INSEAD vs London Business School: Which MBA?

The Ultimate MBA Program Comparison: INSEAD MBA vs London Business School

Admissions: what does INSEAD seek?
Admissions: what does LBS seek?
Application Essays, Tips & Candidate Evaluation
Admissions Stats, Demographics & Class Size
Program Type: 1 year or 2 year & Costs
Program Features
Geography
Jobs, Pay and Employment Location
Culture
Admitted to both LBS and INSEAD: how to choose?

As business becomes more global, applicants may ask themselves if they should consider heading abroad for an MBA in Europe. The momentum towards European MBA programs has increased in recent years, especially among international applicants, for reasons such as cost and program duration. European MBA programs saw a surge in applicant interests during the Trump US political administration; when international applicants started to prioritize an MBA degree closer to home.

INSEAD and London Business School (LBS) consistently rank as top among the European MBA programs. INSEAD and LBS can show a higher return on investment compared to two-year US MBA programs because of lower tuition and opportunity costs. You can complete an MBA program at INSEAD in as little as ten months and at LBS in as little as 15 months. Even for the longer MBA program of LBS, tuition fees are lower than that of the US, not accounting for cost of living in London. In a study that Stacy Blackman Consulting conducted across our applicant pool, shorter duration and lower tuition costs were European program advantages endorsed by 48% of respondents.

INSEAD and LBS are more global in nature, compared to even the most “global” U.S. program. They attract students who want a truly international experience with their education. They also attract professionals planning to work in Europe after their studies. An MBA in Europe positions students for global careers better than doing both college and an MBA in the same country.

If your professional goal is to live and work in Europe, pursuing a European MBA is arguably the best introduction to local business life. Keep this fact in mind: INSEAD and LBS place less than 13% of graduates into North American-based employment roles. Meanwhile, they place about half of their graduates in Europe.

Here, we explore similarities and differences of LBS and INSEAD with insights from MBA Admissions Officers and other valuable perspectives, including insights on the value of one versus two-year program durations. We also highlight the advice from Cathy, an MBA graduate who received admits to both INSEAD and LBS, and how she navigated her admit decision and optimized her b-school experience.  We also worked closely with the former INSEAD and LBS Admissions Officers on our Stacy Blackman Consulting team. Finally, we reviewed this smackdown with the Executive Directors at both MBA programs and incorporated their insights, perspectives and advice.

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Admissions: what does INSEAD seek?

We asked the former INSEAD admissions officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team to profile what INSEAD seeks. Their consensus is as follows:

INSEAD is a leading global program which aims to attract and develop global leaders in business. With its richly diverse student body, everyone is a minority, with each not having any dominant culture (more than 11 or 12 percent of any one nationality) in its population of over 90 nationalities. The breadth and depth of this international approach is its edge, and it will be looking for applicants who have a global mindset, experiences and goals. Additionally, INSEAD’s compressed 10-month format offers an accelerated degree aiming to equip its students with the general management skill set to thrive in an increasingly connected global business community.

The former INSEAD admissions officers shared what INSEAD does not want:

Anyone who has wildly unrealistic expectations about the 10-month program. As it is a fast-paced program, the INSEAD Admissions Committee is looking for applicants who display evidence of resilience and adaptability. Additionally, applicants who are formulaic and less interesting have a harder time gaining the INSEAD admit.

Admissions: what does LBS seek?

The former London Business School admissions officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team shared what LBS Admissions seeks:

LBS wants to see demonstrated leadership. They want applicants with international awareness and a desire to work on the international stage thus they want the applicant to have some kind of connection with the international component of the MBA.  LBS is keen on proven data and analytical skills and abilities.

We also asked the former London Business School admissions officers what LBS does not want. Their consensus is:

LBS does not want applicants who just want to be in London for two years because it’s a fun place to go to school. They are not looking to be a finishing school for students or a work visa factory. Avoid presenting yourself as perfect, myopic and just focused on what the LBS MBA will do for you. Do your homework. 

Application Essays, Tips & Candidate Evaluation 

Both LBS and INSEAD like to see uniqueness in each applicant, as that helps to add to the diversity dimension more broadly – it’s not just international diversity but differences in professional experiences, goals, and paths to these goals.

