I wanted to pass along a few contributions from successful applicants who were not my clients, but part of my INSEAD thread on GMAT Club. I think you will find at least one or two things helpful!
Successful Applicant 1
I expect that I was chosen due to a unique background (scientific education, highly entrepreneurial environments, finance experience), very strong GMAT, and very strong essays. Despite no direct international experience, I made up for it through passing high level CEFR language exams (satisfying my language requirements before even applying), working with international clients, and really communicating my international outlook/ambitions through my essays.
Essays also focused on personal growth, showing some vulnerability and weakness as well as a high level of self awareness. Everyone who reviewed my essays for me told me that they really felt that they knew who I was as a person after reading them, even the reviewers that hardly knew me before.
1. Dominate your GMAT, 730+. At least this way you know its not your GMAT that got you dinged. Consider it the cover charge just to get looked at.
2. Talk to alumni. I spoke to ~15 alumni before even applying. I found them on Linkedin, an INSEAD event in my city, by talking about my goals at a random party (yes, really, I met 4 alumni while out at a party). The more you know about their experience the more it will show in your essays that you know what you’re getting into, and it will help you better understand the culture of the program, which in turn will enable you to write better essays and touch on key subjects.
3. Have several people chop up your essays and ask the hard questions. Get some people who know you and some people who don’t. The ones who don’t know you will be more valuable. Make sure your essays tell a story–there’s a reason INSEAD gives you so much essay space compared to other programs. They clearly want you to paint a 360 degree picture of who you’ve been, who you are, and who you will be. Read them out loud. Rewrite them. Read them out loud again. Rinse. Repeat. In a highly international environment such as that of INSEAD, good communication is key to success. If you can’t communicate well through the essays, there may be doubts over your ability to handle the environment.
Successful Applicant 2
Sorry for my late reply, I was on leave and I celebrated my admissions properly. A bit about myself. I am Spanish living in London. I am an engineer working for an engineering company. I believe my reasons to be admitted were as follows:
a.) Good GMAT. I scored 720.
b.) Be myself. On the essays, I explained everything I did and why I did it. You need to be clear and you need to know where you want to go. Also, you need to know yourself. Put realistic achievements and realistic weaknesses.
c.) They type of work I do. Although I am an pure engineer, I also do business development and I had other managerial respectabilities.
d.) Know your story really well on the interviews.
Successful Applicant 3
Well actually I was touching wood for a few days just in case they had called the wrong applicant haha.
In all seriousness, my GMAT score was pretty average. I would suggest future applicants read “65 Successful Harvard B-School Application Essays” before embarking on their own essays… I think it made all the difference.
Successful Applicant 4
Key factors in my profile that I think worked for me:
1. Decent GMAT and consistent academics.
2. Significant international work experience across several countries, each of which have very different cultures (except Malaysia and Singapore, which are quite similar). Living in a foreign country as an expat for last 2.5 years.
3. Consistent involvement in extra-curricular activities for the past decade.
4. In general, my profile is quite different from a traditional Indian b-school applicant. So that helps to stand out from the crowd for over-represented nationalities.
1. Elected member of sports committee during PGDM.
2. Campus champions and national finalists at several case study competitions during PGDM organised by corporate such as BCG, Deloitte, Panasonic, etc.
3. Member of the IIM sports team for three different sports.
4. Worked as an online columnist at 2 leading sports websites in India. Authored 120+ articles. Still engaged with one of them, but not very frequent.
5. Former columnist at one of India’s leading satire and humour websites.
6. Was part of the corporate social responsibility team of the big4 firm. Worked with several local NGOs. Awarded a certificate of appreciation by the firm
7. Volunteered at a UN agency for a sustainable development project.
Successful Applicant 5
Thank you for proactively helping out all applicants such as myself on this forum! Really appreciate it.
I think what worked for me was that I was painfully candid in my application essays about who I am, what my motivations are and what my goals are (involving SE Asia and Mid East). Besides that, I think I had a number of unique experiences – both successes and failures – to share that I felt lent me a distinct perspective to leadership and business in general. Lastly, both my interviewers were involved in eComm and startups which probably helped me connect with them better while giving them a good vantage point to assess my experience and candidature.