applications till the time she could actually get into the program that gave her the admit. Over to MJ!

I got into INSEAD, twice

by MJ

After three acceptances, an ego-crushing ding and a mighty conundrum over 5 years, finally at INSEAD!
I began my MBA journey at the tender age of 15, when I decided that an MBA was my first priority after I graduate from college. At this point, I wasn’t sure of where I’d complete my undergrad, but I had plans, and big, elaborate ones at that.

In the summer of 2008, I started preparing for the GMAT. I graduated from college in 2001, and after 6 years at a job that didn’t give my grey cells much of a workout, my math was a bit rusty to say the least. I bought a multitude of books/CDs/practice tests to help me prepare for my first real exam since undergrad, and spent the next three months ruing my high school tardiness; who would’ve thought that loci and the two sides of the number line would return to haunt me in my late 20s?

After chickening out on my first test date, I took the GMAT plunge late 2008 and landed a 690, just below my target of 700+, with a very disappointing quant score. I pondered whether I should retake the test, but the thought of poring over high school math again was too off putting.

Can a 690 get me in?

With a 690, I decided to apply to ISB. I procrastinated endlessly till three days before the round 2 deadline, when I submitted my application with what I perceived as a half-baked application. I was surprised when I received an interview call a month later.

The telephone interview was quite a disaster. My confidence evaporated when I was asked to explain what caused the credit crisis, and I stammered for almost a minute before I admitted that I wasn’t very clear on what CDOs were…!

It went on for an hour, and although it ended well, I wasn’t confident about getting in. But surprise, surprise! I received my acceptance email for round 2 early February 2009. However, due to extenuating personal circumstances, I couldn’t accept the offer, sadly. The ISB application committee was very supportive and encouraged me to reapply the next year.

The next year, I decided that I wanted to take a shot at an international school. I applied to London Business School in pretty much the same manner that I did for ISB, only this time I spent even less time on the application. I breezed through the 6 essays like I was writing a blog post, and I submitted my application for round 3.

I discovered what a huge mistake this was when I received the much dreaded email – in MBA-speak, I was ‘dinged without interview’.

After a few days of wallowing in the ignominy of rejection, I put my MBA plans on hold.

Come 2011, the fact that I still didn’t have an MBA began to gnaw at me again. Many of my peers had graduated from elite business schools and had landed plum roles, leading to an existential crisis of sorts for me.

I worked for an exciting company and was doing reasonably well, but my career had begun to settle into comfortable nonchalance, and boredom began to set in. I started working on my application to INSEAD, which was my original school of choice and fit perfectly into my plans.

Long story short – I applied for round 2, received an interview call, was interviewed by two alumni as per INSEAD protocol, and waited eagerly for the decision. On Feb 22, 2012, I received an email with news that I didn’t know how to react to. I was waitlisted. I had a thousand questions.

What does this mean? How long am I waitlisted for? When will I know?

The MBA admissions officer was sympathetic but her response was measured. ‘We don’t know at this moment. We will let you know when a place frees up. It can happen at any time, please be assured this process doesn’t reflect on the quality of your application.’ Disappointed, I gave up on hearing back from INSEAD and went on with my life.

In July, I received a call from INSEAD congratulating me for getting off the waitlist. Ecstatic on the call, I realized after hanging up that the course began in one month! I had to quit my job and arrange funds for the tuition within two weeks.

After a week of frantic emails and phone calls, hurried loan applications, sleepless nights and frustrated tears, I realized I had to decline the offer. I couldn’t raise the funds in time. I felt like a character in Groundhog Day, the same scene playing out over and over again – MBA application to a top business school, acceptance, followed by me having to decline the application.

No sweat. I decided to apply again!

Hello, Crystal Ball

I applied to INSEAD in round 2 again, Dec 2012, this time with stellar recommendations – I figured the recommendations were probably the weak point in my previous application, the possible culprit for my agonizing waitlist situation.

The essays gave me several sleepless nights, though, and I suffered from relentless writer’s block. I’m verbose by nature and I found it particularly exacting to keep my usual dramatic, flowery sentences out of my essays, but at the same time retain the flavor of my writing and avoid sounding manufactured.

I asked for Sameer‘s help in rationalizing the content and editing out the flyaways, and I pushed my application in on the last day for round 2 applications. I received an interview call early 2013, the acceptance call a month later, and here I am, writing this blog post from INSEAD.

I’m generally against making a ‘shining example’ of someone’s story, least of all mine, because everyone’s circumstances, problems and struggles are different.

