The Indian School of Business (ISB) appears to have somewhat narrowed the focus of its essay questions since last season. It again asks candidates to explain what differentiates them from others, but this year, it specifically requests two examples and characterizes what kinds of qualities it seeks, rather than leaving the query more open-ended. The ISB has also shifted its question about applicants’ post-MBA goals to focus less on the goals themselves and more on why its program is the right one to prepare candidates to achieve their ambitions. Applicants are no longer required to submit a video essay about what they believe “life” to be (we imagine a large number of candidates were relieved to see that prompt dropped), and a request for additional information that was mandatory last year is now optional. Overall, the ISB seems to want to get at the heart of who its applicants are—not just what they know and have accomplished—and to be able to evaluate “fit” with what it has to offer.
Essay 1: Attitude, skills and knowledge differentiate people. Elaborate with two examples on how you would differentiate yourself from other applicants to the PGP. (300 words max)
This straightforward prompt is really rather self-explanatory. The ISB is basically asking what attitude, skill or knowledge (experience) you possess that makes you stand out. If you can readily claim some unquestionably unique qualities—a rare skill, an unusual upbringing, an uncommon perspective—deciding on your content will be easy. From there, just focus on presenting your differentiating factors in a narrative format (avoid direct declarations like “What makes me different is X and Y…”) and providing brief but sufficient context as to how you gained or developed these traits.
If you view yourself as a more “typical” applicant, however, you may have difficulty deciding what to spotlight in this essay. Just remember that, as the saying goes, “the devil is in the details.” You do not need to reveal that you have experienced something totally unique, but you do need to show that you truly understand and “own” your experiences. For example, if you are a consultant, you are like many other candidates out there—you cannot differentiate yourself by saying, “I am a consultant.” But if you think carefully about each consulting project you were staffed on, you will perhaps recall a unique client interaction, moment with your team, situation with your senior manager, dynamic with a trainee, etc. that reveals your attitude, skill or knowledge in an interesting manner.
Hypothetically, if you, as a consultant, found a way to implement a new training module, this is not earth-shatteringly different, but it gives you the granular experience upon which to build a discussion of initiative, commitment and developing others around you. You may not be the only individual who can lay claim to possessing these traits, but the details of your experience creating and implementing that module will ensure that you are able to differentiate yourself sufficiently.
The school asks for two examples, which means you could offer one from your personal life and one from your professional life to present a balanced view of yourself. However, we would encourage you to honestly evaluate what you believe are the two characteristics that truly distinguish you most, and if they are both personal in scope—or both professional—use them. The ISB wants to know what makes you you and who you will be as a student in its program, so being honest and enthusiastic in your essay will serve you best. Forcing the issue and choosing one quality to highlight from each realm just to be safe, rather than offering what genuinely is the most special about you, would unnecessarily weaken your submission.
Essay 2: How does the ISB PGP tie-in with your career goals? (300 words max)
This query is essentially a “why our school?” question, though “why an MBA?” is implied, and you will need to address that issue for your essay response to be complete and effective. To convince the admissions committee that the ISB is key to achieving the goals you have set for yourself, you will clearly need to share what those goals are and what you need from an MBA education to succeed on your chosen path. The school does not specifically request your short- or long-term goals, so you would be best served by discussing both. Given the wording of the question, the overt emphasis in your essay should be on the ISB’s program, so be sure to frame your response accordingly.
Do not use up precious word count here detailing your professional career and accomplishments to date, but do include some general reference to your past work experience to frame why you need an MBA education to attain your stated goals. Then clearly explain what the ISB offers in particular that will help you. Avoid vague statements about how great the school is and focus on demonstrating a clear connection between your aspirations, what you need to achieve them and what the ISB offers that will enable you to fulfill those needs. To successfully accomplish this, you will need to do your research. The deeper your knowledge of the school, the easier pinpointing specific resources will be in the context of your future success, and thus, the more effective your essay will be.
This essay prompt involves many of the elements found in a traditional personal statement, and because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.
Essay 3: Pick the most significant achievement (professional or personal) you have had and elaborate on the key learning you took away from it. (300 words max)
Typically, when an admissions committee asks you to discuss what you have learned from a past event, the event in question is a failure or setback of some sort, but in this case, the ISB wants to know what you learned from a very positive moment in your life. The school seems to recognize that success can be as significant a teacher as failure but that many people do not take the time for self-reflection when things go well. With this question, the ISB hopes not only to learn about a meaningful accomplishment in your life but also to get a glimpse into your personality, as revealed by which incident you choose to highlight and by what you feel you have gleaned from the experience.
Because the school has explicitly opened the door to personal achievements as well as professional ones, your most significant accomplishment could be from any area of your profile, so consider your community and academic stories as well. Try to balance the picture of yourself you are painting for the admissions committee with these essays by representing different dimensions of your candidacy in each one. In other words, whichever aspect of your profile you choose to highlight here, it should be one that is not featured in Essay 1 or 2.
Be sure not to gloss over the “key learning” portion of this essay. Note that the school even uses the word “elaborate,” which implies a much deeper discussion than just a mention or simple statement. So, in addition to sharing your primary takeaway from the experience, address how this takeaway has subsequently influenced your actions and choices ever since.
Optional Essay: Please provide additional information, if any, that will improve your chances of being considered by ISB. (300 words max)
Do not be swayed into thinking that because this exact essay question was required last year, the ISB admissions committee definitely wants candidates to respond to it this year as well and is just testing you. Keep in mind that whenever you submit additional materials for the admissions committee to review that are not required, you are essentially asking these individuals to do extra work on your behalf. If you are going to do this, you have to be absolutely certain that what you are giving them to review is indeed important and substantial and will truly influence the way the committee sees you and your candidacy. Therefore, you must resist the urge to simply submit an essay you wrote for another school, just because you think it is well done.
However, you may want to use this opportunity to include another traditional essay if for some reason, a remarkable aspect of your profile has not been represented elsewhere in the required essays. More likely, though, you would only use this additional space if you had to address lingering questions about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide (available through our online store), we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile, and include multiple examples of effective optional essays.
ISB PGP Reapplicant Essay 4. How has your profile changed from the time you last applied to the ISB? (300 words max)
Whether you have improved your academic record, received a promotion, begun a new and exciting project, increased your community involvement or taken on some sort of personal challenge, the key to success with this essay is conveying a very deliberate path of achievement. The ISB wants to know that you have been actively striving to improve yourself and your profile, and that you have seized opportunities during the previous year to do so, because a degree from its program is vital to you. The responses to this essay question will vary greatly from one candidate to the next, because each person’s needs and experiences differ. We are more than happy to provide one-on-one assistance with this highly personal essay to ensure that your efforts over the past year are presented in the best light possible.