INSEAD Admissions really focuses on applicants who show a clear and upward professional trajectory (e.g., accelerated pace in that growth) along with significant international experience, exposure, and aspirations. For those with limited international travel experience, it’s critical to show an open mindset, global ambitions, and to reference any formative cultural experiences to help the committee appreciate your ability to thrive in a multinational and multicultural setting.  Having outside interests is important too, but you need not have saved the world to get points in this regard. They also want to find students who will be active and participate in the clubs, intramural sports, and other cultural activities that are part of the student experience.

LBS Admissions is very focused on Leadership. “There is a big emphasis on how we could recognise certain characteristics in applicants who were likely to become global business leaders,” shared a representative of LBS’s MBA program.  LBS really wants well-rounded students. They are interested in mistakes or failures that candidates have experienced and how they have grown from those experiences. Demonstrating global awareness is key, as LBS teaches a global business model, not just the American business perspective.

Sample INSEAD essays and sample LBS essays from successful admits are instructive to applicants. Cathy, who was accepted to both LBS and INSEAD’s MBA programs and is now a Senior Consultant at Stacy Blackman Consulting, shared the differences between INSEAD and LBS’s essay requirements. “Overall, the most significant difference between the INSEAD and LBS applications is the length: INSEAD has three essays, plus one optional, while LBS has only one, plus one optional and smaller questions in the application form. INSEAD provides you the space to share about your goals, ambitions, experiences through their variety of questions, while LBS expects you to share about them in a focused manner with their two essays. That naturally means that you’ll have to express yourself much more concisely in the LBS essays, being sure of what aspects of yourself on which you’d like to focus, whereas you’ll have more space to share different aspects of your story and motivations in the INSEAD essays.”

INSEAD requires that the applicant be fluent in English and have an intermediate proficiency level in a second language. If admitted, the candidate is required to have basic proficiency in a third language before graduation. LBS has no language requirement, however students do benefit from access to free language tuition via King’s College London.

“INSEAD was one of the first European Business Schools to introduce video questions within the selection process. INSEAD requires all applicants to complete the exercise, as it provides additional opportunities to introduce themselves to the Admissions Committee”, shared a representative for INSEAD’s MBA program. LBS added a video essay requirement several years ago for full-time MBA applicants. The video provides an opportunity for admissions officers to “put a face to a name” and get to know the applicants better.

A former LBS Admissions Officer who is now on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team shared, “the video does not usually provide a reason to ding a candidate, unless the candidate provides answers that are significantly inconsistent with his or her application. So, it is important to be authentic, answer the questions, stick to the time allotted and make sure your answers align with your essays and application.” One question that will most likely be included in the video invite: What will you gain from the London Business School MBA Programme that you won’t gain from another MBA programme? The other question will be randomly picked from a question bank.

In addition, the actual interview processes are similar between the programs where LBS’s interview is held with one alum and requires you to do a short pitch, resolving a problem presented during the interview. INSEAD requires applicants to meet with two separate Alumni interviewers. INSEAD provides two different opportunities rather than one, so applicants can really demonstrate their motivation for the program, convey their achievements, and better understand what the program entails. Both can vary in length and style.

Both programs offer four application deadlines, starting with the first round in September and ending with the fourth round in February and April for INSEAD and LBS, respectively. LBS has a traditional fall start or intake for its full time MBA program whereas INSEAD offers both fall and January intake options.

We asked a former LBS Admissions Officer on our Stacy Blackman Consulting team for application advice. She shared, “Getting applicants to be more honest or real about their backgrounds is tough. Particularly when they have high scores. If the applicant is from a popular demographic profile, it’s even more important to stand out from the crowd. Adversity in one’s background shows character. I like candidates to speak about situations in which they encountered setbacks which opened their eyes to seeing the world and themselves in a different context. When I work with applicants from Asia and the US particularly, they have been groomed to be the best, be number #1. But as Richard Jolly, Adjunct Professor of Organisational Behaviour at LBS, teaches, it’s actually the first follower that makes the leader. It’s ok to be #2.”

