Many applicants ask us about the difference between a competitive and low GMAT score for INSEAD and other top schools. By global standards, anything over 700 can’t be termed as a low GMAT score at all.
But elite business schools such as INSEAD have a funny way of making even good GMAT scores look low – especially when you’re competing in the toughest applicant pool of Indian candidates.
The average GMAT score for INSEAD is close to 710. The official website says the 80 percentile range is between 670 to 750. From the inputs we’ve got from admission officers, we know that the average scores for Indian and Chinese applicants generally tend to be 20-30 points higher than the class average.
For top international business schools, it is important to take a holistic approach to your application essays. You should leverage your achievements – international work experience, community involvement, professional awards – and exhibit them eloquently on paper.
Remember, you need to present what makes you unique and you need to present it well.
From our perspective, Sharmistha Chowdhury had a pretty competitive profile. But among the concerns she had while applying, her GMAT score was a major one.
She knew she had to raise the standard of all the other application components, if she wanted to stay competitive in the admissions race – right from leveraging her international internship and NGO involvement, to submitting impactful essays and maintaining her composure through the 3 grueling hours of getting interviewed.
She signed up with us for 5 Schools and got multiple admits with scholarships from two. Here’s her full story.
Born and brought up in a family of highly educated, self-made professionals, I have always been ambitious. In school and college, I did fairly well academically. However, I was a shy kid and did not gain full confidence till a few years into my college life.
After dabbling with a few fields till my undergrad, I finally realized my love for corporate finance, valuations and investments and decided to pursue a career in the same. This led to my MSc. Finance from Cass Business School, London.
Those 1.5 years in London were a game changer for me. I was exposed to various academic, cultural and professional experiences. London is a melting point of different cultures and my class was a reflection of the same.
I loved living in this diverse environment, meeting students from different countries and learning about different cultures and traditions. Living away from home made me independent and self-reliant.
Professionally, my Masters allowed me to transition from my mathematics undergrad degree to a career in Finance. Post my Masters, I interned at the Corporate Finance Department of Europe Arab Bank, London for 5 months. After completing the internship, I returned to India and landed a job in Valuations (Financial Advisory) at Deloitte.
My 3 years at Deloitte were great. I honed my technical and analytical skills, won a few accolades and awards, and found some great friends and mentors. I even gave CFA Level 1. However, a piece of the puzzle was missing for me. I felt the need to elevate my career to the next level.
Additionally, my time in London had left a mark on me and I knew I wanted to pursue an international career. After talking to respected professionals, a good deal of research and introspection, the idea of pursuing an MBA loomed in my head.
In early 2019, I left Deloitte and joined a healthcare focused fin-tech, which gave me the opportunity to assume more managerial responsibilities and gain grassroots level industry experience. Simultaneously, I started my preparing for my GMAT.
I spoke to many friends and acquaintances who had given the exam and scored well, to understand the dos and (more importantly!) the don’ts. I gave a diagnostic test, analyzed my test result and formulated an action plan.
After 3 months of preparation and 8 mocks, I mustered the courage and gave the exam. I was expecting around 730 (based on my mocks). However, I got a 710. I was slightly disappointed. However, it was a decent score and I decided to go ahead with it.
I aspired to apply to the top schools in Europe and Asia, which is why I chose London Business School, INSEAD and NUS. Additionally, as I have a Canadian PR status, I applied to the top colleges in Canada- Rotman and Ivey.
After speaking to a few friends who had gone to top B-Schools, I understood the importance of good mentors during the application process. I spoke to 5-6 consultants to understand my perfect fit.
Though everyone had their strong suits, my conversation with Manish from MBA Crystal Ball (MCB) struck a chord.
He evaluated my entire profile instead of looking at my GMAT score in isolation, and was more interested in understanding my story than selling the MCB Brand (something that made him stand out from other consultants).
I decided to work with MCB. Manish introduced me to Shantanu, and hence began what would be a few of the most intense and rewarding months of my life (till date!).
To begin the process, Shantanu had long conversations with me to assess my profile. He evaluated me not only on the basis of my academic and professional endeavors, but also my extra-curricular activities, my life experiences and my personality.
Next, he charted out a timeline for the various application submissions and ensured strict adherence to it.
Shantanu’s insights on my essays truly helped me put forth my strengths, present my weaknesses in a delicate manner and overall helped me represent myself very well on paper.
He helped me bring out certain unique aspects of my personality (for instance, my experience with NGOs and my training in kickboxing).
He was extremely dedicated and always available on call for any queries. Under his guidance, I was happy with the quality of applications submitted.
I got an interview invite from Ivey, Rotman and INSEAD. Shantanu prepared me by conducting several mock interviews and giving valuable feedback.
The former two conducted interviews with admissions committee. The interviewers mostly tested me on case studies. Both interviews lasted around 45 minutes.
On the other hand, INSEAD had two alumni interview rounds. My first interviewer was from a similar background (finance professional).
The interview lasted for two hours (!) wherein he discussed all the aspects of my life – my professional experience, international exposure and motivation to pursue an MBA.
My second interview lasted around an hour and the interviewer was mainly interested in my future aspirations.
The interviews are relaxed and like conversations. It is very important to give clear concise and authentic answers to all the questions.
Also, it is important to remember that there are no right or wrong answers and that the interviewer just wants to understand you as a person.
Additionally, it is crucial to comprehend each college’s Unique Selling Point and how it resonates with your goals.
For instance, INSEAD is truly an international business school which appealed to me due to my prior education in London. I put this across in my application and interviews.
At first, I got acceptance calls from Rotman and Ivey, with scholarships of CAD 20,000 and CAD 35,000 respectively.
Subsequently, on 24th January 2020, I received an acceptance call from INSEAD. I was ecstatic!
The journey had been long and arduous but well worth the effort.
I owe a lot of this success to Shantanu and MCB.
I think my well-rounded work experience, professional accolades (awards and promotion), and extensive NGO work experience allowed my application to stand out and overcome a slightly lower GMAT score.
There were quite a few key learnings I experienced on this journey.
Firstly, be true to yourself in your motivations for pursuing an MBA. It is important that your story enraptures the reader / interviewer in applications / interviews.
Secondly, rather than competing with other candidates, try and understand what helps you stand out – NGO experience, a sport, or even your travels.
Finally, understand that there is an art to story-telling and weaving the correct tale. It is important to present your strongest suit in the essays, and that is where the role of a good consultant comes in.
Also, I understand that my journey has just begun and this was only the tip of the iceberg!
– Sharmistha Chowdhury