ISB Essay Analysis

Reading Time: 6 minutes

ISB’s application essay questions have been pretty much consistent for the past 2-3 years with their focus mainly on 3 aspects: career goals, differentiating factors and accomplishments.

This year, however, when we did the ISB Essay Analysis, we observed 3 major changes:

There is a lot more room for applicants to express their personality and creativity. The focus of the essays has expanded to include areas as interesting as

1. Innovation

2. Perspective change

3. Out-of-the-Box Thinking that Backfired!

4. Team-based learning

Of course, the usual questions on career goals and the value you bring to the ISB class are also there.

The essays offer more choices and seem to cater to a wider range of applicants. For example, the third essay asks you to pick 1 out of 4 widely different themes. Similarly, the first essay asks you to cite personal examples or observations about others. This kind of maneuvering room was certainly absent in previous years’ essays.


The total word count has been reduced to 800 from 900 last year. This is in keeping with the trend of B-schools world-wide.

Let’s look at each essay question in detail:

innovationEssay #1: Innovation or doing things differently, it is said, is a key to future success. Could you substantiate or negate this idea based on your experience. Please provide examples from your own experience? Either examples of your own innovation or examples of others whom you have worked with. [300 words]

First of all, don’t assume that you have to necessarily agree that innovation is key to success. (Interestingly, essay #3 has a question that asks you about how your attempt to do something different went awry)

Second, note the definition of innovation – “doing things differently” – and the fact that it is a key to “future success”. That means, you get points for making an attempt, even if that attempt has led to a short term failure. So if you tried to bring about a department-level process change in your organization, but it met with a lot of resistance and friction in the short term, if it led to a long term positive outcome or shows signs of slowly gaining acceptance and approval, it could still be a good story for this essay.

Third, you have the freedom to choose your own example or those of others “with whom you have worked.” This means no talking about Steve Jobs (unless you have actually worked with him! 😀 So if you have a truly interesting innovation story to share, more power to you; while telling this story, focus equally on both what you did and the outcome.

But if you don’t have your own story, don’t worry – you aren’t going to be penalized. Just look around for a good story of someone else’s innovation. Make sure you focus on your own observations about this innovation and its role in future success and share your learning from it.

pathEssay #2: Applying to and 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 you expect to benefit from the ISB experience in achieving your goals. [300 words]

This is again a refreshing variation of last year’s career goal question that simply asked the applicants their immediate post-MBA goal. Here, we cover the entire spectrum of your career: roles, decision drivers & influencers, future goals and why ISB. The challenge is to say it all in 300 words. 🙂

The best way to tackle this essay is to start with a bulleted list. If you are one of those truly passionate about your core education and have continued in the same line, begin with the first decision you made: your choice of undergrad degree. But if you belong to the other half who just wandered into an engineering program, you may want to skip ahead and talk about your first role and why you accepted it.

Pick the highlights of your career – the highs and lows, the learning, the most significant experiences. Don’t pick more than 3 because you will otherwise face a word limit crunch. If you made job or role or career switches midway or undertook a Masters education, talk about why you did so and what you gained by doing this.

Next, articulate your future goals – where do you see yourself working in the next 6-7 years? Try to be as specific about this as possible. Why do you need an MBA to get there? And why is NOW the best time for you to do an MBA?

Weave these reasons in with why ISB specifically – what can the ISB PGP offer you that other programs cannot? Why are you the right fit for ISB? Make sure that you tell a story when you write this essay and that all the dots are connected and flow well.

changeEssay #3: Choice A: This experience completely changed my way of thinking [200 words]

Who should attempt this prompt? If you have experienced a sea change in your thinking or perspective as a result of an incident, a person or an experience, you should attempt this essay.

For example, you had the chance to work onsite in an unconventional geography such as Mexico or Poland. Or you had an inspiring conversation with a Tibetan monk on a trek to the Spiti Valley. Or you suffered a major personal upheaval (death, financial trouble, health concerns, relationship issues…)

Any of these could have made a strong and lasting impression on you and changed your perspective. Any of these can make a good story for this essay. Ensure that while telling the story, you use the Situation – Action – Result framework. Additionally, the Before/After change in your perspective must be crystal clear to the reader.



differentChoice B: An instance when you went out of the ordinary to achieve something significant, but in hind sight feel you could have done better. [200 words]

Who should attempt this prompt? If you are a maverick or an innovator who loves trying out new things and new ideas, or who cannot stop himself/herself from fiddling with the way things are done, you may have a good story to tell here.

Have one of your brilliant ideas backfired? It is nothing to be ashamed about! You know what they say – better to have tried and lost than never to have tried at all. Or something like that. 🙂

Use this essay to talk about how and why you tried to do something in an unconventional way, what happened when you did, a post mortem of why the idea did not work, and finally, what you learned from it.

PS: Make sure that you don’t fall into the trap of blaming the system or your team or your organization for why your unconventional idea did not work. 🙂

teamChoice C: Tell us about your role in a team that made a significant contribution to the organization. [200 words]


Who should attempt this prompt? This is ideal for someone who has an interesting team story to tell – at work or outside of it. Note that the keywords here are “your role”, “team” and “significant contribution”. So, your story must span all these touch points: • The team’s goal and the challenges you faced? • Your role within the team? • Steps/approach did the team take to reach the goal? • The end outcome? • Your learning from the experience

Make sure that your contribution isn’t one-dimensional. i.e. don’t just say that you brought in your technical or functional expertise. This part is good, but what more did you contribute? Did you help resolve conflict? Did you bring in fresh thinking and new ideas? Did you assume a leadership role to drive the project? Your role has to be something bigger and you need to communicate it effectively.

group-studyChoice D: Contribution to peer learning and engagement with the ISB student body are important aspects of the ISB experience. What contribution do you expect to make in this direction during the one year at ISB. [200 words]


Who should attempt this prompt? If you have some truly unique perspectives to share as a result of either your work or your experiences, attempt this prompt. For instance, if you have run your own company or worked in significant roles in a startup or your job has taken you to multiple geographies, you will have significant experiential learning to share in the ISB classroom and this is an essay that lets you talk about these.

When you tell your story, remember that the focus should not be entirely on YOU and what you have done, but on how your experience and learning can help you add value to your peers’ learning at ISB.

Wondering if you can get into ISB this year? Let us help you!

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