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This update is a bit late, but I felt I owed it to the two readers who come here!  I really only ever wanted to go one school, but I considered others to hedge my bets.  In the end I only applied to INSEAD and I got accepted at the end of May.

I will say this — from a financial perspective it’s good to apply to a number of schools because it gives you more opportunities in getting financial offers and scholarships.  Despite this I would need a big scholarship to another top program to change my mind, so it may not make a huge difference in the end.  Also, I will have to make a decision to attend before hearing anything back on scholarships, whereas I believe R2 candidates can make decisions on attendance knowing what scholarships they receive. Of course they also have to apply for scholarships earlier in their process.

I read a lot of advice that said “worry about getting in, the finances will work themselves out.”  I’d like to call bullshit!  While I do think the finances will work themselves out, they’re a big part of the process.  While INSEAD was my first choice, largely due to its value, I never considered potential scholarship offers into the value equation.  Anyways, here’s selfishly hoping the Euro keeps tanking!

Another suggestion for prospective applicants — just give it a shot as early as possible!  I posted on a forum under a pseudonym a couple years ago and an admissions consultants basically told me that given my profile I was a long-shot at any top European schools.  Now, admittedly I’ve improved a lot since then, but I’m glad to have gotten in despite the discouraging remarks at the time.

Looking back I think that I may as well have tried applying a couple years ago and taken my chances, though I don’t really regret it because extra savings and experience will make the process more worthwhile in the end


Even if you never get accepted to the MBA program of your choice, writing admissions essays is a worthwhile exercise.  It can be painfully introspective, boring, and stressful, but put in the effort you’ll learn a lot about yourself.  You’ll also learn how to market yourself professionally.

After some brainstorming I read the book Made to Stick by Chip & Dan Heath — it’s about making memes sticky and memorable.  I recommend you read it, but in case you don’t have the time here are three key takeaways for essay writing:

Be concrete:

Avoid talking in concepts and generalities.  People connect with real examples and this is what you need to give the admissions committee.  Don’t say “I’m unselfish.”  Demonstrate it by telling about the time you helped a taxi driver push his  broken cab to the next gas station.  Don’t talk about your manager, use her name instead.  Put as much concrete detail into your essays as possible.  The same goes for your “Why MBA” goals essay — instead of saying “I want to work for a big investment bank” tell them you want to work at Morgan Stanley because their superior business cards have watermarks.  Concrete details make you believable in your stories and your goals.

Never bury the lead:

This isn’t a new concept, but it was pretty new to me.  News reporters are taught to always give the most important facts first, then flesh in the details.  Using this ‘inverted pyramid’ style of writing means that whenever your readers stop reading they’ve gotten the maximum possible amount of information for their time.  Your readers will have limited attention even on the most exciting essays, so make sure you tell the important things first, then flesh in the details.  Note: This can make it tricky to tell stories and create tension, but there are ways around it.  If you have to tell a story about the time you crashed an oil tanker into an iceberg don’t start your essay with “It was a dark and stormy night…”  Instead, start it with “The time I crashed an oil tanker into an iceberg:
It was a dark and stormy night….”

The Curse of Knowledge:

This isn’t so much a technique as an important guiding concept.  Remember that you know yourself better than anyone, as will people who proofread your essays.  The challenge to writing memorable essays is to take the perspective of somebody who literally knows nothing about you.    Unfortunately you can’t do this because in this respect you’re cursed with knowledge of yourself.

This means that, among other things, you need to  to be selective and targeted with what you put into the essay.

This is really a theme throughout the book and rather hard to overcome when trying to make your stories sticky, but I will say this:  I got some great feedback on my essays from a fellow MBA candidate who I met on a campus visit.  The reason his feedback was particularly good is because he didn’t know me very well, so I got quite a ‘clean’ perspective on my writing.  Everyone else who looked at my essays had known me for ages.  Their advice helped too, of course, but it wasn’t quite as impartial.

INSEAD or bust!

So my application is ostensibly complete for R1 of the January 2011 intake.

