ISB Essay Analysis 2020 – 2021
Last updated on June 25th, 2019
Let us make a wild guess! You probably googled the words “ISB Essay Analysis” or some variation of that phrase to get here. You have most likely taken the GMAT, and you feel that you have a good shot at getting into ISB this year.
Except, there is one problem: you can’t get your head around the ISB Application Essays.
We get it! You probably haven’t written an essay in a long time—let alone MBA application essays that require you to probe into the deepest corners of your mind. Still, you wrote drafts, rewrote them a couple of times, only to delete them in the end. Now you are so frustrated, you want to give up altogether.
All of this can be overwhelming, but chin up! We are here, and you have come to the right place.
In this article, we will take you behind the scenes to analyze what exactly ISB is looking for through the essays. Then, we will provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to tackle the ISB Application Essays this year.
We will be touching upon the following sections:
- Important Dates and Rounds for ISB
- ISB MBA Application Essay Analysis
- What does ISB look for in Applicants?
- Typical Applicant Categories at ISB
- How to Write to Impress the ISB AdCom
Let’s get started right away!
1. Important dates and rounds for ISB
Let’s look at the dates released by ISB for this year:
A note above this Admission Calendar on the ISB website reads, “Though applying in either round does not impact your chances of securing an admission offer, we encourage you to apply in Round 1 to improve your chances of receiving a scholarship.”
As per the ISB official website, here are a few reasons why you should be doing so:
- Full tuition fee waivers will be offered only to Round 1 applicants
- 50% of all merit and need-based waivers will be offered to Round 1 applicants
So, is applying in Round 1 actually advantageous?
One thing is for sure: pushing for applications in Round 1 is a marketing strategy to ensure that ISB is your first choice (plus the added advantages given above).
We recommend that you apply when your chances of an admit are really high. For example, if you think you need to retake the GMAT, then apply in Round 2 or 3, skipping Round 1. On the other hand, if you have a strong profile and a well-written application, the rounds don’t really matter. Your chances of getting in will not be affected by which round you choose.
However, if you decide to apply for Round 1, you will have more time to prepare for your MBA. In case you didn’t know, after your confirmation, ISB will send you prep materials to study. You don’t have to go through it, but if you do, it will help you perform better during your course.
Now, let’s try and understand how to tackle the ISB essays!
2. ISB Application Essay Analysis 2020-21
This year too, as it has done traditionally, ISB has stuck to two themes:
- Tell us how you are different from others
- Tell us why you want the ISB PGP
On the face of it, the premises seem simple, but let us dig deep into what ISB really wants to see in the essays.
Essay Question 1
There will be 900 students in the Class of 2021. Why should you be one of them? (400 words)
A. What is ISB looking for?
This essay is essentially asking WHO you are.
Think of it this way:
ISB already has your undergraduate transcripts, your GMAT/GRE scores, your work experience, your application form, your extracurricular activities, the awards and recognition you have received, and letters from your recommenders detailing your strengths and weaknesses.
Ask yourself: Why does ISB still want me to write this essay?
The answer is clear:
ISB wants to know more about you than what the numbers, statistics, and records collectively reveal.
What they want to know is what makes you who you are. They want to get a sense of what you would be like in their classroom.
And you have a generous 400 words to show them exactly that.
B. How to approach this essay
There are many ways to approach this essay. But we recommend telling two stories that showcase your personality.
Pick one personal story and one work-related story, so that it presents a holistic picture of your personality.
Now, if you’ve mentioned some achievements in your profile, you might think you shouldn’t talk about the same stuff again.
But here’s the thing:
Sometimes, the story behind an achievement can reveal a lot that the achievement itself does not.
The story can talk about what makes something an achievement rather than it simply being something you once did. But more importantly, the story can show the AdCom what drives you, what you’re capable of, and what makes you who you are.
And, as we said before, that’s what they’re expecting from this essay, too.
The question then is, how do you tell these stories for maximum effect?
We recommend that you should use the START framework to tell your stories in the best manner possible. The START framework is:
Situation: Explain the background in which this story takes place
Task: Highlight what specific requirement had to be addressed
Action: Write about the steps you took to complete your task
Results: Elaborate on the direct outcome of your actions
Takeaways: Talk about what you learned from that experience
Before you start writing the essays, sit down with a bunch of post-it notes and do this:
Write down everything you would like to say about yourself, with one idea per post-it. Ask your friends or family for help if you have trouble recollecting stories that highlight your strengths.
Once you have it all written down, try to pass each of them through these three tests:
- Relevancy Test:
– Is it relevant to your application?
– Does it showcase your capability?
- Recency Test:
– Is this something that happened in the last 2-3 years?