However, if there’s one thing I can tell you, it’s this: Never give up!

The MBA application is not about a sky-high GMAT score or your Dean’s List GPA or the amazing extra-curricular activities you have purposefully cultivated – it’s about your story and how well you narrate it through your essays.

Most importantly, if you have a goal in mind, why are you still reading this blog? Get cracking with your MBA application NOW!

– MJ

Apart from the virtue of being persistent, MJ’s story also highlights the importance of planning for the finances. There were circumstances and last minute developments beyond her control.

But we do get offline queries from folks who’ve got into the top MBA schools in USA, Europe, India, but haven’t thought about the MBA financing aspects. Start thinking about it while you are working on your application strategy.

Here’s a post we published on education loans without collateral for international MBA many months after MJ’s story was published.

While MJ is busy moonwalking her way through the academic workload, she’d be happy to take questions if you post them in the comment section below.

You can also head over to our B-school discussion forum where we are addressing questions about ISB, INSEAD and many other business schools.

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

32 thoughts on “I got into INSEAD, twice”

  1. Hi,i am quite thrilled reading the story.My life has been full of struggles and bad luck.I graduated in 2003 as an electronics engineer.I wanted to do mba,appeared for cat but no luck.Due to financial crisis,i left Kolkata with job in bpo and 1000 bucks,came to Gurgaon.My family is not financially well.I did my entire engineering course and paying for it by running a tution centre.Sometimes managing both was tough.After landing in Gurgaon i cannot expect to be without job for a single day.I never liked working for a bpo,but do i have an option
    Now it had been 9 years working for different bpos ,but never looked back.Now i have my own house but professionally i have not progresses much.Now i think i want to go for my dream,MBA,through Gmat.Do you think with this profile,i still have hope for my dream.

  2. @Rohit: What you’ve achieved is commendable. It’s your grit and perseverance that has got you to where you are. You’ve already tasted entrepreneurship in a small way with your tuition business.

    Why do you want the approval of the academic world to do something that you’ve already done earlier? You could start another business and learn about finance, operations, HR, strategy…all by yourself.

  3. Wow Rohit, I’m in awe reading your story. I agree with Sameer, though. You need to assess why you want to do an MBA, and what the purpose of your MBA will be. A lot of people do an MBA just because their neighbors and friends are MBAs, but it may not be the right fit for them. Also, the MBA tuition burden and the associated expenses need to be considered seriously. I was lucky enough to secure funding for my MBA the second time round, but believe me, expenses are ridiculously high especially outside India and you often wonder if the investment will pay off. I’m saddled with loans that will take me several years to pay off.

    If your progress at work has plateaued and you feel like an MBA will help you grow, why not consider a part-time MBA? You can continue working and pursue your MBA dream at the same time. It will be very tough to multitask but worth your while if you’re serious about getting an MBA.

  4. Hi,

    Quick question. I understand that INSEAD doesn’t encourage re-applying for MBA if they have rejected the application once ( unless there’s a significant change in profile ). Is it the same in the case if I get selected at INSEAD and then decline the offer due to some serious personal reasons and then want to apply again at a later date ?


  5. Anil, if you were accepted by INSEAD and you couldn’t attend, you should re-apply. Explain the personal issues due to which you had to drop the plans last season. Also, it’ll help to show how your profile has changed since the last application.

  6. Hello, continuing Anil’s question, is it not advisable to re-apply to INSEAD at all, if rejected? I received a similar advice from the associate director of admissions at INSEAD, however I am not content with it and would gather prospects to reapply, any word of advice here would be helpful

  7. Hi Sameer,

    I have been waitlisted by INSEAD. I was dreading this, as one of my interviews didnt exactly go as per my expectations.

    Would you recommend me to reapply in the next cycle, as I am confident that my application was quite strong and it is that interview that has hurt my chances.

    • hey Gaurav and Ajit,
      I agree with Sameer. Reapplication is a delicate process, and unless you can prove that your profile has changed significantly (promotion, job change, new certification, amazing CSR activity over the past year), your application could be rejected again.
      If you’re waitlisted, however, hold your horses – you could still get in for the current year and your chances of getting in are higher if you reapply the next year. If you were accepted and had to decline due to personal reasons, like I did, show that you’ve made the effort to improve your profile over the year and I’d say your chances of getting in are good.
      From what I’ve heard, INSEAD does sometimes encourage students to apply again, but it’s uncommon.