For some MBA applicants, better admit odds are another reason why candidates may pursue international programs, such as LBS and INSEAD.  For a typical international applicant, we may see better admission odds for top European programs compared to the admit odds for the M7 US programs.  We receive some inquiries who experience rejection from every top 7 US MBA program but receive admits to LBS and/or INSEAD, although this isn’t a representation of admit odds for every applicant and it truly does vary by applicant profile. Generally, European MBA programs are more open to having larger percentages of international students, particularly from Commonwealth countries (e.g., India). Meanwhile, US schools can be more competitive for those with overrepresented backgrounds in the applicant pool.

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Admissions Stats, Demographics & Class Size

Enrollment data between the programs is comparable, although we assume INSEAD’s admit rate to be higher than 30%, which is a possible reason it is not disclosed publicly. INSEAD has a much larger class – 1039 MBA students to LBS’s 532.  However, this difference wouldn’t be noticeable to an INSEAD student because INSEAD splits the class between the January and September intakes and also between its Singapore and Fontainebleau locations.

Class of 2022 Admission StatsINSEADLBS
Average GMAT*710700
GMAT Range*670-750Not available
Average GPA3.5N/A
Selectivity*Not available25%
Enrolled MBA Students1039532
Women MBA Students40%36%
Europe origin38%28%
Asia/Oceania origin36%31%
North America origin11%18%
Central/South America origin7%17%
Middle East/ Africa origin8%6%
*Estimated

We have found some data more difficult to discern for the top European programs. Much like admit rates for INSEAD, LBS doesn’t report undergraduate majors:

Undergrad DegreesINSEADLBS
Humanities/Social Science14%Not available
Engineering/Math39%
Business/Economics47%

INSEAD vs LBS

Program Type: 1 year or 2 year & Costs

LBS is about a two year program, whereas INSEAD is a shorter duration at about 10 months.  LBS does have exit points at 15, 18 and 21 months. We often guide our clients around the merits of two-year versus one-year programs based on their prior work experience and career.  The MBA degree itself can be a “seal of approval,” but recruiters will dig deeper into the pre-MBA career path to understand what the candidate can offer to any employment opportunity.

For applicants whose career path is already robust with increasing job responsibilities, progression, and some oversight of projects and/or employees, we find the one-year experience of INSEAD to be sufficient to prepare the candidate for recruiting opportunities. The candidate should already have the skills that are transferable across industries and are valued by a wide array of recruiters.  After all, the admission to the MBA program is not any guarantee of employment offer and the candidate must convince the recruiter that he or she can do the work professionally in order to attain the job offer.

For applicants whose career path may be less rigorous or transferable, the summer internship is a necessary value-add in optimizing recruiting opportunities. The internship allows the employer to take a chance on the candidate irrespective of considerations for the VISA or any prerequisite work experience. The internship can be a side door into a previously unattainable career path.

The longer duration of the LBS program allows all its students to complete multiple summer internships, including ‘structured internships’ with MBB etc., as well as ‘unstructured internships’ with London’s start-ups. A two-month internship is possible only at INSEAD for students who choose a January start.

Aside from career and internship prospects, we also advise our clients to assess how much they value the student community and range of coursework. A blogger online who goes by the handle of “Jbrandl1” shared, “One academic year can be fairly short, especially considering international experience requirements that might limit time spent on campus and out meeting people. In addition, there’s recruiting, which starts almost immediately, and preparing for case studies, which you will also be doing a lot of (pretty much from the first day you get to campus). Two-year programs also give you more opportunities to take courses in areas you might not have the time to learn more about in the shorter time at a one-year program. Some candidates with more experience, or candidates going into a very specific role, might not benefit as much from the coursework. Will a healthcare consultant in Germany need to know how to do business in China? Does a healthcare consultant need to know how to use R and Python? Probably not.”

Direct and opportunity costs are another factor to consider between the one and two- year programs.  LBS fees are estimated roughly £92,0000 or $127,000 for tuition and materials, while INSEAD charges €89,000 or over $107,000.  We encourage applicants to view total costs. For example, the cost of living in London is high and may offset the cheaper LBS tuition.  Housing is roughly $1800- $2,900/mo for a 1-person apartment depending on location in London.