– If from earlier, does it have an overarching impact on me?
- Uniqueness Test:
– Is this something that is different from what my peer group does?
– Does this help differentiate my candidature from others?
In the end, you will be left with the top 2-3 incidents or stories you should write about. Once you decide which stories you’re going to go with, you can start structuring your essay.
It is critical to structure your stories well, otherwise, their entire impact could be lost. In the next section, we take you through the best way to structure your essay.
C. How to structure your essays
We’re pretty sure you know at least one person who is just really bad at telling stories. Some people tend to tell stories so badly that even the most inspiring stories come out sounding insipid and boring.
You do not want to be that person while writing your ISB MBA Application Essays.
To ensure that your stories make a great impression, you will need to structure them carefully. Since there are two stories in your essay, here’s a format that we recommend you should follow:
- Introduction – 50 words. This is the preamble to the essay.
- Story #1 – 150 words. Set the context, describe the incident, and highlight the personality trait you want to emphasize through the story.
- Story #2 – 150 words. Repeat what you did for story #1.
- Closing – 50 words. In this conclusion, try to come back full circle and tie this to what you opened the essay with.
Note that a well-rounded essay will get you extra brownie points for driving the central point home.
This structure follows a simple pattern:
- State the traits of your personality that want to talk about.
- Demonstrate that you have those traits by narrating incidents from your life.
- Reinforce the idea that it is a trait and not a one-off.
- Convince your readers by looping to the start and completing the circle.
Here’s the scary part, though:
You could follow all this to the T and still end up sounding ineffectual unless you avoid some critical mistakes people often make.
We discuss the most common mistakes people make on application essays and how to avoid them in the next section.
D. What NOT to do in this essay
Here we describe the most common mistakes that people make. We also tell you how to avoid falling into these same traps.
Let’s take a look!
- Rewriting from your resume
If there are things you have mentioned in detail elsewhere in your application, do not rewrite include it in the essay. Just focus on the subjective parts of the story to reveal the person behind the numbers.
- Explaining in too much detail
Wasting valuable space explaining the problem in so much detail that you are left with no space to explain your personal takeaways and contribution to ISB. Remember that the details can be explained in the interview.
Trying to mention too many qualities and ending up with nothing memorable. For example, if you say you are empathetic, creative, passionate, honest, responsible, kind, courageous, self-aware, a life-long learner, a good listener, a strong leader. . . You get the drift, right? It’ll never work! Stick to just 2-3 adjectives and drive home the point.
Keep in mind that there is a word limit to this essay. You have to be able to say everything you need within that limit.
Now, let’s move on to the next ISB MBA Application Essay Question.
Essay Question 2
What will you be doing in 2025 and 2030? How will the ISB PGP help you to achieve these goals? (400 words)
A. What is ISB looking for?
In our opinion, this is nothing but a short-term and long-term career goals essay.
ISB wants to make sure you’re not just another “cubicle rat” who only wants a higher salary and is willing to do anything for it. They don’t want people who have only vague ideas about what they want from their careers.
ISB wants to know if you have enough clarity about your goals to know what you really want.
Here are a few more aspects that ISB will look for in this essay:
- High Employability – Someone who won’t have to struggle to find a job after graduating.
- Realistic Expectations – Someone who knows exactly what she can gain from ISB rather than expecting it to be Alladin’s magic lamp.
- Clarity of Thought – Someone who knows not only where to get to in life but also how to get there.
Given this, it is important that you come across as a person who has a “plan” in place through this essay.
It is also important that you don’t fall for the typical internet-based myths about ISB MBA Applications. You should also read about 14 Post-MBA Career Questions that ISB answers before moving further! (Just to be on the safe side of things.)
The next section details how you should approach this essay.
B. How to approach this essay
There are three parts to this essay:
- Your 2025 Goal
- Your 2030 Goal, and
- How you think ISB’s PGP will help you.
So, you need to figure out three answers.
For the first answer, you need to start by identifying your career goal for 2025.
Here are three things to think about to help you arrive at your answer:
- Function: Figure out the role in which you see yourself. Do you want to be in Consulting, Finance, Marketing, Operations, or HR? Pick anyone you like!
- Industry: Since any function will have applications in every industry, pick out the one you want to be in.
- Geography: Do you want to stay in India or go abroad? In the case of the latter, where exactly do you see yourself?
You can even use LinkedIn for Students in your research to see the kind of positions you could get into after your PGP.
Once you elaborate on your 2025 goal, the 2030 goal becomes sort of self-evident.
That will take care of the second part of the question. We recommend not getting into too much detail on the 2030 goal because you can only write 400 words. The AdCom will be okay with getting an idea that you know where you’re heading.
