ISB Essay Analysis 2019 – 2020

Last updated on June 25th, 2019

Reading Time: 18 minutes

Let us guess – you’re here because you got a decent GMAT score, so you’re planning to apply to ISB, but the ISB application essay questions have you confounded.

If you’ve spent a lot of time staring at a blank word document or writing a ton of stuff only to end up deleting it, you’ve come to the right place. This blog is going to be pretty useful even if you’ve come here before trying to write your own essays.

We’re going to help you write powerful ISB application essays for 2019-20.

Now, we wish we could promise you that following a couple of steps will guarantee you a spot on the ISB PGP batch of 2020, but there’s no clear formula for getting in. Here’s the next best thing: a few steps that will significantly improve your chances if you follow them well!

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:

  1. Important Dates and Rounds for ISB
  2. ISB Application Essay Analysis
  3. What does ISB look for in Applicants?
  4. Typical Applicant Categories at ISB
  5. How to Write ISB Application Essays to Impress the AdCom

Let’s get started right away!

1. Important dates and rounds for ISB

Here’s a quick summary of ISB’s history to show you what perspective the school might come at these essays from:

ISB was a pioneer of one-year MBA programs in India; its PGP has been around for nearly 20 years now. It’s brand value has grown massively over the years, especially since it started ranking among the top 30 business schools worldwide. It has developed a very strong base of alumni not just in India but also around the world.

ISB pioneered the concept of ‘One School, Two Campuses’, with one campus in Hyderabad, Telangana and another at Mohali, Punjab. There are 600 to 650 students in Hyderabad and 250-300 students in Mohali, making it a batch of 900 students.

By the way, if you are interested, you can read what ISB alumni have to say about the differences between ISB Hyderabad and ISB Mohali.

Now, let’s come to what you can expect from the ISB admission calendar this year.

First, let’s look at the dates released by ISB:

ISB deadlines 2019

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

The obvious difference between rounds is the application fee. But while these benefits may look quite tempting, you should know that there’s more to it than meets the eye. We can tell you from experience that this is a result of the marketing team’s push to ensure that ISB is your first choice.

So, is applying in the first round actually advantageous?

Our recommendation is to apply in the round where you think you stand the highest chances of getting in. So, if you think you need to retake the GMAT and then apply in Round 2 or 3, do that. If you have a strong profile and a well-written application, then the round in which you apply won’t really matter. Your chances of getting in will remain more or less the same.

No matter which round of admissions you apply in, the program only begins in April 2020 and ends in April 2021.

However, the earlier you get in, the more time you will have to prepare for your MBA.

In case you didn’t know this, once you confirm your admission, ISB will send you some material to study. You don’t have to go through it, but if you do, it will help you perform better during your course.

This prep might come in handy because the PGP is a very rigorous program. It has a total of 8 terms, with 5 subjects in each term. Further, each term has a mid-term and an end-term exam. In all, you have to take 16 exams in 12 months.

But don’t let this scare you off; the info is just meant to help you understand why ISB is so picky about choosing applicants. They have to choose students who won’t break under the pressure but will thrive in it, instead.

This brings us to the next section in which we discuss the application process and ISB essay analysis 2019-2020.

2. ISB Application Essay Analysis 2019-20

This year too, as it has done traditionally, ISB has stuck to two themes in its PGP application essay questions:

  1. Tell us how you are different from others
  2. 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 trying to gauge through these questions.

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 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: Even if you achieved something as a result of team work, mention what your specific contribution was
Action: Write about what steps you took to complete your task
Results: Elaborate on the direct outcomes 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, one idea on each 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:

  1. Relevancy Test:
  2. – Is it relevant to your application?
    – Does it showcase your capability?

  3. Recency Test:
  4. – Is this something that happened in the last 2-3 years?
    – If from earlier, does it have an overarching impact on me?

  5. Uniqueness Test:
  6. – Is this something that is different from what my peer group does?
    – Does this help differentiate my candidature from others?

In the end, you should 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 essays.