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Program Features

LBS has a nice balance of lectures, case discussions, and group work. INSEAD is renowned for its case studies, much like at Harvard Business School. Both LBS and INSEAD students are required to take core courses covering the fundamentals of business – such as finance, marketing and strategy. “LBS’s tailored core courses also allow students to customise their programmes from the second term, giving them added flexibility in the first year,” shared a representative of LBS’s MBA program. Both programs have over 70 elective options inclusive of tech, social enterprise, negotiation and organizational behavior.

INSEAD vs LBS

Geography

Do you care for the UK or for France and Asia?

Ilian Mihov, the school’s current INSEAD dean, made the unprecedented move of being based in Asia for the first time in the school’s history. This reflects the center of gravity of the school shifting away from being Euro-central and more broadly global and deeply entrenched in Asia, as well as the Middle East with its new(ish) Abu Dhabi campus (which is primarily focused on Executive Education) and San Francisco Hub. When applicants apply, they have an advantage if they say they are open to starting in either campus. You can always move after the first two periods (the CORE terms) to the other campus, if it wasn’t your first choice. But the flexibility will allow the committee more opportunities to admit you to balance the classes across the two campuses. Students also have the option to study at Wharton or Kellogg during their program.

Cathy, the INSEAD graduate who now works as a Senior Consultant for Stacy Blackman Consulting shared, “The opportunity to study on two campuses was very appealing at INSEAD — knowing that studying in Fontainebleau in France as well as Singapore would provide me the same rigorous academic structure with first-class professors and peers, but in two completely different environments with different travel and career opportunities, was a major factor. Now there’s a chance to study at their Abu Dhabi campus as well.” Fontainebleau is where the INSEAD school was founded; it is a picturesque town outside of Paris.  Its small town size fosters a close knit student community.

LBS’s prime location in London is the cultural, business and urban mecca of Europe. The main campus is located at Sussex Place in London, adjacent to Regent’s Park. Its refurbished Sammy Ofer Centre is located in the Grade II-listed former Old Marylebone Town Hall. “LBS has struck me as a unique bubble of a world very different from those other segments of my London life. The difference comes along the dimension of people. In one day of classes at LBS, I meet far more nationalities than I would anywhere else in the city of London. All the stereotypes of Londoners being grumpy, reserved, and always in a rush do not apply to the day-to-day at LBS. Instead you get the perfect marriage – London’s location, influence and buzz combined with LBS’s warmth and almost refreshingly friendly presence,” shared Nikki Gupta, a past student at LBS. “Don’t just judge London as a city; come to the LBS campus, speak to the students and even sample a lecture to see how LBS and London thrive together.”

LBS also has a Dubai campus, where it runs an Executive MBA program; MBA students can complete electives at the Dubai campus and take part in an international exchange during their second year with one of 30 highly-regarded partner schools worldwide.

INSEAD vs LBS

Jobs, Pay and Employment Location

Average salaries upon graduation are $104,200 and $106,220 for INSEAD and LBS, respectively– which are different from the average $150,000 annual salaries for the top US MBA programs excluding signing bonus.

INSEAD grads have a broader geographic footprint compared to LBS grads, and that’s likely driven by its multiple campuses and language requirements:

Jobs & Pay Data*INSEADLBS
MBAs employed 3 months after commencement89%*91%
Consulting Industry48%28%
Finance/Accounting Industry14%25%
Information Technology/telecommunications23%13%
Healthcare/Pharmaceuticals/Biotechnology3%5%
North America7%23%
UK14%9%
Europe (not UK)37%15%
Asia Pacific25%19%
South/Central and Western Asia10%13%
Middle East and Africa7%7%
* “89% is the 2020 stats that includes the 20J class who graduated in a pandemic. Over the past years, INSEAD has consistently increased this figure by 1% reaching a record number of 92% in 2019,” shared a representative from INSEAD’s MBA program.
*Data is for MBA 2020 graduates and industry categories are approximate.