  8. @Gaurav and Ajit: The key phrase in the response that Anil got is ‘significant change in profile’. If you believe you have a significantly better profile now, go ahead and apply. But considering that re-applications always have a higher risk, include other MBA programs too.

  9. Hi,

    Thanks for this post. It is really inspiring.

    I am an MBA aspirant with 8 years of experience in the Software Industry. I am looking for some advise on financing options available for International MBA programs.

    A typical top MBA institute in India costs around 20L to 25L. However, an MBA in INSEAD cost about 60L.

    My question is –
    1) How easy is it to secure loans for the entire cost? What is the maximum amount of loan the financiers are prepared to give?
    2) Scholarships do help. How easy is it to get one? And MJ – did you secure a scholarship? If you don’t mind me asking?


    • Hey Kumar, i didn’t get a scholarship for INSEAD. I didn’t even apply, which was in hindsight probably not the best decision. The complication for me is that I don’t live in India, so I didn’t qualify for some of the scholarships designed for Indian students. It’s definitely worth putting in the effort, though. I know of a student who got a scholarship for almost 100% of the fees (so awesome!)
      Please do plan ahead, though. Getting finance for INSEAD isn’t easy as the school doesn’t have a tie up with a global bank, like LBS has with HSBC. And apply early!

  10. Hi MJ,
    Would like to know your profile and experience? The details will help me assess my profile, it’be helpful if you could share your linkedin profile with me.
    Hey Sameer,
    I bought your book and must say is a must read for all MBA aspirants as it gives phenomenal insight into the real matters and helps one introspect the need to do an MBA as it is a whopping investment

    • @sakshi: I’m a bit of an Internet recluse and my cave doesn’t permit much online activity. If you have any questions about INSEAD, shoot away and I shall endeavor to answer all.

      Isn’t Sameer’s book awesome though?

    • Thanks for sorting out the title, Sameer 🙂

      Karan, happy to answer any questions you may have on all things INSEAD.

  11. @Kumar:
    1. Getting a loan isn’t easy, which is why MJ had to go through the ordeal twice. As mentioned in the post, it helps if you start planning for it in advance. Here’s a link
    Education loans without collateral for international MBA.
    2. Same answer about scholarships too. Not easy to get, though we’ve had a few folks working with us who’ve got into INSEAD with scholarships. But my advice would be to not bank on it and plan for the entire financing via alternate sources (like loans).

    @Sakshi: Thanks for the kind words about the book.
    I don’t think MJ would want to share her LinkedIn profile. That’s why she’s preferred writing this post anonymously. Also, I’m not sure how her profile would help you evaluate yours.

    @Karan: We’ve removed the ‘How’ in the title to make it more relevant for the post. We would’ve loved to have MJ share a little more about the ‘how’ aspects too. But she wrote this while she was in a middle of a chaotic phase.

    Hopefully we’ll have other posts on desi students at INSEAD. Please do come back for our other posts.

  12. Hi Sameer & MJ

    I am Agribusiness Professional and gained 8 years of work experience in working with Global Consulting firm, International Food Policy Research Institute (Not Profit Organization) and Syngenta, One of the MNC in Seeds and Crop Protection business in South Asia. Experience lies more into Project Management for innovative projects to address the farming issues and challenges through break-through technologies in a professional manner. Though, I enjoy my work doing in this space, I stuck with limited role and appetite for bigger role to transform the organization where I work for.

    I see that INSEAD is the right fit to groom senior executives to address global problems in a holistic approach. I am aspiring to get into INSEAD for next SEP 2017 batch and planning to apply 2 cycle so that I will have next 3 months to secure decent score in GMAT and write essay that what i want from INSEAD and how i am going to contribute to the world by accelerated rural economy.

    My question is as follows?

    Am I fit into INSEAD bucket?
    What are probability in securing admission as part of diverse group?
    Really, I am not worried about financial assistance where i can feed my self through loans and savings?

    Look forward hearing from you

    Senthil Kumar

  13. I am thrilled by the story and heartened by MJ and Sameer’s kind responses to ROhit Gupta story. Rohit well done. Proud of you.
    I understand MJ problem. She is probably creative at heart. And.loves taking challenges. We wish her success.

    Forgive the typos.

      • Hey , do INSEAD accepts students with poor CGPA?

        I scored very less in bachelors 52% since I was working and studying and i carry an exp of over 5 years as a Sr. Consultant in IT co.

        My GMAT is 720..

