Posted on August 20, 2020

INSEAD MBA Deadlines and Essay Tips: 2020-21


INSEAD, “the Business School of the World", brings together people, cultures, and ideas to develop responsible leaders who transform business and society”.  The one-year MBA program offered by INSEAD is quite intense, but the international student body makes it worthwhile.

The MBA application form for the September 2021 intake of INSEAD’s MBA program is available on INSEAD’s website now. The essay questions (Job description and motivation essays), as well as the video essay component, remain unchanged this year as well.

Application Deadlines for the September 2021 Intake (Class of July 2022):

Round Application Deadline Interview Decision Decision Released
Round 1 September 11, 2020 October 16, 2020 November 20, 2020
Round 2 November 6, 2020 December 11, 2020 January 22, 2021
Round 3 January 8, 2021 February 12, 2021 March 19, 2021
Round 4 February 26, 2021 April 2, 2021 May 7, 2021


Application Deadlines for the January 2022 Intake (Class of December 2022):

Round Application Deadline Interview Decision Decision Released
Round 1 March 5, 2021 April 9, 2021 May 14, 2021
Round 2 April 23, 2021 May 28, 2021 July 2, 2021
Round 3 June 18, 2021 July 23, 2021 September 3, 2021
Round 4 July 30, 2021 August 27, 2021 September 24, 2021


INSEAD's Admission’s Criteria:

  • Academic capacity
  • Leadership potential
  • International Motivation
  • Ability to contribute

For more information on application requirements and advice on video essays, please visit the INSEAD MBA admissions

INSEAD’s job description questions and motivation essays allow candidates to discuss a variety of topics related to their interests and experiences, thus providing them ample opportunity to present each aspect of their candidacy- their personal stories, triumphs, and failures. The “job questions” ask for a factual account of one’s current position and career progression, as well as short-term and long-term career goals with an MBA from INSEAD. The three “motivation essays” call for short reflections and discussion of a variety of topics, e.g. strengths and weaknesses, failures, accomplishments, extra-curricular activities, etc. With careful thought and planning, you can use these essays to present your well-rounded personality. Here is your chance to be creative and highlight your experiences. It is crucial to present your essay precisely, keeping the soul of your story intact.

From INSEAD Website:

This is a critical part of our evaluation process. As such, we advise you to spend a significant amount of time on your application essays. Your responses provide the best opportunity to be creative and tell us about yourself. We would like to get to know you and to find out what motivates you. The essay questions are not meant to be academic articles or business memos, but rather your personal stories. You can fill in the essay questions online or copy/paste your answers in the text boxes directly within your application.”

Here is MER’s analysis of INSEAD’s job essays and motivation essays:


Job Essay #1: Briefly summarize your current (or most recent) job, including the nature of work, major responsibilities, and, where relevant, employees under your supervision, size of the budget, clients/products and results achieved. (200 words max)

This question requests a snapshot of the applicant’s current or most recent job. Keeping in mind that this will be the admission committee's introduction to your candidacy, you should also provide information to help the reader understand your place within the organization and the work that occupies your days. Please stay focused on the details of your present job, nature of work, major responsibilities, supervision, size of the budget, number of clients/products, and most importantly, “results achieved”. While detailing out your current job, you should also focus on the impact you have made on your organization. But please avoid elaborating your greatest achievement as you will get an opportunity to do that in the second motivation essay.

Job Essay #2: What would be your next step in terms of position if you were to remain in the same company? (200 words)

For this question, you need to show that your next job should be more challenging than your current one. But if an MBA at INSEAD is your next step, you probably don’t need your next promotion. Through this question, the admission committee wants to determine whether you have a clear sense of your career trajectory. You may outline a next step that would entail increased responsibility in terms of project size or complexity, or the number of employees managed. You may also mention an estimated timeline for promotion into this position, if applicable.