 

The new two-year, ‘Graduate route’ post-study work visa returns to the UK for all international students graduating in the UK in summer 2021 or later. It will make it easier for graduating LBS MBAs to find jobs in the UK — and for employers to hire them. ‘Graduate route’ visa holders can remain in the UK to work for two years after graduation, without company sponsorship.

MBA hopefuls may also favor specialized industry recruiting where Europe has the edge over the US. While the US is the technology industry hub (tech is still a nascent market abroad), Europe dominates the fintech industry. London is considered the fintech capital of the world because of the banking passport legislation that governs Europe and standardizes products across the 27 countries. Europe has an advantage over the US in the fintech industry because the US must contend with legislation that varies by state and can be an impediment to digital banking.

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Culture

“INSEAD is a very social school (it’s a running joke that it stands for “I Never Stop Eating and Drinking.”)  They pride themselves on being a rigorous program but with the work hard/play hard mentality at its core. Having an active social life, cultural activities, or sports engagements, even if not formal, are a huge plus,” shared a former INSEAD Admissions Officer on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

Cathy, who chose INSEAD over LBS when she applied years ago, shared about the INSEAD culture: “I loved my time at INSEAD in large part due to the fantastic student culture. Firstly, everyone is so motivated and driven, but at the same time, so collaborative — open to learning about other cultures, learning from others as well as teaching others. There’s so much to learn from one other, and it’s a wonderfully collaborative community. Secondly, folks have a great sense of humor and are really down to earth despite being so accomplished. As it’s been said, INSEAD students take their work seriously, but don’t take themselves seriously, and this, along with the collaborative community, lends to a supportive environment. Thirdly, there are so many opportunities to get to know your peers at parties and social gatherings, as well as student-organized trips. They’re a whole lotta fun, and I know my year would have been much less colorful without them!”

Joy Yang, MBA graduate of 2020, says LBS expands your international horizon: “I chose LBS to expand my mind, experience, and network. For ‘mind’, I get to hear the perspectives of my classmates, who typically have around 5+ years of experience and worked around the world. For ‘experience’, LBS has the Global Business Experience (GBE) as part of the curriculum, where we applied what we learned in the classroom to empower a developing community. I attended the Johannesburg, South Africa GBE and it was one of the most eye-opening experiences I have ever had. For my network, now, if I ever needed advice or contacts to a part of the world that I have never been, I can now just reach out to the LBS community. LBS really fulfilled what I was looking for.”

Admitted to both LBS and INSEAD: how to choose?

Cathy has firsthand knowledge of the dilemma of how to select among the two: “Firstly, I truly believe that you should try to visit both campuses (at least one of INSEAD’s) and see whether you can picture yourself really living life there, in terms of the environment, culture, language. If that’s not possible, try to do a virtual campus tour, but also do research on the city/ town and be realistic with yourself on whether you’ll fully enjoy it, as you’ll be calling it home for the duration of the MBA!”

“Secondly, looking at post-MBA career opportunities, it’ll be again important to consider the locations. For example, LBS’s prime location in London will enable you very accessible contacts in the city, and similarly, INSEAD’s Singapore location will enable you convenient access to contacts in Singapore. Of course, that’s not to say you won’t be able to find global career opportunities outside of these two cities, but it’s one thing to keep in mind. Time is important in all of our lives, and if you’re set on networking as much as possible in one of those cities while thoroughly enjoying your MBA experience, it’ll save you time by living there.

“Thirdly, and most importantly, don’t forget all the conversations you had with students and alumni of both schools, all the research you’ve done during the application process, and your impressions from your interviews at both schools. The culture of the school is extremely important, and while you’ve been admitted partly because both schools see your fit with their school communities, you’ll have to decide where you can best see yourself, and how you feel.”

“Finally, as with many life decisions, it all comes down to priorities! You’re in a very privileged position, so take a moment to be grateful, figure out your priorities, and go for it — you’ll be attending a phenomenal school either way.”

Check out our other Which MBA comparisons here.  Evaluate Oxford versus Cambridge here.

Request a free consultation with a Principal
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Reprinted from Poetsandquants, 2021