April 14, 2007

Pragmatism, School Research and My choices

The topic is 'pragmatism when applying to schools' or my take on 'should I apply to school X?'

This post is a result of my many responses on the web, questions sent by applicants to me by e-mail, questions I've answered on phone and my own journey from preparation to my admit to INSEAD. The usual disclaimers apply.

Applying to business schools is an expensive process. You want to spend that money and time meaningfully so that it yields a satisfactory result. The approach to applications must be pragmatic - not oblivious to reality.

One of my pet peeves is 'false encouragement' without giving a reality check. This is a business school application process where your destiny is mostly out of your control (except GMAT score) because it depends on what you did in the past and how you fare against thousands of other applicants. When you are ready to apply, or are planning to apply, see if you have asked yourselves the right questions.

When you tabulate your answers, a picture emerges if it makes sense to apply or not. In some cases, the school might not be the right fit for you, and in some cases, it will be extremely unlikely you will make the cut. A focused, realistic approach to applications will be both more productive and also reduce your misery. In evaluating chances, I have three lines

  1. Competitive - You actually stand a good chance of getting in
  2. Ambitious - Give it a shot, there might be a chance, 'reach' schools
  3. Stupid - Waste of time, waste of money. Wasting time here might affect the effort you can put into better quality applications for a school you actually stand a chance.

When I say 'stupid' I don't mean you are stupid - I mean it's stupid to apply.

Unfortunately, many people fall into the stupid category for certain schools and few tell them that. Those who say it like it is get flamed by others for being rude and obnoxious - but like Jim Cramer says "I'm not here to make friends, I'm here to make you money!" or rather "I'm not your mother, I'm here to tell you what I really think!"

I fell below the 'stupid line' for Stanford. Why? my composite when compared to what the school looks for, has such a large gap that it's nothing but a waste of their and my time to apply. Same would apply to Harvard. I thought I had a chance in Wharton ('ambitious') but Wharton failed the test of my 'is the school right for me'? It wasn't - because of cost and my family conditions.

Ultimately, INSEAD was the perfect fit for my experience, cost needs and I put a lot of effort into creating the right application instead of worrying about filling 15 random applications and spending thousands of dollars.

How do you know if you fall beyond the stupid line? Evaluate the school 'admission chances' questions and how you fare against the general trend. If the school GMAT average is 710, has stellar applicants and high rejection rate, small class and values diversity - and if you have a GMAT of 640, nothing distinguishable in your application (e.g. I wrote code for 6 years and I have no hobbies), you are a Chinese or Indian IT from a no-name school and you have a bad GPA - you really fall below the stupid line. Really. No number of cheerleaders or 'Paula school of feedback' (see American idol?) is going to get you in. Might as well spend that time and money where you can make it through.

If one aspect of your candidature is weak compared to the school composite, you are doing OK - but if you're below in almost all, better look elsewhere.

I know I'm going to draw flak for this about this post. That's Ok, all of us have opinions. When it comes to identifying schools for applications - do due diligence, be ambitious but don't waste time and money.

For those curious on how I evaluated my chances -

a) Stanford and Harvard - stupid to apply. No chance.
b) Wharton, Columbia and Chicago GSB - fancied my chances, ambitious, but financial and personal situation (family, 2 years, and not US resident, visa hassles..) kept me out from applying to US 2 year programs.
c) INSEAD and IMD - great fit, in my mind Columbia, Chicago, INSEAD were roughly similar so that left me with INSEAD. I preferred INSEAD over IMD and I got into INSEAD earlier so I never applied to IMD.
d) Oxford - next. Thought I had a good chance but dropped it for later after INSEAD results
e) ISB - initially in the race. I dropped it after evaluating if the school was a good fit for me.

I'm no rankings hater. I pay attention to rankings and that did influence my application decisions.

Good luck - prepare well, prepare with focus, create high quality applications instead of 15 boiler plate bore-them-to-death submissions.


Wannabe said...

Good post, but some people might apply to a "stupid" category school, treating it like a super-reach school? Or just applying for the heck of it? Like applying to Harvard on the 0.01% that they could get in?

After all, life is partially built on dreams and ambitions.

sanjeeth said...

Hi ,I presume you from outside the european continent.What did you feel about applying to INSEAD with regard to placements. i Have heard that many companies prefer europeans first and then the others which considerably reduces chances of getting placed. I have a couple of friends who went to LBS and oxford and had to return back to India to take up jobs which is difficult considering the investment you put in.

Anonymous said...

i am very sad that you only read
other insead blogs and not mine.


necromonger said...

