How to Write ISB Application Essays for 2020-2021: Topics, Tips, and Analysis by ISB alumni

Writing an essay is an art, especially when it is for your MBA application. It is these essays that become a “deal maker” or a “deal breaker” for most applicants. And why not, essays are one of the few things that you can control when you decide to apply for ISB (or any other B-school). Most other things such as your past academic record or your work experience have already been established with little scope of change. Moreover, when you are given a chance to present yourself, the school expects you to put your best foot forward.

Before we talk about how to write essays for your ISB MBA application, let’s look at the essay questions / topics for 2020 admission cycle.

ISB essay topics for the PGP application in 2020 , i.e. 2021 intake (class of 2022) are given below:

  • ISB Essay 1 Topic: Describe with examples the most important personal quality that you possess that significantly enhances your prospects of being successful as a leader? (400 words max)
  • ISB Essay 2 Topic: What are your short term and long term career goals? How will Post Graduate Program at ISB assist you in achieving your goals.(400 words max)
  • ISB Reapplicant Essay Topic: Please use this space to explain significant improvements in your profile since your last application to the ISB PGP.
Now lets analyse them and look at the key tips on how to write these essays in your ISB PGP application.

ISB Essay 1 Topic: Describe with examples the most important personal quality that you possess that significantly enhances your prospects of being successful as a leader? (400 words max)

Here are key essay tips to keep in mind while writing this essay in your ISB application:
  • Focus on the inputs to leadership: ISB knows that becoming a successful leader is always a work-in-progress. Hence, you need to demonstrate qualities (i.e. inputs) which add to you capabilities as a leader. For e.g. an ability and desire to innovate, helping others, taking initiative, challenging the status quo, etc. are all traits of good leaders
Leadership
  • Focus more on the “How” than the “What”: While its important to mention your achievements, you must also ensure that you focus on how you went about achieving what you set out for.
  • Bring out personality traits: ISB loves diversity and aims to have a diverse class each year. That diversity really goes a long way in maximizing your ISB experience as you share the classroom with doctors, CAs, army professionals, journalists, engineers as well as commerce graduates.  However, more importantly, ISB is looking for YOU, the “real” YOU. They are looking to uncover the professional and find the personality lying beneath, who will really make the ISB experience worthwhile for not only herself but also for fellow classmates. Hence, make sure you mention about your leadership abilities, your entrepreneurial spirit, your determination, perseverance, passions etc. This will really help the ISB admissions committee understand you as a person which is very important to get that admission.   
Read our analysis of ISB Essays for 2020 application (2021 intake) for details.

ISB Essay 2 Topic: What are your short term and long term career goals? How will Post Graduate Program at ISB assist you in achieving your goals.(400 words max)

Your essay should cover various facets of “life at ISB”, including:
  •  The Network: The ISB network is the biggest asset you will take away from ISB. With over 10,000 alumni spread across the globe, the network helps you connect with industry stalwarts across consulting, financial services, Private Equity, IT, startups, and the list goes on. Given that the essays are read by ISB alumni, it is imperative to mention this point as they would undoubtedly understand the value of the ISB network. Therefore, this is a must-have in your application essay.    
     
ISB application essays - Networking
  • The Faculty: With the best faculty from top B-schools (such as Harvard, Wharton and Kellogg) taking courses at ISB, along with some renowned names as in-house faculty, this is surely one of the top reasons to go to ISB. Some professors such as Jag Mohan Raju (Marketing), Robert Stine (Statistics) and Prashant Kale (Strategy) are “gurus” of their field and are known across top academic circles all over the world. 
     
  • Diversity: The class at ISB is generally more diverse than other B-schools in India. With an average work experience of 4-5 years, the class includes doctors, journalists, media professionals, ex-army personnel, chartered accountants, commerce graduates and IIT engineers. Diversity is the X-factor that differentiates ISB from other top B-schools in the country and should be covered in your essay.
     
  • Brand ISB: Despite being a young school, ISB is already a brand and is counted amongst the top 30 B schools in the world (according to Financial Times 2016 Global Business School Rankings). The brand is recognized across the globe and opens a lot of doors which would otherwise be closed for you.   

ISB Reapplicant Essay Topic: Please use this space to explain significant improvements in your profile since your last application to the ISB PGP.

Candidates who have applied to ISB previously need to write an essay showcasing improvements in their profile. This is an opportunity to convince the ISB admissions committee that you have improved upon your profile and enhanced your crednetials by upskilling or adding to your experience.

This can be in the form of professional initiatives, self-learning opportunities, a higher GMAT / GRE score. ISB is a very reapplicant friendly school and encourages you to reapply. In fact, reapplying showcases that you are keen on joining the school and hence is taken positively by ISB.