There were some payment issues with Etheryl, and I had to remind my second recommender quite a bit.  He ended up pulling an all-nighter while at an industry conference halfway around the world to finish up.  I can only guess that it was to show me up on procrastination skills.

This will probably be my only application for the spring, so it looks like INSEAD or bust!

Anyone else out there apply for R1 D’11?

Deadline Driven

Nothing motivates like a deadline and we’re now a few days away from INSEAD’s R1 deadline for the January 2011 intake.  Ironically, the closer I get to the deadline the more my inner procrastinator finds excuses.  I think it’s important not to listen — there’s always time to reflect afterwards 🙂

For those perceptive ones among you that think posting on a blog for the first time in months is just another way to procrastinate… Shhhh!

I’m working myself through the INSEAD Application Checklist and I’m getting there.

Recommendations, transcripts, essays, forms, etc…

Best of luck for fellow Jan ’11 instake INSEAD apps.

Looks like work has taken its toll, as the lack of updates here may indicate. I noticed the other day that it was September and I had practically missed the entire – and rather lovely – summer because I spent so much time at the office. We’re still not quite done, but the end is in sight.

I’ve decided to apply to INSEAD for R2. I had plenty of time for R1 but simply haven’t had the time to produce a quality application. I’ve now booked a campus visit to Fontainebleau at the end of the month. I hope I’ll have energy for the trip as the weeks leading up to it will be hectic.  The campus visit and downtime at work should provide the necessary motivation give me a chance to create a quality app.

I took the GMAT a couple weeks ago and the following describes my preparation and experience:

I took my first GMATPrep in Sept 08 in order to see where I would stood. I got a 720 (Q48,V41), spent a little bit of time looking at problems, and then dropped the whole thing for a reason that must have made perfect sense at the time. I think my new and interesting role at work put a temporary damper on those escapist fantasies, or something. Then, two months ago, during a morning of existential crisis, I said WTF, pulled out my credit card, and booked the test. The point-of-no-return helped motivate me for a day or two, after which I slacked off a bit more. Then I wrote the test cost on the wall above my desk, realizing that my stingy self would be throwing money out the window if I didn’t prepare properly. That gave me a healthy kick in the butt.

The ‘diagnostic’ GMATPrep informed my study approach. I used to be good at math but I was very rusty on some concepts, particularly anything with primes and divisibility. The majority of my verbal mistakes were in sentence correction. My approach was a bit haphazard – I didn’t make a plan until there were three weeks remaining. Here’s the breakdown:


  • I finished 90% of the MGMAT SC book about 5-6 weeks before the test. This was very helpful, though by the time I took the test some of the concepts weren’t quite so fresh.
  • I did 50 each RC and CR in the OG about 3-4 weeks before the test, wanting to make sure I did some of each question type. I decided that the payoff for studying more of them would not be worth it given my timeframe.


  • I ordered the MGMAT Number Properties guide a bit late and only did two chapters or so. That in itself helped a bit and I definitely liked the book, only wish I had more time for it.
  • After doing my second GMATPrep about 3 weeks before the exam I noticed that my timekeeping in the math section was awful. My brain thinks it can solve every math question but it’s too dense to grasp when to let go and just click next. According to the MGMAT CATs I spent 4-5 minutes on several problems, so I decided to take MGMAT CAT Math for the last 2-3 weeks, not having time to do both sections in the evenings.
  • MGMAT Flash Cards:
    Highly recommended for commuters. I did maybe 15-20 math questions each day. This helped me keep my brain in the right mode and helped me remember a few concepts that I otherwise wouldn’t have come across. I did everything but SC and Word Translations.

Practice CATs

Reading some other debriefs I noticed that some people were particularly fond of doing a lot of practice tests. I believe that if you have the basics down then this is very good for timing and familiarity. I had to go away for the weekend two weeks before the test, so I could only study a bit on the plane / train. I was very tempted to attend the INSEAD open day the weekend before the test but decided to stay and get an extra GMATPrep in. I’ll to visit as soon as makes sense!

