ISB Essay Analysis 2018- 2019

Last updated on June 25th, 2018

Reading Time: 16minutes

So you googled for the term “ISB Essay Analysis” or some variant of that phrase to land up on this page.
And chances are you have taken the GMAT, and feel that you have a shot at applying to the ISB this year.
However, you have no idea how to go about writing an MBA application essay. Or maybe you tried but are frustrated staring a blank Word document – not knowing how to proceed further. Afterall, you have never written essays in a long time – let alone essays that expect you to introspect into the deepest corners of your heart and mind!
If all of this looks overwhelming then worry not! You have come to the right place.
Over the last several years our ISB Essay Analyses have helped 1000s of students write their application essays (honestly – we don’t know the exact number, this is more of a guesstimate based on the feedback and comments we have received).
In this article we will take you behind the scenes to analyze what exactly ISB is looking for through the essays and provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to tackle the application essays this year.
So grab your cup of coffee. This article will take you about 10 minutes to read if you choose not to process anything during this read, and slightly longer if you chose to take notes and internalize the information.
We will be touching upon the following sections:
1. Important dates and rounds for ISB
2 a. Essay 1 Analysis
2 b. Essay 2 Analysis
3. What does ISB look for in applicants
4. How does ISB evaluate the essays?
5. The process of writing: how to impress the ISB AdCom
Let us get started right away!

1. Important dates and rounds for ISB

Okay so let us look at the dates released this year:

So one surprise that ISB sprung was shifting the application deadlines by a month. Old timers might remember that the September deadline was followed about 4-5 years back. So why has ISB pulled the dates back?
There are 2 possible reasons:
a. Till last year the R2 results would be out in March and the school started in April – giving the students no time to wind up things before starting their year.
b. The students who got the R1 admits had ample time to prepare for the program by reading up on various topics – this would not be a stark advantage this year.
Having said so, is applying in the 1st round advantageous?
Well as per the ISB official website, here are a few reasons why you should be doing so:

1. Full tuition fee waivers will be offered only to Cycle 1 applicants

2. 50% of all merit and need-based waivers will be offered to Cycle 1 applicants

But we can tell you from experience that this is more of a push from the marketing team to ensure that people are applying to ISB as the first school of choice. Apart from the 2 reasons cited above.
We would also recommend applying in R1 if possible. But if for whatever reasons it is not – then do apply in R2. It is not like everyone applying in R2 will be rejected. At the end of the day, they will shortlist all the best applications that they receive each year.

2. The ISB Application Essays for 2018-19 (for Class of 2019)

This year too, as it has done traditionally, ISB has stuck to two themes:
a. Tell us how you are different from others
b. Tell us why you want the ISB PGP
On the face of it, the premise seems pretty simple but let us dig deep into what ISB is asking us through the 2 questions:


Essay Question 1:

At ISB we value diversity as it enhances both the in-class and out of class learning experience. Tell us how would you contribute to the same?
A. What is ISB looking for:
This essay is really asking WHO are you.
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 the numbers / the statistics / the records reveal.
And you have a generous 400 words to do so.
B. How to approach this essay
There are many ways you can approach this essay but we would recommend writing 2 to 3 solid stories that showcase your personality. You can pick 2 stories if you feel you can elaborate on that. Else, if you are feeling adventurous and think you can do justice to 3 stories then do so.
Before you start writing the essays – sit down and write down everything you would like to talk about yourself. At CrackVerbal, as part of our admissions consulting process – we have a “Brag Sheet” that you need to fill out. You can however just write it on post-it notes. Just write 1 idea per post-it.
You may also ask for help from friends and family if you are having trouble recollecting stories. Best to avoid moms as they might have a larger than actual perception of your life achievements (which mom doesn’t! :P)
Once you have a bunch of post-it notes – you can categorize them into 3 categories:
(i) Work related achievements: this would be stuff you have done at work. Think of a large project or an important client or a side-hustle you worked on.
(ii) Personal achievements: this is stuff you have done in your personal life. Think of hobbies, or interests you have pursued – anything that makes you stand out.
(iii) Miscellaneous: this could be anything that doesn’t fit the above slots. Perhaps your family background or childhood may come into this category.
Now, try to pass each of the achievements you have mentioned through the following test:
(I) Relevancy Test:
– Is it relevant to your application?
– Does it showcase your capability?
(II) Recency Test:
– Is this something that happened in the last 2-3 years?
– If from earlier, does it have an overarching impact on me?
(III) Uniqueness Test:
– Is this something that is different from what my peer group does?
– Does this help differentiate my candidature from others?
At the end of the process you should be left with the top 2-3 things you need to speak about in your essays. In the CrackVerbal Application process, the mentor (an ISB alum) would walk you through the whole process.
C. How to structure your essays
So here is the deal: you don’t want to rush into the whole process. So the points need to be wrapped with something to open and close them with.
Here is the structure you need to follow if you are looking at picking 2 stories:
a. Introduction – 50 words. This is the preamble to the essay
b. Point #1 – 150 words. You need to say what quality, why you think so, and how you would contribute to ISB with that trait
c. Point #2 – 150 words. Again, repeat what you do for point #2
d. Closing – 50 words. This is the conclusion to the essay. If possible tie it with what you have begun the essay with
For a 3 story essay you can pick the following format:
a. Introduction line – 20 words. A good opening line to segway into the stories.
b. Point #1 – 120 words. Focus on the same story-quality-contribution triad.
c. Point #2 – 120 words. Same as above.
d. Point #3 – 120 words. You got the idea!
e. Closing line – 20 words. A closing sentence that wraps the whole thing in a nice bow tie.
D. What NOT to do on this essay
Here are the most common mistakes that people commit on this essay so beware:
a. Writing stuff from your resume: If there is stuff you have mentioned elsewhere in the application form then do not rewrite it here. Just focus on the subjective parts of the story so you can reveal the person behind the numbers.
b. Wasting valuable space explaining the problem in so much details 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.
c. Trying to stuff in too many qualities and ending up with nothing memorable. For example if you want to say you are empathetic, creative, passionate, life-long learner, a good listener, responsible, kind, a strong leader, honest, courageous, and self-aware … you will end up being none! Stick to just 2-3 adjectives and drive home the point.


