So you want to know how to write a good essay?

October 8, 2009

Finally, I am going to share a meaningful piece of advice on application essays. This is something I noticed only now, after the scholarship results, but I realise that it helped me get admitted to INSEAD in the first place. So here goes – honesty is good. Use honesty in your essays. That’s it; lesson over.

All in all, I wrote a bunch of essays for four different scholarships. One of these I didn’t care much about, because the other scholarship looked more promising. But at the end I thought, what the hell, better to maximise my chances, so why not apply for the fourth as well? So I had this set of essays for three scholarships – very polished, very carefully constructed, positive sounding pieces of prose. And I had the essay for the fourth one, where I just told whoever is reading these things what I really thought about the subject matter. As it turned out, I had a lot to say, some of it not very nice. It sounded kinda angry even if passionate. To make things worse, I never showed that essay to anyone. In short, definitely not what I’d write if I really, really relied on that scholarship.

In the end – you guessed it – the risky essay won me a scholarship, all the others yielded were polite e-mails saying ‘your application was not successful’.

Draw your own conclusions from this. Personally I’d like to think that sometimes admissions people tend to reward honest applicants and see the polished rubbish for what it is – rubbish. I’d not go as far as to advise everyone to write angry rants in the application form, but sometimes being honest works.


[Clever Title, Something To Do With Scholarships and Loans]

August 19, 2009

Just finished the scholarship applications . Writing yet another set of essays was almost too painful to bear. The last time I wrote application essays was so long ago, I had completely forgotten how tough if it was to find something meaningful to say. Other than “I need the money, please please please”. Then of course you have to actually say it, in grammatically correct and clear English. Then you have to agonise and be a major nuisance to your partner for a couple of days, re-write the whole thing and when the deadline comes, submit and despair.

The loan application process is going nowhere fast and I am beginning to wonder what to do if no loan is available. Then of course I am lucky to have a bank willing to even discuss the possibility of a loan to finance my MBA. So many people out there have no options at all. And no, “international bank guarantee” is not an option. I work in a bank; let me tell you that “we’ll give you a loan against a bank guarantee” is banker-speak for “get lost”. Compared to other top B-schools INSEAD has nothing to offer in terms of financing your MBA.

In other news, my job is still a mess… Whoa, this post is turning out so cheerful. To be continued.

Admitted to INSEAD!

June 7, 2009

Finally!! I got the call on the last possible day when I was already certain that the result would be a ding or a waitlist selection. So imagine my surprise when I heard the phone ring and saw a number beginning with +33 on the screen. What a great way to start the day.

All of a sudden, I have lots of things to do. I have to send the deposit, start researching the scholarships again – this time for real – then start negotiating with my boss, then start negotiating a loan. All of these merit a couple of posts each. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to celebrate.

INSEAD Interview report

May 15, 2009

Below is my report on the two interviews I had with INSEAD alumni. First off I must say I gave each a copy of the complete application, essays and all. Maybe this is not the usual practice, but then my profile is too boring without the stories told in the essays. Both interviewers had read the essays, or at least browsed through them.

My first interview was in a cafe, the alumnus was a friendly guy, totally different background and work experience than mine. He asked the usual questions and the rest came as a natural conversation. All in all, we talked for an hour and a half, or a bit more. He also talked a bit about himself and this hour and a half flew by surprisingly fast. The questions:

  • Why an MBA now
  • Walk me through your resumes, starting from school
  • Are you applying to other schools
  • Are you sure you will be able to pay for tuition
  • Are you sure you want to leave your job in the middle of the crisis
  • What do you think of the crisis, what will happen withthe banking system in our country, what will happen with our currency, do you think the PM is reacting adequately (we discussed this for half an hour or so)
  • What is you leadership track record
  • What do you do in your spare time
  • Any questions? I had a couple of questions about the alumni network and that was it.

The second interview – it was an expat living here, again very friendly, actually friendlier than the first interviewer. Again a completely different background, he runs his own IT company. We conducted the interview in his office, in contrast with the previous interview it was a much more formal setting. Although the guy was friendly, he made a serious effort to make me back up my claims and defend my ‘why MBA’ thesis, he also shot quick questions requiring improvisation. In short, he was a very experienced and smart interviewer.

  • Why INSEAD
  • How did you learn about INSEAD
  • Why did you go to Fontainebleau, did you visit a class
  • What do you hope to learn there (he was either not totally convinced by the answer in my essay, or trying to see how thoroughly I had researched the school)
  • What are your short-term and long-term goals. Do you know people in this industry that you mention in your goals essay? Whom do you know?
  • How will you finance your MBA
  • Walk me through your resume (that was long and detailed, we talked about what I learned from every position I mentioned)
  • Again the same discussion about the crisis, currencies in Eastern Europe, do I agree with the government’s actions, how would I attempt to solve the problems in my country, etc.
  • Give me one single reason, besides what we discussed so far, that I should recommend you. Here I opted for a quick smart-ass answer, as opposed to a thoughtful but slow one. I think my response was adequate and funny. He put on a neutral-looking smile and wrote something down.
  • Any questions?

After the second interview, I started freaking out and in fact I still am. This guy made me talk very much in depth about my goals, I was perfectly honest with him and told him that if the crisis continues  I expect not to be able to find a job easily and I shared with him some of the uncertainties that plagued me when I was making the decision to apply. Was I too honest for my own good there, no way to be sure. Then again, in this climate, I would really like to know what applicant with financial background is certain and fully confident about her goals. I also keep replaying in my head the discussion we had on the crisis and I’m thinking that I could have defended my opinion in a much stronger way. It is normal for me to freak out after exams and such, so this is not big news, but I wish I could control it.

