Unveiling the HEC Paris MBA: A Deepdive with Sara Vanos, Executive Director, Marketing & Admissions

By Arvind Kumar

The HEC Paris MBA, ranked #5 worldwide and #2 in Europe (QS Global MBA Rankings, 2024) offers a holistic 16-month program for professionals aiming to transform their careers. 

The class size of the HEC Paris MBA 2022 cohort is 285, with the average pre-MBA experience being 6 years. 91% of the cohort is international, with participants from Asia & Oceania (38%), Europe (22%), Africa & Middle East (18%), Latin America (11%) and North America (11%). The average age of the cohort is 30, and women comprise 35% of the class.

Within 3 months of graduation, 92% of the candidates accepted job offers. HEC’s cross-cultural learning experiences, focus on consulting, marketing/ sales, general management and leadership, and its global exposure have led to its rise in rankings over the years.

Sara Vanos, Executive Director, Marketing & Admissions at HEC Paris MBA

Arvind Kumar, Founder at admitStreet interviewed Sara Vanos, Executive Director, Marketing & Admissions at HEC Paris MBA, to cover topics ranging from the HEC Paris MBA admissions process and curriculum to post-MBA careers, scholarships and other lesser-known aspects of the program. 

Q&A with Sara Vanos, Executive Director, Marketing & Admissions

HEC Paris MBA: Intro & Intakes

HEC Paris MBA candidates working
HEC Paris MBA – Students at the Library

admitStreet: What are some recent updates about the HEC Paris MBA that you’d like to share with applicants?

Sara: We are continually revamping our curriculum to meet the needs of our students and provide them with the freshest business knowledge. One example is that our Marketing specialization was recently revamped to integrate data science and AI elements that are essential to the marketeers of the future. 

Other recent updates include: 

  • MBA Specialization, Data & AI for Business Transformation: Building businesses based on data and artificial intelligence is crucial in today’s world for organizations of any size, from startups to large ventures. Facing an increasing number of positions requiring skills in data, this specialization opens access to this field and is for all students, including those without experience in data science. 
  • Our redesigned and newly launched New Horizons MBA Capstone, which is made up of three timely workshops, designed to help participants connect what they learned throughout their MBA to produce groundbreaking and impactful insights for businesses. During the workshop, students will connect with a broad community of experts.
  • In the past year, we have introduced intensive courses (3-day courses) and certifications (1-2 days) for our MBA and EMBA students that address professional and industry specific skills and cover a range of topics, from blockchain and fundraising to leadership and investing. Afterskills Certifications cover topics such as data & AI. The latest intensive courses included Design, Management & Strategy, Family Business, Search Funds & Entrepreneurial Acquisitions, and Industrial Decarbonization.
  • CDL continues to expand with its new Space Stream offering. 
  • Our Careers curriculum is being continually revamped to ensure we develop leaders with a good understanding of responsible leadership. 

admitStreet: There are two intakes to the HEC MBA: September and January. What are the key differences between the two intakes, and what factors should candidates consider while choosing which intake to apply for?

Sara: We have two intakes each year, in September and January. All of our MBA students follow the exact same core curriculum, regardless of intake and specialization.

Our 16-month-long program is specifically designed to give you the time needed to learn new skills, as well as gain specific work experience in a new sector or job function.

It incorporates a personalized career-development program with HEC Talents, our career center, as well as unique, hands-on learning and leadership opportunities. It is an ideal length of time to make a real impact on your future without keeping you out of the workforce for too long.

HEC Paris MBA Admissions: Steps, Essays, Interviews

HEC Paris MBA welcome cocktail
HEC MBA Welcome Cocktail Event

admitStreet: Could you decode the process of how HEC applications are evaluated? Who evaluates them, and what are the steps involved from when an application is received to when a final decision is rendered?

Sara: We connect with applicants from the moment they make first contact with us, so the time before submitting an actual application is just as important as the time after they have submitted it. 

At HEC Paris, we try to get to know each and every applicant through email or phone before they apply, so we understand them and their goals. Once they submit, the relationship doesn’t end. As applicants move through the process, their Marketing & Recruitment Manager (MRM) stays in touch.