Job Essay #3: Please give us a full description of your career since graduating from university. Describe your career path with the rationale behind your choices. (300 words maximum)

This question can be considered as a walk-through of a resume in the essay format. The purpose of this question is to get an understanding of how you have progressed along your career path. Your best bet is to focus on each full-time position you’ve held, the reasons behind each move, increases, and changes in responsibility, and the lessons/ skills learned. It is essential to show progress at each stage of your career, which is straightforward if you have worked for the same company and received regular promotions. If you have changed companies, make sure to explain the reason how and why you made your career move.

Job Essay #4:  If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than two months before the program starts, please explain your activities and occupation between leaving your job and the start of the program. (optional)

This is a fairly straightforward career goals essay asking you to explain your short-term and long-term goals. However, with only 100 words to explain your short term and long-term goals, it is a tall order. Begin by explaining your short-term (3-5 years after MBA). Identify the position that you hope to hold immediately after MBA, specifying role, position, industry, and 1-2 organizations/companies which you would like to work for. Articulate your goal and explain why this goal is exciting and important to you. Please note that your post-MBA goal shows a logical progression from your current skill set, and skills and knowledge acquired through an MBA degree.

Then you will discuss your long-term 5-10-year plan, explaining not just what role you hope to occupy but also the broader impact you hope to create in this position. There should be a logical connection between your short-term and long-term goals. In other words, explain how you will move from step 1 to step 2 and so on. Also, make sure that your goals are realistic as well as ambitious. That is, if you aim for a technology or a consulting role, you’ll need to demonstrate that you already possess some skills/experience in that area and are now aiming to enhance those skills. Likewise, if you are a career changer, you should provide evidence as to how your current skill set would facilitate this transition.

Job Essay #5: If you are currently not working or if you plan to leave your current employer more than two months before the program starts, please explain your activities and occupation between leaving your job and the start of the program. (optional)

This is the eighth year that INSEAD has included a question providing unemployed applicants the space to explain their situation. This shows that INSEAD is not excluding unemployed candidates from admission if they are utilizing their time productively. So, it provides them an opportunity to advocate their case and discuss the new skills they are learning, the volunteer work they are involved in, and any conferences and professional development workshops they are attending. They can also share other efforts they are making to secure short-term employment before MBA. This would validate their growth even during the time they are unemployed.

This question also includes applicants who are planning to take a break of more than two months between the time they submit their applications and the time they would join INSEAD’s program. In this case, also they need to evidence how they are actively developing skills, making productive use of their time, and progressing toward their career goals. This essay is also a place for the applicants who are leaving their current employer to join another one, two months before entering the program. They should use this essay to discuss their new employment. This essay is also an opportunity to explain the actions you plan to take in preparation for MBA such as getting involved in voluntary activities, attending conferences, and engaging in any other activities for professional development before beginning the INSEAD MBA program.


Motivation Essay #1: Give a candid description of yourself (who you are as a person), stressing the personal characteristics you feel to be your strengths and weaknesses and the main factors which have influenced your personal development, giving examples when necessary. (maximum 500 words)

Through this open-ended question, the Admissions Committee wants to gain insights into your personality and values. Therefore, you will need to do a lot of self-reflection into your life experiences that have shaped your personality and have made you who you are. While it is important to address all parts of the prompt: strengths, weaknesses, and primary factors responsible for your personal development, it’s also important to focus as much as possible on the positive traits. Given this, you may want to begin with two or three positive qualities and then comment on one or two weaknesses, and then substantiate your personal traits with real-life examples. This question gives applicants the freedom to select examples from their personal, professional, or extracurricular life, so try to choose your examples to present a balanced picture of personality.

What two methods you can use to draft this essay?

You may select either of the following two methods for discussing strengths or weaknesses:

  1. Make statements about your character and back them up with examples as ‘evidence of your statements.'
  2. Find a single story (from your personal or professional life) that will illustrate all your strengths, and, if possible, weaknesses.

When discussing your weaknesses, make sure to explain how they have affected you and what you have done or are doing now to rectify them. If relevant, mention which INSEAD resources can help you overcome these weaknesses.

How can you discuss factors that have influenced your personal development?

Remember that for each personal characteristic introduced, you should reflect on the factors that have influenced your personality. It is up to you if you want to discuss these influential factors while discussing your strengths and weaknesses or after having discussed them.