        Do I have any chance ?

        • Hey Anurag, I really don’t know the answer to that question. Grades are not the only defining factor at INSEAD, and neither is the GMAT. What matters is how your profile stacks up, especially against a diverse group of students. Remember that Indian males with an IT background constitute one of the largest applicant groups to any top business school, not just INSEAD, so if your undergrad scores are low, you really need to be able to compensate for that in other areas and differentiate yourself. INSEAD, just like any other top ranked b-school, looks for achievers, so that what you need to focus on – achievements.

  14. MJ, I am the same poster as above. I identify with the story….I have wanted to send my profile to SK for a year, but haven’t yet. My case is similar, yet, complicated and unique.

  15. I had the exact same experience. Round 2 waitlist for the 11D year and then got in again for 12D. Good going MJ!

  16. Hello ,
    I have got 2 years exp in TCS as a tester. I have been a consistent performer.Now I think that saturation has started coming in .Also I am not getting enough opportunity as deserved. So at this point I think MBA would be a pathfinder for me. I want to apply to elite b schools around the world.My gmat score is 730 as well. But I am worried whether my application would be considered or not as I have not done anything exceptional. So should I go for MBA abroad or should I concentrate on cat? I don’t want to settle in TCS or It sector as just a software engineer.

    Deep Das

  17. Hi, I wanted to check if Mj gave another shot at GMAT. I took GMAT yesterday and got 680.
    My profile is relatively very different from most other Indian applicants. I have held key leadership positions since 8 years at MNCS, leading a team of 45-50.(pretty much immediately after my grad)

    Now, as I read your story, I feel I should not retake and focus on my applications.

    What do you think Sameer?

  18. hey,I am currently working in ongc since last 5 years.Is the working in a one company for many year affect the chances of getting admission for mba in evy b-school abroad?.my gmat score 720.I completed german language b2 level.
    what are my chances?

  19. Hi Sameer, MJ,

    I had applied to INSEAD Jan 2017 intake round 2 with a GRE score of 324. I was asked to retake GMAT and reapply. I took GMAT immediately and scored 690. With this score, I reapplied in round 3 of the same intake. I was shortlisted for the interview and then wait-listed for round 3. I did not clear the wait-list and was asked to reapply for future intake. I am planning to reapply for the Jan 2018 intake. Please if you could comment on the prospects of admission and should I focus on only updates (from my last application) in the essays or repeat previous content and add updates.

    Any tip/suggestion will be highly helpful.

    Many Thanks.

  20. @Surbhi: Continuing the discussion on FB. I think it wasn’t a good idea to apply for the second time in quick succession.

    It probably allowed you to address one of the points that was explicitly suggested by the admissions team.

    However, the time was too less to take a step back and re-evaluate the entire strategy (positioning), which is what we generally suggest to applicants after getting a rejection.

    In later rounds, there’s more to their decision making than just looking at applications from an absolute viewpoint. There’s also the yield management challenge for them, which is where waitlists come into the picture. Read this article if you haven’t don’t so already.

    That means that the control level in the hands of applicants tends to go down further.

    Since things haven’t worked out twice at INSEAD, if you still want to try for a third time, ensure that it is worthy of the Adcoms time and effort. The two options you’ve suggested gives the feeling of a piecemeal approach. Don’t do that.

    Look at it as a completely new application. And also include other fresh bschools where you aren’t going with any baggage (of rejections).

  21. Hi MJ,

    Insead is my dream college. I have a average GMAT of 710.I work on BP ships as operations Engineer and exp of 9 years. I have contacted a lot of people about my candidacy and have been ridiculed about that you are not worth for applying in top-25 colleges. I am little de motivated about all of this.Can you suggest do I have a fair chance in LBS/Insead or any other top college.

  22. Hi MJ! It was really inspiring to read your story. I am planning to pursue my MBA from a top business school in the USA (Fall 2023). But the thing that’s coming in the way of my dreams is finances. In the USA, top business schools charge over $200,000 which is not possible to arrange by myself considering my current financial status. I want to know about various fundings and scholarships that would help me achieve my dream of attending a top B-school, apart from the ones provided by universities after we submit our application. Can you please help me?

  23. Hi MJ,

    Nice story, surprising that I am coming across this just now.
    I am in a similar situation , waitlisted since Jan for INSEAD Aug intake, now its May, highly doubtful of the future.
    I worked with MCB and they were amazingly helpful in my journey.
    I would love to know, how was your re-application journey like.



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