Once a complete application is submitted, applicants will know within 2-3 weeks if they have made it to the final round of consideration. If they are selected to move into the final round, alumni interviews will be scheduled and the application will hear from both their Admissions Officer and MRM, who will offer them advice on their upcoming interviews with two MBA alumni. 

In the 2 – 3 weeks following pre-selection, the candidate will meet two MBA alumni for one-on-one interviews. They will have the chance to both present on a topic of their choice and discuss with our alumni to assess fit. The interviews are traditionally in person and take place in over 80 countries.

After the alumni interviews, we host the official jury, wherein we make admissions decisions. The whole process takes 5 weeks, which means applicants will know if they’re admitted within 5 weeks of submitting their applications. 

Once admitted, candidates can apply for a merit-based scholarship.

admitStreet: There are 10-11 application rounds for each intake i.e. one round every month. Do you see any rounds (e.g. Sep) with peaks i.e. many applicants? Do chances of admissions/ scholarships reduce towards the later rounds, particularly for international applicants?

Sara: We are very proud to have monthly application deadlines, as it ensures that candidates get their admissions decision quickly – the whole process, including interviews, takes 5 weeks from the Deadline.

We see great applications throughout the year, with a peak in the first rounds, however, applicants have the same chance to be admitted across rounds as we look at each application and how it fits in the class – keeping spaces through all rounds. 

We do advise applicants to think about applying earlier than later, so they have time to celebrate and plan their journey including visa and living arrangements, if applicable.

There are scholarships available in each round, including the last.  We assess candidates based on the excellence of their application, and admitted students are considered for excellence and diversity scholarships. 

admitStreet: Share with us your top tips for the application essays. 

Sara: Candidates should review the essay questions carefully before responding to ensure they have the best response. When planning your essay responses, you should also look at each question and make sure your responses complement each other in order to avoid too much repetition. 

Most importantly candidates should write from the heart and present their true selves. And finally, they should remember to spell check and carefully proofread!

admitStreet: Tell us about the interview process once a candidate is shortlisted. Who conducts the interviews, and what are the key aspects being evaluated? 

Sara:  Top candidates will move on to the interview round of the application process. We receive over 2,500 applications per year and around 20 percent are advanced into the final round of interviews. 

The interviews are conducted by two MBA alumni. Each interview is about one hour. During this time candidates meet with an alumni from their city of their choice. They will share a presentation on a topic they have chosen and have time to ask the interviewer about the program and its culture. Interviews are typically conducted in person but have moved to video chat during Covid. 

Our interviewers assess if the program is right for the candidate and if both interviewers feel it is not, then a candidate is not admitted to the program. We believe that our alumni know best who will succeed and fit at the HEC Paris MBA and we put our ultimate trust in our past students.

admitStreet: The application includes 2 Letters of Recommendation (LoRs). How should candidates pick their recommenders? What makes for a strong LoR? 

Sara: Most candidates would choose either a colleague or manager as a recommender. 

It’s important that the recommender speak of specific examples of how the person stood out on a project or in a situation. Letters can also discuss examples when the person has shown leadership abilities. The purpose of these letters is to enable the admissions committee to get to know the applicant better on a professional level. 

Recommendations are generally a good indicator of the candidate’s profile once he or she becomes a student. Will he or she be a leader or more of a behind-the-scenes contributor during his or her MBA?

admitStreet: What is your advice for applicants who have a less conventional background (e.g. age above 30, low GMAT/ GRE, arts/ social-sector degree) or career path (e.g. multiple job switches) on how they can make their application stand out?

Sara: Our MBA Program is known for its diversity, and this includes not only many nationalities but also varied professional backgrounds. We are very open to reviewing applications and considering people from less conventional backgrounds or who may not be a traditional MBA program fit. 

We encourage candidates to speak from the heart and be true to themselves in their essays.

In addition, we have an open essay, where applicants can share anything that they would like.  It can explain a gap in their CV, or how they’ve experienced diversity, or the challenges that brought them to this place today. This can be very useful in getting to know our candidates and understand their situation. 

We advise all candidates to firstly get in touch with one of our MRMs on our site. Our team will be happy to advise you on the elements of your application that need to be developed further. There is no typical profile when it comes to MBA students at HEC Paris.

HEC Paris MBA Academics: Curriculum, International Exchange

HEC Paris MBA students
MBA Tournament (MBAT) at HEC Campus

admitStreet: How do you ensure that the curriculum retains its rigor and practicality despite its shorter format (i.e. 16 months) compared to 2-year US MBA format?