Wannabe - that's the whole issue. This isn't a lottery whereby some luck they could get in. It also results in a lot of sub-par applications and that might make it a tad harder for the better ones. For the applicants, it dilutes other applications. My take is after studying ones chances - go for a couple of reach/ambitious schools and some comfort schools. Put effort where it may counts..but I know that many, many people apply to schools a,b,c,d and then to Harvard and stanford for the 'heck' of it. Outcome is they don't get in, and the schools make money, and the schools yield looks even better ;)

Sanjeeth - if getting a job in Europe is the primary criteria, then I'm sure Indians/Chinese etc will find it harder in mainland Europe - mostly due to language issues. It is not something I lose sleep on as I have other interests and many do get jobs in Europe too. Just like you know couple of them who went back, I know many more who did not. Life's about chances :) No school will guarantee you anything - part of it is leveraging the network and tools, even in the US.

necromonger said...

Zanat - I do read your blogs, but you haven't written much that I want to read in many days now!

Sreenath said...

Necro, nice post. I have a question for you and you should be the right person to help me out.
Here goes my profile
6 yrs of IT exp with 4 Yrs in US
Pretty much inclined towards doing the MBA in finance..to substantiate my interests I have Worked with Big houses(clients) like GE Assetmanagement and Thomson financials
Average acads (70%), no known schools/engineering.
GMAT 640 :(
Extra curiculars
1) Very active trader US market/Indian market
2) Active in toastmasters club, was the VP membership in Infosys Toastmasters
3) Member of a real estate investment group. This group runs by buying/selling real estate properties.

So here is my question, am i stupid in applying to Insead with this low GMAT? Should i go for a retake of the exam?
I dont want to do the MBA from US coz of the reasons you mentioned in the blog.For me, it would be good to do a 1yr MBA and would like to get into an IB either in singapore or middle east. NUS is one of my options.Kindly comment.

necromonger said...


Your GMAT is on the low side. In fact it's a big gap between 640 and 710. Given that you are from a IT/Indian/Male background - your professional accomplishments will reflect a IT background and not necessarily some sort of IB background. INSEAD essays are short, very focused and will ask for specific information on your professional accomplishments.

In reality, you are faced with diversity factor and also low GMAT and a not-so-stellar undergrad or experience. My recommendation is to retake GMAT and get a better score - at least 690-700. Remember INSEAD is not very friendly to re-applicants so you don't want to take chances. Good luck.

darkprince said...


Very interesting and informative blog. I am planning to apply to Insead this year and I need to "mine" your blog thoroughly :).

Btw, the first link under "Handy Links" has an extra "://" at the end.

maxjax said...

Hello Necro,
Thanks, you have a great blog.
I have a similar profile to yours, and I am planning only to apply for INSEAD, as it fits my profile perfectly.

I am a 6 yr old Indian IT professional with 4 years international experience (in south korea), fluent in multiple languages, decent acads. I got a 710 in my GMAT, but the problem is that I got a 50 in the quant and only a 35 in the verbal. I am worried that the difference is too stark, so I am planning to retake the test.

1. Do you think it is worth retaking the test?
2. Do you think INSEAD will look at it unfavourably if I take the test twice?
Though I am sure I can justify qn.2 in the interview.


necromonger said...


I'm not in adcom so I cannot answer admission questions to such finer detail :) All I can tell you is this: 710 is a competitive score, most people will tell you that retaking the test at this point will not help you much. It's your call.

Many people take GMAT more than once, I don't think schools have a problem with that (unless you take the test, like, 5 times)

ubiq said...

hi necromonger,
excellent post. Very very informative. I understand the fact that you r not adcom but all the same i would like to take your opinion since u have already been through the entire process. My background is as follows:

B.Tech from IIT Delhi with a gpa of 8.6 (99.9 percentile in the entrance exam)
1 year cultural exchange program in france
Fluent in many languages including French.
Obatined Merit Scholarship from the French Embassy in India
2.5 years work ex as a Business Consultant with a top consulting firm

in your opinion, what are my chances of getting into insead? is there any thing than i need to work on?

necromonger said...


you sound smart enough. Have you written your GMAT? The only thing going against you is your work-ex. Otherwise, you're all set. Why not wait just 1 more year? Perhaps that would increase the odds...

Mahesh Guttal said...


I am currently in the research stage of choosing an MBA for me.
I have still not given my GMAT .. I would rather like to get my eyes set on a few schools which offer me what i want before giving my GMAT.

1) What i wanted to know was , does a 1 year MBA course help in switching careers completely ?
For ex : I am an IT professional working with almost 2 years of exp. but what i want post MBA is a job which gives me a great exposure in learning the skill of spotting market/business opportunities and building intelligent businesses around it in diversified sectors.

Would INSEAD help ?
2) Which other 1 year MBA programmes would help me ?

Manoj said...

Is having 10+ yrs work experience and then applying to INSEAD work against you ? I have seen some student profiles with 10+ work experience but not a lot.