The final decision is due by June 5th and according to the rumours online the adcom will not meet before May 26th. I’ve played the waiting game before, so let’s go.

Preparing for the interview…

April 30, 2009

Me and my interviewers seem to have agreed on the appointments, I have done my due diligence aka stalking and more or less know what to expect from them. This blog should go quiet, again, for a couple of weeks now, after that do expect interview reports, as detailed as possible without blowing my cover. Unless of course something MBA-related gets me angry, excited or both and I feel the urge to rant about it.

Meanwhile, I just had a quick chat with a current student in Fontainebleau. Some random observations:

– Recruiting is a complete and total disaster, less than half of the usual number of companies showed up at the latest job fair on campus, very very few actual opportunities.

– There are finance jobs to be found outside banks, but again – very few.

– Getting a UK work permit is nearly hopeless, if you’re not from the correct part of the world.

– The school is trying to make changes to the curriculum in response to the crisis. For the moment this means that there is some risk management course among the electives. Finance and economics professors are also offering their views on current events. The core courses remain largely untouched because they just give the basics.

– It is possible to skip classes in order to visit a potential employer, but it will hurt your grades (25% is formed by class participation or something).

– Anglo-American culture dominates INSEAD, in spite of all the talk about diversity.

– Rent in Fonty and the surroundings is not going down, in spite of all the talk about deflation. In fact, there seems to be just barely enough supply to satisfy demand.

– Studying is intense and takes a lot of time, if you focus seriously on networking and recruiting it inevitably hurts your academic performance and vice versa. Hm, why does everybody keep saying this?

P.S. By now we should’ve had the official employment stats for the class of December 2008, why is it taking so long?

Invited for interview

April 24, 2009

Yep, INSEAD wants to interview me. Good news, just when I was starting to worry.

Now, I think I know quite a few alumni in my region –  personally, not from doing business with them, and no, none are close friends. But it will be interesting to have someone interview me whom I have seen at a party for example. Or maybe they ask the alumni if they know the applicant and then choose someone who is more likely to be impartial. Either way, life is interesting (dare I say good?) once again. Stay tuned for further developments.


April 7, 2009

If I haven’t posted anything lately it’s not because I’m busy with other stuff. I am not, but then I am also not thinking much about my MBA plans. Basically, the plan goes like this: at some point INSEAD will have to give me either a ding or an admit. If they admit me, I will either find the money or not. If I find the money, I will attend, otherwise I will not attend (smart, eh?). In short, we have two binomial random variables (is this the correct term? I suck at statistics) combined and if we assign 50% probability to each outcome, this means that I have 25% chance to attend INSEAD. Hm, not bad. I am trying to stop worrying about this, because the major factor, finding money, is completely outside my control. And I am too lazy to prepare for interviews before they give me an actual interview invite.

In other words, do not expect many regular posts here until I have news to report. In the meantime, read Zero Hedge and have fun.

Dinged by IMD

March 6, 2009

IMD sent me a ding letter today. It’s very nice and long, with a lot of BS about how competitive the admissions process is, etc. I realise my profile is much weaker than what this school wants and the ding is not much of a surprise, so I’m trying not to let this bring me down. The good thing is, I’ve submitted the INSEAD application so that now I am not tempted to make any desperate last minute changes to my career goals essay or anything.

In other news, the situation at work is getting more unbearable than ever.  Practically nothing to do all day long, not even GMAT problems or essay edits. I’m getting near the breaking point where I’ll snap and ask to be fired right away.

P.S. If I read another article about the crisis, credit default swaps, recession in the US, trouble in Eastern Europe, the stock market, or anything remotely related to those topics, I swear I am going to go nuts.

INSEAD submitted

March 4, 2009

The INSEAD application is done, about a week before the deadline. It feels strange, I wrote the first drafts more than two months ago and the final versions are not very much different. I only had to re-write from scratch two essays and I tweaked the career goals one a couple of times, but that was it.

A piece of advice to other applicants: they say ‘submit early’ on the website and they are not joking. The PDF application form gave me so much trouble, I cannot imagine the stress this would cause one day before the deadline. Also, it is always a good idea to tell the recommenders to be ready earlier. This application turned out much more stress-free than the previous one and this is mostly because this time the recommenders submitted their stuff earlier.

In other news, still no word from IMD. Now that all (both!) of my applications are done I feel bored. Time to start those language lessons, I suppose.

What happened to my goals essay?

February 9, 2009

I had this good essay draft for INSEAD about my career goals. Now, I still have it, but it’s no longer relevant. What the hell happened to finance? I had a chat with a current student in Fontainebleau and the news is all bad for banking internships. The rest of the financial sector does not look very bright either. In addition to all that, sector and location switching is getting close to impossible. This means that if the economy is still weak, after graduation I’d have to return to my country/ region and look for job similar to my current one. Urgh.

Right now I have absolutely no idea what to do with this essay or with my INSEAD application for that matter. There is a chance that things will be different by 2010 but it’s stupid to base my whole strategy on that assumption. On the other hand, I realise that my job is not secure at all, so I am not really losing a promising career by going to business school. If I’m going to fight for survival anyway, maybe it’s better to do it armed with a top MBA (and in debt?) than with bare fists.

I’d really like to hear from fellow applicants, especially international ones with financial background. Please leave a comment or use the contact form.