Sara: HEC Paris MBA participants are not only taught skills – the program combines rigorous academic theory with learning by doing, driving students to stretch their limits. Just as in the real world of business, our students develop an approach to problem solving and decision making that they will use throughout their lives, preparing them to go further than they ever thought possible. 

The 16-month duration of the program, gives students enough time to graduate armed with the latest knowledge of today and well-prepared to solve the business problems of tomorrow. 

In the Fundamental Phase, students develop the core management skills needed to excel in any industry, anywhere in the world. And then they go deeper during the second phase of the program, where they have the flexibility to pursue specialized students and hands-on learning in the sector of their choice.

admitStreet: What are some of the unique learning methodologies and curriculum/ courses (e.g. Outdoor Leadership Seminar) adopted in the HEC MBA program?

Sara: One of the highlights of the HEC Paris MBA is our Specializations offer. Our students can tailor their MBA with one of our seven specializations offered during the Customized Phase. These advanced modules allow students to focus on a specific management skill-set, developing their expertise. To learn more about our specializations visit here 

In addition, leadership is a major theme in our program, irrespective of a student’s chosen concentration. Leadership, at its core, is about the ability to influence, and we strive constantly to help our students become more influential so that they can make a positive impact in the world.

Our MBA students are immersed in thoughtful leadership training, which is embedded across our curriculum offerings. Students are taught with a learning-by-doing approach, which puts leadership theory that is learned in the classroom into practice, when students are immersed in unforgettable hands-on, leadership development experiences, such as our Outdoor Leadership Seminar or MBA Tournament.  

More information on specific Leadership Activities: 

  • During our Outdoor Leadership Seminar students spend two days proving – and improving – their team-leadership skills during a series of increasingly difficult field exercises supervised by military-trained professionals. The program develops participants’ confidence to lead in all circumstances and teaches them how to motivate others to work toward a common goal.
  • The MBAT, renowned as the MBA Olympics, is the largest gathering of MBA students in Europe. Students participate as members of the MBAT’s core team, and take on the responsibility of organizing a three-day, multisport competition for 1,500 participants. Students are entirely responsible for the MBAT, including all of its organizational and operational details.
  • The Executive Committee on Campus (TEC) is a mentorship and business-leadership program designed to help students define their long-term personal and professional goals. 

admitStreet: Tell us about the HEC-Yale Double-Degree program. How is the program structured, and what is the application criteria and process?

Sara: The M2M HEC Paris-Yale SOM double degree allows students to study management and business on two major campuses, respectively in Europe and the United States. Students spend year one at HEC Paris in the MBA program and year two in the Yale School of Management’s Master of Advanced Management program. At the completion of year two, students will graduate with an MBA degree from HEC Paris and an MAM degree from Yale.

By spending two years at two leading business schools on different continents, students get a unique global perspective, learn from leading business experts in Europe and the United States, and connect with two vibrant business school communities.

In year one at HEC, students complete the rigorous MBA core curriculum and gain competencies in leadership, finance, marketing, and other subjects. At Yale, students take additional leadership and business courses, and choose from electives offered throughout Yale University to pursue their professional interests.

Credits earned at Yale through the MAM program will count toward the HEC MBA degree. Students can apply simultaneously to HEC Paris and Yale SOM by completing their HEC Paris MBA application.

Careers @ HEC Paris MBA

HEC Paris MBA graduates posing at graduation
HEC Paris MBA Graduation Ceremony

admitStreet: As per the 2023 employment statistics, 37% of HEC MBA graduates landed a role in Consulting, 20% in Technology, 17% in Finance. Tell us about the recruitment process, particularly for Consulting, Tech & Finance roles, and how HEC’s Career Services center helps students along the journey.

Sara: HEC Talents, our Career Center, works with students through the career curriculum. They coach students and ensure that they have adapted their CV and cover letter for the industry and company they are interested in working.

We work with major consulting companies and are aware of application deadlines and some of them have specific recruitment processes for HEC students. Major consulting companies have application deadlines with a more or less clear windows for applications and sometimes a specific recruitment process for HEC. The same goes for the Tech industry and Finance industry. 

