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INSEAD alumnus from India shares his risky strategy and application tips

INSEAD alumnus from India application strategy tips

MBA applications are risky. One way to handle that risk is by diversifying, just as you would while building an investment portfolio of stocks. This is to ensure that you aren’t putting all your eggs in the same basket.

Read our view on how many MBA business schools should you apply to

But there are several MBA applicants who choose to walk down the slippery path. Most don’t make it. Some of the successful ones end up on the MBA Crystal Ball blog!

Ravi Agarwal decided to play the all-or-nothing card during his MBA admissions journey. But he wasn’t going in blindly and waiting for luck to turn. He consciously worked on giving his profile an international flavour – which is what his dream school strongly looks for.

Read this related post: How important is international experience for MBA programs like INSEAD?

The small town lad from Rajasthan went on to attend the best business school in the world (according to Financial Times Global MBA Ranking) and then embark on an exciting and international career that took him from Singapore to Germany.

Regardless of such success stories, our message remains the same – don’t go for a risky MBA application strategy.

And after mentoring many MBA applicants who’ve cracked into the top programs around the world, our friend Ravi agrees!

INSEAD alum shares his risky MBA admissions strategy

by Ravi Agarwal

I grew up in a small town in Rajasthan with limited access to life outside my town. While I did not hail from a strong financial background, my family always ensured that I had the best of education available.

Since I was good (per my school results!) at maths, engineering became a natural choice and I joined IIT Gandhinagar.

I engaged in a lot of extra-curriculars outsides academics such as robotics club (as an initial co-founder), cultural festival (as a member and then the Convenor), placement committee (as student head), disciplinary committee (as the only student representative).

These co-curriculars helped me to develop soft skills outside academics. Towards the end of 4 years, I realized I did not want to continue in core engineering and joined the consulting industry.

I joined ZS (management consulting) based out of Pune. ZS is well established in the pharmaceutical industry for its quality work. This helped me get a strong foundation in analytics and consulting.

While my experience at ZS was amazing, I wanted to explore more industries and build my profile.

Hence after 3 years at ZS, I decided to join a boutique consulting firm Essex Lake Group focussing on financial services.

I spent the next 3 years at Essex working with clients in Africa and North America. This involved frequent international trips which helped me learn client management skills and gain international experience.

After spending 3 years at Essex, I decided to go for an MBA to further sharpen my business skills, soft skills and strengthen my network.

I wasn’t keen on spending two years at a business school. INSEAD aligned with my professional goals, and personally I was able to relate to a lot of alums and their stories (spoke to 20+ alums).

I decided to only apply to INSEAD. In hindsight, this was an extremely risky application strategy that I won’t recommend to anyone.


Application Tips

It is essential to do holistic research on the school as it is a huge financial, time and personal commitment. I found connecting with alums incredibly helpful as these conversations help you

  1. Understand more about the school besides the information available online.
  2. Learn how they navigated the application process (a lot of them might have been in similar shoes as you).
  3. Get answers to questions which probably one can’t ask directly to Adcom.
  4. Realize if you would like to sit next to one such individual as a part of your batch.

I scored a 730 on the GMAT. I was not sure if my GMAT score was good and competitive for INSEAD and after speaking to a few alums, I decided to go ahead with it.

The INSEAD MBA application is quite big and since I was only applying to INSEAD, I decided to hire a consultant for the process.

As I started looking out for consultants, I realized that the information available online wasn’t helping me to arrive at a decision.

I spoke to a friend who recommended me the consultant who helped him get through Kellogg and I hired them. I did not have clarity on exactly how a consultant is involved during the process.

During the first call, my consultant specified it clearly. Over time, I realised that besides the usual brainstorming and application help, having a consultant also helped me keep mental sanity and keep a check on my anxiety.

INSEAD has 2 interviews conducted by alums and it is generally a very relaxed environment where they tend to ask you quite basic questions. These interviews are quite friendly.

My interviews happened at 2 coffee shops in the Delhi NCR area.

My results came out as “Waitlist”.

I was disappointed and it did feel like the end of my MBA dream. I again spoke to a few alums/friends/family and decided to treat the “Waitlist” status as an open playing field.

Over next few months, I spoke to even more alums and sent one update letter to the Adcom every 3-4 weeks updating them on new achievements and my conversations with alums, thereby filling potential gaps in my original application.

Eventually on September 18 (my father’s birthday), I got a call confirming that I have been accepted to the program. I was extremely happy.

My overall INSEAD experience was transformational. INSEAD assembles an incredibly diverse batch in terms of professional and personal backgrounds, nationalities, cultures etc. This really pushes your thought process and helps you learn.

INSEAD academics are hectic as it is a 1-year program covering all the subjects taught over a 2-year program.

Eventually, we learn to strike a balance between studies (academics), socializing (networking / parties) and sleep (rest!). Placements at international schools are different from placements at Indian schools.

There are no specific placement days and students network with potential industries/alums and find jobs. At INSEAD, this is also largely the case.

Additionally, INSEAD is largely a consulting school and hence all the major consulting firms visit.


MBA Placement Tips

1) One should start around P3 (end of P1 for internships) and network with the relevant industries in detail.
2) Preparing for case interviews is helpful for all industries as a lot of organizations now include a case in their recruitment process (including startups).
3) Being an international student there are some potential challenges that could be beyond your control such as language and visa and hence focus on the controllables only.

I joined F&B industry right after MBA in a Strategy and Operations role based out of Singapore. It helped me understand the operational and executional nuances of any strategy and complemented my prior strategy experience.

The pandemic did affect my role and growth to a great extent, however, my advice is that we should stay focussed on the controllables. I have recently moved out and joined a tech startup (back to strategy) based out of Germany.

While one can debate the ROI of international business schools given the increasing visa/language issues and student debt, I still believe there is a lot of value add which is tough to define in the short term.

The exposure to diversity and the resulting personal/professional growth add tremendous value in the long term.

Read these related top INSEAD blogs:
INSEAD admit with scholarship for Indian applicant
INSEAD scholarship chances with average GMAT in Round 2 deadline
INSEAD Singapore vs MBA in India, USA and France
I got into INSEAD, twice
INSEAD MBA after engineering from NIT India and masters from Canada
INSEAD MBA admissions interview and GMAT experience
INSEAD MBA grad’s tips on getting management consulting jobs
How important is international experience for INSEAD MBA application
Best admission consultant for INSEAD France / Singapore

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Email. Or follow on Linkedin, Facebook.

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