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Admissions Director Q&A: INSEAD’s Virginie Fougea

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As promised, we’re following our recent Real Humans of MBA Admissions piece highlighting INSEAD’s Virginie Fougea with a more in-depth interview that delves into the admissions process at the top-ranked business school with campuses on three continents. In addition to Fontainebleau, France, INSEAD students can also take classes at the school’s Abu Dhabi and Singapore campuses during the course of the accelerated 10-month MBA program.

Though its name is an acronym for the French “Institut Européen d’Administration des Affaires” or European Institute of Business Administration, it has long since outgrown its European confines and today calls itself “the business school for the world”—with good reason. It is one of the most diverse business schools in the world, with 93 nationalities represented in the class and no single dominant culture. The school’s diversity and the rapid return on investment its accelerated program affords graduates have both helped contribute to its strong performance in rankings. The Financial Times ranked INSEAD the number one global MBA program in 2016 and 2017.

Fougea has been at INSEAD for more than two decades in a range of roles in both admissions and marketing. She was promoted to her current role as director of MBA recruitment and admissions in October 2016. Before INSEAD she worked for the French Embassy in Brazil, and before that she studied human relations in the United States.

Our thanks to Fougea for sharing the ins and outs of the admission process at INSEAD, details on a revamped curriculum that rolls out this year, and more with Clear Admit’s readers.

Clear Admit: Lots of business schools tout the diversity of their class. What does diversity mean at INSEAD?

Virginie Fougea: Yes, we publish statistics on how international we are, but the way we see diversity is not just by looking at statistics. What we mean here by diversity is, for example, the fact that we have 93 nationalities represented in the classes graduating in 2017. Until you are actually on campus, I think it’s hard to fully understand what that means.

There is no dominant culture. As our dean puts it, everyone is a minority at INSEAD. But it’s not just cultural diversity. We also have a wide diversity of work backgrounds, including a surprising number from less traditional paths—lawyers, medical doctors, people from startups—as well as more traditional backgrounds like consulting, finance, retail, manufacturing, etc. And there is diversity not only within the student body but also within the faculty. We have more than 30 different nationalities teaching as part of the program, taking examples from their country of origin into the classroom. And we are also diverse in terms of gender, in terms of undergraduate studies. All of this diversity contributes to the innovative, critical thinking INSEAD is known for.

To mention the dean again, he frequently says that we are a mission-driven school. Our mission is business for a force of good. It is critically important for our students to appreciate the interactions between business and society, and this is the reason for having diversity in the class.

CA: What’s the single most exciting development, change, or event happening at INSEAD in the coming year?

VF: INSEAD has conducted a comprehensive review of its curriculum and will roll out several enhancements with this year’s new classes. One of those enhancements is a new super course to prepare students to better address global forces—ethics, the political environment, and public policy—which I think is more important than ever in these times in which we now live.

The curriculum review really addressed some of the demands that people have, not just for MBA graduates but also in today’s global world more generally. The curriculum review has resulted in three main enhancements. The first is the introduction of a personal leadership development program designed for our MBA students to build their self-awareness, interpersonal skills, and communication skills. We have heard more and more from recruiters that these are very important skills that they are looking for in new hires. We will provide enhanced professional and peer coaching that we hope will help our students develop lifelong skills they can use as they become world-class leaders, managers, and entrepreneurs down the road.

Together with this we have added new courses in ethics, the political environment, and public policy. And then the last point is the creation of new courses around digital transformation—social media, big data, business analytics—new electives that I trust will be very, very popular.

I can’t wait to see it unfold, because those three new aspects are all nicely tied together. And at the end of the program students will also have a capstone course that simulates a business crisis in which they will have to demonstrate strong analytical skills and use all that they have learned in each of these arenas to address a real-world business problem.

CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

VF: I think that comes back to INSEAD’s diversity. When students have to make a decision of which school to attend and what sort of network they want to join, I wish people could have more insight into what it means to be truly international. I think you truly realize how diverse INSEAD is when you visit campus or talk to our alumni or recruiters. Our students definitely live it in their day-to-day lives and activities on campus. International is a word that is used everywhere, but I wish more people could experience first-hand exactly what it means at INSEAD.

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.).

VF: First, applicants should know that it is an entirely online system. When applicants enter their data online, it flows into our database. Applicants upload all their supporting documents and also have access to a link that connects them to the Kira Talent platform they can use for their video submission. There is a dashboard from the application form that immediately transports them to the Kira platform.

In terms of the video, we encourage people to take their time and practice. We made practice questions available to them for this purpose. I recommend just getting used to talking to your screen and giving yourself a little bit of time to prepare. The video component is not tricky otherwise. The questions are pretty straightforward and similar to our essay or interview questions—really, we’re looking to understand your motivations for pursuing an MBA.

Once the applicant submits the video, the application is considered complete. We have a team of eight evaluators who have been with us for years who review all of the applications. It takes between 40 minutes and an hour to review an application. Then your admissions officer is in charge of organizing the interviews. Within four weeks of submitting their application, applicants will be informed of whether they have been selected for interviews. That decision is communicated during the week leading up to the interview deadline either via email or a phone call.

The interview is conducted wherever the student is based by an alumni interviewer. The interviews are very much designed to be two-way conversations. Interviewers have their own set of questions they wish to ask to the candidates, but applicants are encouraged to ask questions as well. Following that we receive an interview report, which will be evaluated by the same team reading applications as well as by the admissions managers. We will then make a final call and submit the decision to the admissions committee, which is comprised of faculty and alumni. We then advise the applicant of our decision either by phone—in the case of acceptances—or email. The entire process will usually take approximately 10 weeks. The reason that we publicize the deadline is so that applicants can know when they will hear from us.