So, how should you go about writing essays for your ISB application?

Our experience of guiding various applicants over the years, as well as our own ISB applications (though that was years ago!) has helped us crystallize the mantra to the following:
 
  • Choose key points to talk about: Don’t try to write too much to impress the ISB admissions committee. Too many points may dilute impact. Be selective and choose the ones that present you in the best light or have the maximum impact.
ISB application essays impact

  • Talk about the impact: Merely mentioning what you did won’t help. In order to stand out, talk about the impact your actions had. Quantifying the impact is a good way to demonstrate your achievement. For instance, “led a team of 20 to organize the college fest” is better than saying “organized the college fest”.
  • Link your credentials to the class experience: Ensure that you link your experience / achievement to the class experience. That almost instantly answers the “why you” - a common ISB essay question. Research about the school and find out areas where you would be able to contribute, if given an admission.  For instance, if you come from the Financial Services industry, leading the Finance Club and organizing a “Finance speaker series” can be a point in your ISB essay which would highlight both leadership potential and link your credentials to the class experience.   
 
Read our blog here on how to answer the Why You question in your MBA application 

  • Be crisp and succinct: ISB (or any other top B school) would want to admit students who can present themselves well without using too many words – hence, the word limit to the essays. Not keeping your essays to the word limit is an offence! Hence, organize your points in such a way that you can present maximum impact without consuming too many words.
Your application needs to stand out amongst the thousands of applications. So, how do you differentiate yourself in the ISB application:

So how do you really differentiate yourself? Here are a few pointers:
 
  • Be very structured and clear in your thought process: Being structured is a pre-requisite of sorts for admission committees. A poorly drafted, unstructured application essay will not hold the attention of the reviewer, resulting in instantaneous rejection.  Hence, it is of prime importance to have an organized essay, flowing seamlessly across paragraphs and bringing out a compelling story that the adcom can’t ignore.
  • Talk about achievements and not mere efforts: Admissions committees look for future leaders who the B school will be proud to refer to as alumni. Hence, rather than talking about efforts (e.g. I worked 16 hours a day for 2 months on a deal), talk about achievements (e.g. I was the lead analyst of a $500 million M&A deal). Achievements are at the heart of your story, they are the deal makers in a B-school application essay. Ensure you utilise the word-limit judiciously and speak about your achievements (and not only efforts) in your essays.  
  • Bring out the impact: Various applicants have too many stories to tell. However, given the limitations on the number of essays / word-limit on each essay, they find it difficult to deide which one to talk about.  The answer to that is very straightforward: talk about the most impactful story – the one that will have a lasting impression on the adcom. That story may neither be the a recent one, nor associated with a brand your worked with, but it should be the one you are most proud of!
Personality in ISB application

  • Showcase various facets of your personality: B schools love diversity. Other things being equal, they would select the more diverse profile – one which goes beyond academic and professional achievements. So bring out the dancer / singer / painter / mountaineer in you and showcase it in your application. It will go far in getting admission to your dream school. 
Also, ensure that you avoid some common mistakes in your ISB application which would can lead to a rejection. Here are the top 5 mistakes you should avoid:
  • Shooting over the word count: In all essays, ISB specifies a word limit. The assessment here is on how you can express yourself in a concise manner. If the word limit is disregarded, then it also reflects your non-adherence to specified directions.
  • Lack of coherence in overall application: Many applicants think essays and other aspects of the application are distinct. This disconnect in understanding reflects in the final application. It is important to understand that it is ONE application and hence, all ends should tie-up. There should be common themes across your essays, achievements and also recommendations
  • Misunderstanding extracurricular activities: ISB tries to assess your leadership potential and multi-tasking skills through your EC participation. Many applicants make the mistake listing a number of small participations as achievements; this reflects a lack of understanding of what ISB is looking for. Depth is more important than breadth
Jargon in ISB essays
  • Using industry jargons and abbreviations: Assuming that the admissions committee members understand your industry is a fatal flaw. If they do not understand the context, then they won’t be able to assess your application, especially when they have hundreds of them to review. The language should be familiar to most people and stuffy words should be avoided
  • Overemphasizing work experience: A lot of applicants focus only on their professional accomplishments in their applications. This reflects a one-dimensional personality and usually leads to rejection. The underlying theme should also be focused on your passions, personality outside of work, etc.
These mistakes, among others, cost a number of applicants a seat in the ISB classroom. You should avoid them at all costs!

Overall, essays are a key success factor in the ISB admissions process. Make them your mantra for success by acing them, following the points above.

This article is writen by ISB alumni from Team S4G. For a free consulting session with them on your ISB application, get in touch here: https://strategy4gmat.com/Default.aspx#Consulting_form