Here is my practice CAT breakdown with time before test:

GMATPrep 1 – 720 (Q48,V41) – 10 months
MGMAT CAT 1 – 680 (Q44,V38) – 6 weeks
GMATPrep 2 – 750 (Q47,V47) – 3 weeks
MGMAT CAT 2 Math – Q43 – 2 weeks
MGMAT CAT 3 Math – Q46 – 1 week
MGMAT CAT 4 Math – Q48 – 1 week
GMATPrep 1 retake – 740 (Q48,V42) – few days
GMATPrep 2 retake – 770 (Q49,V49) – few days

I compiled the missed questions from all four of my GMATPrep attempts a few days before the test and reviewed these during the last days. This was as essentially my ‘error log,’ though a more organized person might have included lots of other material.

Test Day

Actually, the day before I got a back/neck massage. I never had a professional one before but decided I would get it to help me relax. It was great and I’m tempted to make a habit of this before important dates 🙂

The test center is annoyingly anal about security – I’ll leave it at that. The AWA went alright, the Argument part was so thin that I couldn’t find much to write and the Issue part had me a bit indecisive. The Quant section went relatively well, with the last few questions a bit rushed and one total guess on a long, complicated looking word problem.

I went for a break before the Verbal section. Between waiting for an instructor to get me after raising my hand, checking out, taking a pee, having some food and drink, waiting on a queue to get back into the room and then checking back in I went over my 10 minute time limit. This was not taken from the instructions screen, but it was taken from the verbal section timer. Fortunately it took less than 2 minutes off, which flustered me less than expected.

The verbal went fine, but halfway through the instructor came over to tell me that I either “shouldn’t” or “didn’t have to” erase my board. I felt like snapping her head off for disturbing me, but decided that was probably against one of the rules. I didn’t have time for that anyways so I just ignored her, but it still threw me off mentally a bit. I also started getting quite thirsty at this point and kept having to clear my throat – should have had more water. I need a cup of water when I sit and work at a computer for a lengthy period of time and it’s ridiculous for Pearson not to permit this. Anyways, there were a few questions of each type (RC, CR, SC) that I wasn’t 100% about and in the end I only had about a minute each for the last 5-6 questions.

I skipped filling in all the demographic mumbojumbo because and waited for my score, which made me quite happy. Since that matched my best GMATPrep (which had a LOT of repeated verbal) I was quite happy.


  • BOOK THE TEST!! This sounds silly, but it’s really very important to just book the test. Don’t wait ages until everything is perfect or until you’ve studied everything. If you are anything like me then studying without a date is a waste of time. JUST BOOK IT! 🙂
  • Customize your study approach! Do what YOU need and what works for YOU! Take a diagnostic test and see where you need to improve and what you can realistically do about it.
  • Squeeze in little problems. The MGMAT free flash cards were great for me to get some studying done during my commute.
  • Be healthy. I’ve been sure to do all the ‘right’ things I can’t always be bothered to do for the last few weeks. This includes eating properly with lots of fruit and veg, exercising at least a little bit each day, visualizing success, and telling yourself that you’re gonna kick ass.
  • Be relaxed. Get a massage. I’m not joking. I was quite panicky during my GMATPreps over the weekend. Being relaxed helps tremendously.

I decided that my last blog name was extremely unforgettable, so MonkeyPunch will be my new moniker.  Ready! Set! Go!

FYI: I’ve used this name for about a decade and it has nothing to do with some wonky Japanese anime artist.

Oh yes, I took the GMAT two weeks ago and my recap will follow shortly.

GMAT Studying

I’ve been practicing for the GMAT a bit and took another GMATPrep practice test last weekend. The math section felt really bad as I ran out of time, but a decent verbal section made up for it a bit. The score was an improvement on my first GMATPrep, though despite studying sentence correction extensively I made a lot of SC mistakes. The real test is now two weeks away — time to do some more practice and work on time management.

I registered this blog almost 10 months ago in hopes of applying for an MBA. There hasn’t been much to report for various reasons. After a lot of time weighing the options and just getting on with life, frankly, I decided this morning to book a GMAT appointment. A moment of bootstrapping motivation coupled with that old cliche (you only tend to regret the things you didn’t do) did the trick. I have eight weeks to ace the test…