Predict your Chances for an ISB Interview



Essay Question – 2:

Enrolling in a Business School is an important career decision. Critically look at your career to date, the choices you have made, the key influences behind those choices, your goals for the future and how do you think ISB’s PGP can help you in achieving your goals?
A. What is ISB looking for:
ISB wants to make sure you are not another “cubicle rat” who is trying to win a ticket to a higher salary through ISB. They want people who have a clarity on their long-term vision and know exactly how the PGP (note its not an MBA) from ISB will help them achieve that.
ISB has only so many certificates it can award this year. It wants to make sure it goes to the person who deserves it the most. And person who deserves it the most will show:
(I) A very high “employability” factor – this will be a person who would not have a problem finding a job
(II) A realistic expectation from the ISB experience – this will be someone who knows exactly what he is going to gain from ISB and not expect it to be a magic wand that will fix all his/her problems.
(III) Clarity of thought – this will be a person who not only knows where he is headed but also knows how to get there. The chances of success are very high in someone who is clearer about the direction he is headed.
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 you don’t fall for the typical “myths” that abound the internet about what kind of career paths are available post-ISB: Check out the 14 Post-MBA Career Questions that ISB Answers!
B. How to approach this essay
Before you even get started with writing you need to know WHAT you need to be writing here.
Start with the post-MBA goal – you may want to focus on the Simon Sinek style Golden Circle:
WHY you want to do what you want to do. This is the motivation for you to pursue your goal. Say you are fascinated by how technology can make the finance sector inclusive.
WHAT you need to accomplish in order to get to your goal. This is the road map of what you would be doing in order to accomplish your goal. Say you want to start a fintech company.
HOW you will get around doing so. This part is about the ways and means to reach your intended goal. Say you want a PGP and to work in the fintech sector for a few years.
You may also use Linkedin in your research to see the kind of positions you would like to pursue post your PGP. Here is a great place to get started!
Also spend some time researching about how ISB will help you meet your goals. There are plenty of resources for you to get this data from. The most important being the ISB website itself.
Learn more about the learning model, at ISB, the student life and the peer group at ISB.
C. How to structure your essays
The more you research – the more content you will discover for writing. However, there are only 300 words so you need to ensure you pick and choose the correct things over here.
So here is a format you may choose to write:
a. What has been your life story so far – 100 words. Keep it crisp and talk about the progress and growth. To paraphrase “Sacred Games” – what is it that has led you to this point in your life.
b. What you have realized you need to do & what you need to do to get there – 100 words. You need to talk about the next stage in your career and what you see yourself doing. You may also talk about the specific things you need to learn in order to do the role better.
c. How an ISB PGP will help you get there. Now that you have established what you want, you need to talk specifically about how you will utilize the resources and network at ISB to help you get there.
D. What NOT to do on this essay
This is a very tight essay so you want to ensure you utilize the words wisely. Ensure that you do not:
a. Talk about your CV / resume in the first part. Don’t repeat anything that can be found in other places of your application. Focus only on the growth aspect i.e. how you have evolved as a professional.
b. Keep your goals generic. This is a classic mistake where the applicant talks about how they want to be in a “general management” role. Or worse, talk about how they would like to use the 1-year to explore their career path. You need to be specific about your industry/function/role.
c. Write obvious things about ISB. We have a lot of students praising ISB for its “world class infrastructure and global faculty” – wait! ISB already knows how great it is. You do not need to tell them. What you need to tell them is how ISB can help you meet your career goal.


