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Admissions Q&A: INSEAD

INSEAD takes its mission as a business school for the world seriously. With campuses from France’s Fontainebleau forest to bustling Singapore and Abu Dhabi and partnerships with American universities, the school has made a commitment to provide students with a global education. The school also tops Bloomberg Businessweek’s international ranking of full-time MBA programs, knocking Canada’s Queen’s University from the No. 1 spot in 2010.

The school features a language requirement as well as opportunities to campus-hop between countries. There is no majority ethnicity, country, or language, according to Pejay Belland, acting director of marketing, admissions, and financial aid. Belland received her Masters in e-business from the University of Aberdeen.

Belland spoke to Bloomberg Businessweek reporter Kiah Haslett about the reasons why an American student should consider an INSEAD MBA, the school’s rigorous one-year curriculum, and how the career services office managed to find jobs for 93 percent of the class of 2010. What follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Describe INSEAD in one sentence.

INSEAD is one of the world’s leading business schools, offering a truly international management education on its campuses in France, Singapore, and Abu Dhabi as well as a U.S. presence through exchange partnerships with (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile) and (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile).

What is the structure of the curriculum?

The MBA program is 10 months long, divided into five periods of two months each. The first two periods focus on core curriculum. Students begin to tailor the program in period three with a choice of electives that continues through to the end of the program.

We were the first school to introduce a one-year program, and it covers approximately 80 percent of the course hours of a traditional two-year program. It works well for our students since it means they are out of the work force for less time and the opportunity cost is less than for a two-year program. It prepares students well for the subsequent intensity of an international business career. They also need to be mature in order to follow such an intense course.

Why would an American student want to attend INSEAD?

An American student wishing to work abroad or at least in a role that required a good understanding of the global business arena would definitely benefit from coming to INSEAD. Diversity among our student body as well as in our faculty is one of our strengths. The teaching material used in the classroom draws on business examples from all around the world. Our faculty represents 36 nationalities and regularly interacts with global businesses in their research activities, so they’re constantly bringing a multicultural perspective to their teaching approach. A unique aspect of INSEAD that emphasizes the cultural diversity is National Weeks, where students from a specific culture organize a whole week of activity, showcasing their cultural habits, food, dress, and businesses from their country. We are very proud that there is no dominant culture in our school—in fact, everybody is a minority.

What are some key mistakes students make during the application process or interview?

We expect candidates to be themselves during the interview, as the alumni interviewer is considering the various different criteria we look at, including the fit with the school. The biggest mistake a candidate can make, therefore, is to try to be somebody they are not—the interviewers will see through that. The interview process is also a great opportunity for candidates to get to know the school better and to ask the alumni questions about their own experience.

What kind of financial aid is available? How do students pay for their MBAs?

Many scholarships are available, and they can be need-based or non-need-based. The non-need-based are awarded on various criteria, such as gender, background, nationality, or leadership ability. In addition, INSEAD candidates are eligible for an international loan from Prodigy Finance, a company created by INSEAD alumni based on a community funding model for individual MBAs. In 2011, 17 percent of our students received an INSEAD scholarship, 15 percent were sponsored by their companies, and the remaining 68 percent funded their studies themselves, either through loans, savings, or external scholarships.

What kind of backgrounds do your students have? What are their demographics?

Our two classes of 2011 [one beginning in September 2010 and graduating in July 2011 and the other beginning in January 2011 and graduating in December 2011] come from highly varied educational and professional backgrounds. The three highest educational backgrounds represented in 2011 were: 33 percent engineering, 26 percent business, and 15 percent economics. However, we had law, science, and arts represented as well.

In relation to work experience, 42 percent came from the corporate sector, which includes everything from high tech to manufacturing to not-for-profit; 29 percent from consulting, and 29 percent from finance. We had students from 86 different countries: 26 percent of students came from Asia-Pacific; 24 percent from Northern and Western Europe; 14 percent from North America; 12 percent from Middle East and Africa; 9 percent from Central and Eastern Europe; and 8 percent from Southern Europe. Gender diversity is an area we continue to strive to improve; we were proud to achieve 33 percent women in the 2011 classes.

What makes INSEAD different from other business schools?

Our students usually come to us from more than 80 countries, and I would add that when they leave INSEAD, they are going to work in more than 60 countries. They come to the school to make a change; more than 80 percent in 2010 made a change in either sector, geography, or function, with 22 percent making a change in all three.

Our different locations and partnerships also give students an opportunity to study on different continents—actually going to the place you want to learn about gives far more insight than just hearing about it in the classroom.

A very distinctive feature of INSEAD, emphasizing the international dimension further, is its language policy: Our students are required to speak two languages for entry and a third to graduate.

Dipak Jain, the long-time former dean of the Kellogg School, succeeded Frank Brown as INSEAD’s dean in March. How has the school reacted to the change? What are his goals and visions for the school, and what progress has been made?

He has been welcomed to the school, and we’re all very excited about his vision for the future. Through the appointment of a deputy dean of all degree programs, which include the MBA and EMBA programs, he’s making a strong statement about future degree programs. Dipak is building on partnerships to ensure that business schools are more than just business. For example, our partnership with Sorbonne University’s LLM program [Master of Laws], which will be held on INSEAD’s Singapore and Fontainebleau campuses, is commencing with the fall class.

Describe the dual-campus and exchange program and why students participate in it.

For the MBA program we offer an exchange between our campuses in Fontainebleau and Singapore. Basically students choose a start campus (either Fontainebleau or Singapore) where they will remain for the first two periods of the program. After that, they can opt to exchange to the other campus. In addition, they can also spend a period at Wharton or Kellogg, with whom we have exchange agreements. About 70 percent of our students participate in the exchange program and do so to get exposure to a different environment and culture and to really learn about the region.

What is the atmosphere of the campus like? Where do students stay, live, study, and work?

Fontainebleau is in the middle of a big forest, and students either live in the town itself or in big houses, even châteaux in the surrounding villages. It’s only a 35-minute train ride from Paris, so students can either go to Paris on the weekend or can spend time at each other’s homes or in one of the many restaurants and bars in Fontainebleau. Singapore is a city, so it has a very different feel to it. Students tend to live together in modern, high-rise apartments within walking distance of the campus and can get together around the pool or at the city’s bars and restaurants. In addition, many choose to travel on weekends to discover the region. Given that around one-third of our MBA students come with partners and children, both campuses are very family-friendly. There are family rooms for children to play in and many activities for partners organized by partners.

How has the school worked to help students get jobs in a tougher market?

Our career services team has been very proactive and has systematically reached out to alumni and other corporate contacts to ensure that our students have as many options as possible. As a result, for 2010 we had 173 companies participate in the on-campus recruiting campaign, of which 60 were new companies.

The team makes systematic use of social media in its outreach efforts to recruiters and provides support for targeted CV books, career treks, career clubs. All these different initiatives seem to have paid off well in 2010.

What percentage of students found jobs before or shortly after graduation?

We’re very proud this year that 93 percent of our classes graduating in 2010 had received job offers three months out, which is the highest figure since the 1990s and an increase of 6 percent over 2009.

What does it mean to be an INSEAD alum? What is the role of alumni at the school?

Being an INSEAD alum means being part of a close-knit community with a presence in more than 160 countries throughout the world. On the MBA side, the alumni help by talking to prospects, interviewing candidates, and letting us know of job opportunities in their companies. At the school level, alumni representatives are on the governing board, so they really are very much involved in the strategic direction the school takes. And in spite of the geographic dispersal of our alumni, their commitment is apparent through attendance at our five-year alumni reunions, where we see up to 50 percent attendance.

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