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 #2.
  • 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 readers of your point by looping to the start and completing the circle.

Here’s the scary part, though:

You could follow all this perfectly and still end up sounding ineffectual. You can avoid this by reading about some critical mistakes people often make.
The next section details the most common mistakes people make in their ISB application essays and how you can avoid them.

D. What NOT to do in this essay

Here are some common traps people fall into while writing this type of essay:

  • Writing stuff from your resume
  • If there is stuff you have mentioned in detail elsewhere in your application then do not rewrite it here. Just focus on the subjective parts of the story so you can 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. Remember that the details can be explained in the interview.

  • Stuffing
  • 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 to within that much.
Now, let’s move on to the next ISB Application Essay Question.
Predict your Chances of Getting an Interview Call from ISB


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 unclear and vague ideas of what they want from their careers.

ISB wants people who have some long-term goal clarity and know exactly how the PGP will help them achieve that.

Note that ISB is asking you to write about your goals a couple of years after graduating. This is because it wants to allow you some time to find your feet and maneuver things in your direction. Things might take time to work in your favor, so it doesn’t make sense to ask what you’ll do immediately after you graduate.

In 3-5 years, though, you should expect to be doing what you really want to do.

ISB wants to know if you have enough goal clarity to know what you really want at that point.

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 she is headed but also how to get there.

Given this, it is important that you come across as a “person with a plan” through this essay.

It is also important that you don’t fall for the typical internet-based myths about ISB MBA Applications. And read about 14 Post-MBA Career Questions that ISB answers before moving further!

The next section details how you should approach this essay.

B. How to approach this essay

There are three parts to this essay:

  1. Your 2025 Goal
  2. Your 2030 Goal, and
  3. 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 any one you like!

  • Industry: Since any function will have applications in every industry, pick out which one you want to be in, too.

  • Geography: Do you want to stay in India or go abroad? In 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. Read what the ISB website says and go with the flow from there on.

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.

Start by talking about the tools you will need to have 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. Say something about 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. We’re assuming you’ll be avoiding those things.

Here’s the slightly less obvious stuff you need to actively avoid doing:

  • Set Unrealistic Goals
  • Make sure your career goal is lofty 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 all easier to believe and makes you look like a person with a plan.

  • Repeat 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 here!

  • Be 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.

Predict your Chances of Getting an Interview Call from ISB
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:

5 Things You Should know about GRE Scores for ISB

The Secret Behind the GMAT Score 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 – 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.

C. 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 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 this and what you need to do about your ISB application essays, accordingly.

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 your life. Typically, you must have gone 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) to work for.

You have a very high chance of getting in! We 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 an 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.

Needless to say, both are not things you want to be seen as.

B. Diversity Candidates

So, not many people can boast of having the demographic profile that you have. Typically, you’re someone who works in 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. 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’s your reason for doing this MBA? If you can articulate clearly how an MBA is going to help you then you should pretty much nail the application.

C. Poor Profiles

Typically you come with one of 3 issues in your application:

You have a gap in your academic record – it is patchy, with breaks in between

Your experience level is on the lower side – again with some gaps

Your GMAT score is about 50 points lower than your peer group’s

In some cases, you may have more than one issue to tackle.

ISB will be really worried about taking you in the Class of 2019 because you just don’t seem exciting enough for them.

If retaking the GMAT is out of the question, 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 – bedazzle the interview panel with your wit, personality, and humor.

Do you get the drift? If not – you need to really outdo your peers 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 – something like a 680-720. Your academic performance is decent (top 25%) and you’re from a decent college. Professionally, you work in a traditional industry (IT, Finance, Operations) with an employer who recruits heavily from campuses (read TCS, Wipro, Infosys, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG, Reliance, Tata).

There is nothing wrong with your profile but ISB will just be confused about how to evaluate you. There are just too many of your ilk applying every 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 profiles similar to 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 are all the same. “I was working on this tough project, the client was demanding, and my boss had quit – so I stepped up, 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 very strongly.

10 Things to Check Before Submitting Your ISB Application 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.

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!