3. What does ISB look for in applicants

We have done a pretty detailed analysis of the profile in the Class of 2018 over here:
ISB Class Profile overview
This article should give you an idea of where your statistics are vis-a-vis a “typical” ISB student.
Now, as per the ISB website, there are 3 things that the ISB uses as “selection criteria”:
Let us look at it in detail:

1) 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:
>5 Things You Should Know About The GRE Scores for ISB
>The Secret Behind the GMAT Score for ISB

2) 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 – you should be able to say what you achieved by this. Typically this can be measured by out of turn promotions, and/or awards that attest your achievement.

3) Personal Attributes

To quote the site: “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 gains. We want people who can be team players because almost all the activities at ISB are organized by the 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 a different perspective.
Here are some of the “myths” that stop people with lower GMAT scores and higher work experience from applying.

4. What does ISB look for in your essays.

The question isn’t so straight forward. For this we need to dissect and understand in which category YOU fall into.
So typically ISB has the following 4 types of applicants:

Let us understand each of the types and see where you fit in. As you read the description try to mentally fit yourself into 1 of the 4 categories. If you are not able to do so yourself or are confused then you can ask a friend (or even reach out to us) for help. The idea is you HAVE TO BE one of the four types.

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 have ended up with an obscenely 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! I don’t need to say this to you.
Just a word of caution:
You need to ensure you navigate through this application process carefully. You don’t want to be misunderstood as either a 800-pound alpha male gorilla who suffers from low EQ or an applicant who is aiming for the top 10 US B-Schools but wants ISB on “stand by” mode.

b. Diversity Candidates

So, not many people can claim of having the demographic profile you enjoy. You typically work for a very underrepresented industry. Say, you are an NIFT graduate working in the merchandising department of Levi Strauss. Or you are a doctor who practices in the Vidarbha region. Or how about an Army major who has served on the Siachen glacier. Foreign applicants fall in this pool too.
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 – which is fine as long as it is above 600 (read why here!). So, you need to help address concerns about your ability to manage the coursework. The second part of the concern would be – no one in your industry NEEDs an MBA so what would be your “why”. If you can articulate clearly on 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

Typically you come with one of 3 issues in your application:
(i) You have a gap in your academic record – typically patchy with “breaks”
(ii) Your experience level is on the lower side – again with some gaps
(iii) 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.
ISB is really worried about taking you in the Class of 2019 because you just don’t seem exciting enough for them to take you in.
If retaking the GMAT is out of question, then our recommendation is to focus on the unique traits and characteristics in your personality. Write kicka$$ essays and pray you get an interview call. And if you do get an interview call – dazzle the interview panel with your wit, personality, and humor. You get the drift? So you need to really outshine in the other departments!

d. Demographically Disadvantaged

There is a very high chance you are probably in this category. You have a decent GMAT score – 680-720 types. You have decent acads (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 is just 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 do is they try to “fit in”. They will say the same things that everyone else is saying and pick 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 plate, 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.
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 🙂

Predict your Chances for an ISB Interview


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 through that you are not being yourself – you will also do a great disservice to yourself by sounding similar to the other 1000s of applicants!
“Be yourself” can be a pretty daunting task. Not only do you need to (a) figure out who you are (b) also, be that person!


Here is a “Checklist of 10 things for reviewing your ISB Essays”:

1. Make sure you have answered the question – and that you did not meander into something else while writing. This typically happens when we write – edit – proofread multiple times.
2. Ensure you clearly state your point and not leave it to the reader’s imagination. It is important not to let anything be assumed and consequently misconstrued.
3. Remove any sentence that sounds negative – either about people or about organizations or about circumstances. You need to take it on your chin and move on.
4. Avoid cliches and superficial ideas – you start using business jargon in an attempt to sound “smart”. Remember to write the way you would speak – using your own unique voice.
5. Do not try to “impress” the admission committee. You will not only come across as shallow but also as someone who is not true to himself/herself. The adcom can sniff a “fake” from a mile away.
6. Do not rewrite your resume. It is important that you write about facets of your work and personal life that are not captured elsewhere in the application form.
7. Be honest – anything you say – can and will be used against you. Also, remember that when you embellish your achievements – the interview panel is sure to catch you.
8. The last thing you want is to have some silly spelling or grammatical mistakes. This may show you in poor light: as someone who doesn’t have an eye for detail.
9. Talk about different aspects of you that have not been captured elsewhere. A story about you growing up that has had a profound impact on you? Sure! A difficult part in your life that has shaped who you are today? Of course.
10. Always focus on the personal takeaways you have had through the story. Else by itself the story will lack the “soul”. The schools want to know who is behind the story – the real you.

You can take a printout and post it where you will be sitting to write the essays.
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!
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!
For an important application like this, many applicants take professional help from application consultants in order to increase their chances of getting into ISB.

If you have any feedback, do let us know in the comments section below. We will personally try to answer all your queries.
If you are applying to ISB & found this blog useful then we would encourage you to share it with others who might benefit from this.