To address the third part of the question, spend some time researching how ISB will help you meet your goals.
Remember, ISB also wants prospective candidates to know that it can help them meet their goals. So, a significant amount of their own content could give you the answer to how this PGP will help you. Start by taking a look at the ISB website.
Soon enough, you will have answers to the “what you need to say” part of this essay.
Now, we move on to talking about how you should say it for maximum effect.
C. How to structure your essay
The three things to talk about in this essay are your 2025 goal, your 2030 goal, and how the PGP will help you to achieve them.
To do justice to each answer, here’s how we suggest you should divide your essay:
- 1. Career Goals – 150 to 200 words
- 2. How this PGP will help you achieve your goals – 200 to 250 words
Now, let’s discuss this in some more detail.
Since this is a rather direct question, you can get straight to the point in your answer. Talk about the job you want to do and the kind of company you want to be working for in 2025. It’s critical to mention the function, industry, company size, and location you’ve thought of.
Do this in about 150-170 words.
Don’t get into too much detail about the 2030 goal; just make sure that it logically follows your 2025 goal. Try to wrap up both the answers within 200 words.
The next part is the most important; it’s about how ISB’s PGP will help you achieve these goals.
Start with the tools you will need in order to achieve your goal. For example, if you have a background in marketing, you’ll need to understand how Finance, Operations, and Logistics work to get into a management role. So, you need cross-functional knowledge.
Similarly, you also need leadership and team management skills. Talk about how the PGP will help you gain these things. Also, mention how ISB’s vast network and brand value will help speed up the whole process of achieving your goals.
Conclude with a single line that summarizes the essence of what your essay is about.
D. What NOT to do in this essay
There are many obvious things that aren’t even worth mentioning here, like making grammatical mistakes or typographical errors. It’s a given that you’ll be avoiding those things.
Here’s the slightly less obvious stuff you need to actively avoid:
- Set Unrealistic Goals
Make sure your career goals are high enough to make ISB believe that you wouldn’t achieve it without their PGP. But make sure that it’s also realistic enough that it sounds like it can be done. This makes it convincing and makes you look like a person with a plan.
- Repeating Things
Reiterating something for emphasis is quite different from repeating the same thing. When you reiterate, it is adding more value or significance. But repeating is where you’re adding nothing new by saying the same thing. There isn’t enough space for you to do this!
- Being Vague
Whether it is in your praise for ISB or in your description of your career goals, make sure you’re specific. Wanting to “dedicate the year to learning, self-discovery, and exploration of possible careers” may sound very cool, but it shows the exact absence of focus that ISB will want to avoid.
Let’s now turn to what ISB wants in your personality.
3. What does ISB look for in applicants?
To be quite straightforward, there are three basic things that ISB wants from applicants:
A. Academic Credentials
This would be your 12th standard grades, graduation grades, post graduation and certification scores and, of course, the all-important: GMAT/GRE score. Here is our analysis of the GMAT and GRE scores needed for ISB:
If you’ve scored less than 700 on the GMAT, read about your chances at ISB with less than a GMAT 700.
B. Leadership Potential
To quote the ISB site: “Applicants are evaluated on the basis of the impact they have made in their past professional and personal life.”
What this essentially means is this: tell us something that was a big deal. Either at work or outside of it.
This should be quantifiable. Typically this can be measured by out of turn promotions, and/or awards that attest your achievement.
C. Personal Attributes
To quote from the site again: “At ISB, we would look for versatile and well-rounded individuals who can contribute to the society in positive and meaningful ways.”
Essentially this means: We don’t want self-absorbed people who cannot look beyond their own personal gain. We want people who can be team players because almost all the activities at ISB are organized by students.
Also, given that ISB follows the “case study” methodology, it is important to have a diverse opinion in the classroom so that the quality of participation is higher. This is good news for people who bring in a different perspective.
Here are some of the myths that stop people with lower GMAT scores and higher work experience from applying to ISB.
As long as you have these three attributes, you stand a good chance to get an admit!
4. How does ISB Categorize Applicants?
ISB has never officially revealed this information, but you need to know the answer to improve your chances of getting in. So, we’re giving you our analysis of the categories that we think you could fall into.
A school like ISB will typically have 4 types of applicants. Let’s take a look at each type:
A. High Achievers
So you have been a topper/ranker/any-term-that-says-you’re-a-high-achiever all of your life. You typically went to one of the IITs and ended up with a high GMAT score. Moreover, you work for an employer that most people would die (or kill) for.
You have a very high chance of getting in! You already know this.
But, a word of caution:
You need to ensure you navigate through this application process carefully. You don’t want to be misunderstood as either an 800-pound alpha male who suffers from low EQ or an applicant who is aiming for the top 10 US B-schools but wants ISB on “standby” mode.