We also work closely with students to build a compelling and engaging pitch and in parallel, we practice interview questions with them. Candidates are also prepared for case cracking through workshops and digital tools. 

As for the technical part, candidates are prepared to case cracking through workshops and digital tools. We have a comprehensive end-to-end career curriculum that offers candidates with the required resources, tools and skills to ace interviews. 

admitStreet: 34% of HEC MBA graduates managed to do a triple jump i.e. changed industry, function, and geography. Any specific tips for candidates looking to make a triple jump? 

Sara: Some tips:

  • Understand and communicate well on the transferable skills
  • Show passion and motivation for this move
  • Connect with alumni who did the same
  • Work closely with the dedicated coach in the career center 
  • Attend different soft skills and industry focused workshops
  • Seek feedback
  • Build a strong network
  • Stay updated on industry trends and advancements to remain competitive
  • Regularly assess your progress towards your career goals and adjust as needed

admitStreet: Paris, and broadly Europe, is considered a Retail/ Luxury hub. What kind of roles/ functions do candidates land in this sector? 

Sara: These positions span from Internal Auditors at prestigious brands like Valentino and Supply Chain internships that offer foundational industry experience, to strategic and leadership roles such as Client Development Project Manager at Parfums Christian Dior, Global Head of E-retail at La Prairie, Consumer Insights & Loyalty Director at AWWG, and executive positions like VP of Tech or Director of Fashion Innovation at the Chalhoub Group. This sector is dynamic, offering opportunities in operational, strategic, and innovative capacities.

admitStreet: Is it compulsory to learn a European language as part of the HEC MBA curriculum? For internationals with less/ no prior European language exposure, are there roles (e.g. PM, Finance) or geographies (e.g. UK, Middle East) that are typically attractive?

Sara: In order to obtain the HEC Paris MBA degree, participants must provide evidence of a minimum working (B1) proficiency by April 30, to graduate in May, and by September 30, to graduate in October.

If your first language is English, you must show a minimum B1 proficiency in a 2nd official language. If your first language is not English and English is the 2nd language by default, you must show a minimum B1 proficiency in a 3rd official language.

While the majority of our students secure employment and settle post-MBA in Europe, others settle elsewhere. In the Class of 2023, 68 percent of the class secured employment outside of their home country. Here is the breakdown of where the class went: 

  • 36% Europe (not including France)
  • 23% France 
  • 13% Africa & Middle East
  • 11% Asia & Oceania
  • 9% North America
  • 8% Latin America 

Scholarships, Concluding Remarks

HEC Paris MBA scholarship ceremony
HEC Paris MBA Scholarship Ceremony

admitStreet: How does one apply for scholarships: are there separate scholarship essays? Approximately what % of the class receives a scholarship?

Sara: 65 percent of admitted candidates receive scholarships. The amounts vary from 8 percent to 50 percent of the tuition fees. 

admitStreet: What are your tips to applicants on how they can increase their chances of securing a scholarship? 

Sara: A wide range of scholarships are available for students, some of which require a specific application or circumstances. All candidates are considered for our Excellence and Diversity Scholarships. We are able to offer students over €1,000,000 in aid every year thanks to the work of the HEC Foundation. Based on academic excellence, the strength of the application and interviews, as well as their GMAT score, the merit-based scholarships can cover up to 50 percent of the student’s tuition fees. 

We were very excited to recently launch the Laidlaw Scholarship Program, in partnership with the HEC Foundation, and the Laidlaw Foundation, for exceptional women interested in doing an MBA.

The program will pave the way for talented women to access the HEC Paris MBA and unlock their full potential. Scholarships will be awarded to 10 women each year, who have exceptional academic and professional backgrounds, but are facing financial barriers for a top-notch MBA. The scholarship covers full tuition.

admitStreet: Besides the online group webinars, how can applicants connect with the AdCom at a personal level, if they have any questions or clarifications?

Sara: For candidates interested in the HEC Paris MBA, they should take the time to first connect with us. After that they are contacted by one of our Marketing & Recruitment Manager who specializes in their region and will give them feedback and coach them through the application process, ensuring that their application is done correctly and in the most complete way possible. 

admitStreet: Many thanks for your time and insights, Sara. We appreciate it and hope this will give applicants a comprehensive overview of the HEC Paris MBA. 

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