Roughly, you may aim at allotting 200-250 words to strengths, 100 words to weakness/weaknesses, and 150-200 words to the main factors that have shaped your character/personality.

Motivation Essay #2: Describe the achievement of which you are most proud of and explain why? In addition, describe a situation where you failed. How did these experiences impact your relationship with others? Comment on what you learned. (maximum 400 words)

Through this question, INSEAD expects you to discuss both your accomplishments and failure in one single essay. You need to dig deeper and explain how these experiences have impacted your relationship with others.

Since you have only 400 words, it is in your best interest to allow approximately 200 words to each of your stories.

Also, your accomplishment and failure story should tie into your ‘strengths and weaknesses’ essay. That is, your experiences of achievement and failure should illustrate the ‘strengths’ and ‘weaknesses’ you have already discussed in your first essay.

Your accomplishment story should have four components: the challenge, the achievement, the outcome/result, and the significance. That is, you should explain why this accomplishment is meaningful to you both in terms of the challenges you overcame, the results you produced, and the lessons you learned.

To spell out your failure story, you’ll need to reflect on life experience when you could not live up to your expectations. You should describe how the situation went wrong and why. Like accomplishment story, your failure story should also have the four components: the challenge, the action, the outcome/result, and the significance or effect. That is, you should explain how that failure taught you important lessons that you later used in your life to better yourself. The failure story may be presented in such a way that it presents you in a positive light, revealing your strengths.

Don’t forget to address the second part of this question and discuss how these experiences have impacted your relationship with others at work or in community and what learnings you have gleaned from your experiences. Discussing two stories in only 400 words is indeed challenging.

(Click here to learn some useful techniques to help you say ‘more’ in ‘less’).

Motivation Essay #3: Describe all types of extra-professional activities in which you have been or are still involved for a significant amount of time (clubs, sports, music, arts, politics, etc.). How are you enriched by these activities? (maximum 300 words)

The extra-curricular is an important element of how INSEAD evaluates the candidate on one of its four key admissions criteria: ‘ability to contribute’. The admission committee is seeking applicants who can contribute to the INSEAD community by collaborating and engaging with their peers through various clubs. They want to know if you are an applicant who will not only contribute to the classroom but also to the life of the community outside the classroom as a student, and later, as a member of the alumni network.

Candidates who have other interests/hobbies that they are passionate about, and who perhaps have some achievement in sports, music, arts, etc. will go on to become students who will take the lead in student clubs and will be actively involved in the alumni network.When describing your extracurricular activities, please make sure to focus on social or community-based activities instead of solo involvements, such as reading, working out in the gym, or watching movies.

Optional Essay: Is there anything that was not covered in your application that you would like to share with the Admissions Committee? (maximum 300 words)

An optional essay is an opportunity for you to give the Admissions Committee relevant information that you could not give in other essays or other parts of your application. This question is also meant to shine a spotlight on an experience or an aspect of your personality that has not been revealed in the other parts of your application: essays, recommendation letters, and resume.

Even though INSEAD has provided you enough ground to cover about your candidacy, you may still use this essay in a variety of ways to further strengthen your candidacy. More importantly, you should also use the optional essay to address a weakness in your profile, such as a low GPA or GMAT, a gap in your job history, or your inability to get a recommendation from your current supervisor. Your response should be positive, straightforward, and fact-focused and should not sound like you are making excuses for a weakness in your profile. Your weakness may also bring out a positive aspect of your personality. For example, if you are discussing your employment gap, you may explain that you did something productive during that period, such as traveling, volunteering, or handling a family medical emergency.

For more tips from INSEAD admission team, click here

Free Resources:

10 Key Essay Tips with Examples

Essay Analysis of Other Top Programs-2020-21

MER Students Share their success Stories

Case Studies

Since 2011, MER (myEssayReview) has helped applicants get accepted into top 20 MBA, programs, including INSEAD.( Poonam is one of the top 5 most reviewed consultants on the GMAT Club)

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