B. Diversity Candidates
Let’s say you work for a very underrepresented industry. Say, you are a NIFT graduate working in the merchandising department with Levi Strauss. Or you are a doctor who practices in the Vidarbha region. Or you could be an Army major who served on the Siachen glacier.
ISB would love to have you in the class to improve its diversity.
There is only one thing for you to be worried about:
Most people in this category end up not having great GMAT scores. You might still have a shot if your score is above 600. (Read: Sub-700 GMAT Score – What are your chances at ISB?) So, you need to help address concerns about your ability to manage the coursework. The second part of the concern would be addressing one crucial point: no one in your industry “needs” an MBA so “why” do you. If you can articulate clearly how an MBA is going to help you, then you should pretty much nail the application.
Note: Though women applicants are favored, you won’t be in this group if you are from the typical pre-MBA industries of IT, Finance, etc.
C. Poor Profiles
You could have one of these three issues in your application:
- You have a gap in your academic record—typically patchy with “breaks”
- Your experience level is on the lower side—again with some gaps
- Your GMAT score is about 50-point lower than your peer group’s
In some cases, you may have more than one issue to tackle.
If retaking the GMAT is out of the question for you, then our recommendation is to focus on the unique traits and characteristics in your personality. Write kicka$$ essays and pray that you get an interview call. And if you do get an interview call, dazzle the interview panel with your wit, personality, and humor. Do you get the drift? So you need to really outshine in the other departments!
D. Demographically Disadvantaged
Suppose you fall in this category. You have a decent GMAT score: 680-720 types. You have decent academics (top 25%) from a decent college (think: DCE, RVCE, PEC, etc). You work in a very traditional industry (IT, Finance, Operations) with an employer who recruits heavily from campuses (TCS, Wipro, Infosys, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, Reliance, Tata).
There is nothing wrong with your profile, but ISB might be confused on how to evaluate you. There are just too many of your ilk applying this year. With the startup scene slowing down, and tech & manufacturing sector not looking very rosy in the face of automation—there are just a LOT of applicants this year who have similar profiles as yours.
So what do you do:
Here are 3 key things you need to do:
Differentiate! Differentiate! Differentiate!
The biggest mistake people make is that they try to “fit in”. They will say the same things that everyone else is saying and pick the same post-MBA goals (consulting). So the essays read the same “I was working on this tough project, the client was demanding, and my boss had quit—so I stepped up to the task, worked late hours, and won laurels for completing the project on time.”
Here is a simple exercise. Create an imaginary character. Let’s call him Amit.
Amit has a profile “similar” to yours but just a little better.
So, if you have 3 years working in Infosys, Amit has 4 years experience working in Microsoft.
If you have graduated from BITS Pilani then Amit has graduated from IIT-Delhi.
If you have a 720 on the GMAT then Amit has a 740 on it.
Do you get the picture? Everything like you—but just a little better.
So, the challenge you have now is: how do I convince ISB that I am better than “Amit”.
Note: For women applicants, just replace Amit with Anjali 🙂
The idea is that you have to fit into one of these four categories. If you haven’t already understood where you fit in, seek help from a friend or another third person. Finding out where you stand will have a major impact on how you need to frame your application. So, make sure you find out before you start writing your essays!
5. How to write to impress the ISB Adcom
Okay, we know the heading sounds interesting but the answer is quite contrary to what you might expect:
Do not attempt to impress the ISB AdCom!!
Not only will they be able to see that you are not being yourself, but you will also do a great disservice to yourself by sounding similar to all the other applicants!
Being yourself can be a pretty daunting task. Not only do you need to figure out who you are but you also have to be that person!
Still, that’s the strategy we recommend strongly.
You can take a printout and post it where you will be sitting to write the essays.
The key to drafting a successful ISB application essay lies in your ability to clearly communicate your thoughts in detail yet without exceeding the word limit.
If you have a great GMAT score with an excellent profile and are confident about your way ahead then you should be able to manage the application journey independently.
However, we also realize that people who don’t have a stellar profile and are unfamiliar with writing detailed essays might find it difficult to come up with an amazing essay highlighting their story and adhering to the word limit. You might run the risk of speaking your mind at length or getting to the point too quickly and losing the soul of your story. It’s a tightrope walk all the way!
Don’t lose heart!
That’s about it, folks!
We hope that this blog has given you a fair idea and an outline on how to go about with your ISB MBA application process. This blog is a good starting point but in the end, it’s the execution that matters!
If you have any feedback, do let us know in the comments section below. We will personally answer all your queries.
In case you’re wondering whether you will get an interview call from ISB, try out our ISB Interview Predictor, now!