Essay Analysis

ISB Essay Analysis, Tips, and Sample Essays for 2024 Admissions

This essay analysis document has been developed using the decade-long experience of the team of Former Admissions Officers at ISBmantra, drawing further learnings from their understanding of the ISB admissions process gained while reviewing thousands of real ISB applications as part of the core admissions team at ISB. 

In this article, we will analyze and share helpful tips on how to write the ISB essays for the 2024 admissions and also share a few ISB sample essays to solidify your understanding.

Update: The Indian School of Business (ISB) announced the PGP Round 2 deadline for 2024 intake as December 3, 2023, with significant changes to its essay questions, focusing more on the personal aspect of an applicant rather than the professional journey, which was the case in previous years.

ISB Essay Analysis, Tips, Sample Essays

ISB has consistently posed questions that help the school assess applicants’ core professional and personal qualities and professional plans post-ISB. According to Vikram Singh, Former ISB Admissions Officer – For the 2024 intake, ISB seeks to evaluate applicants in three distinct areas:

  1. Applicants’ strengths & weaknesses
  2. Their journey through success and failure
  3. Motivation to pursue the PGP at ISB

Business school essay prompts are your opportunity to present your profile in the most detailed manner, focusing on the right qualities, and establishing the same with the right examples. As you answer the ISB essay prompts, trying to put together the best answers to the questions asked, it is important to not limit yourself to the literal meaning of the questions asked, and present a holistic picture of your personal and professional profile, keeping the essay prompts as the basis of your answer. 

To begin with, let us understand what ISB looks for in a candidate. A one-year program, competitive applicant pool, high academic rigor, and placements starting just over six months into the program –are just some of the factors influencing the selection criteria of the Indian School of Business. As a result, some of the aspects of your profile that you must be able to present through your essays are:

1.   Quality of your past professional experience
2.   Strong evidence of Resilience and Learnability
3.   Ability to manage People, Projects, and/or Problems

As a part of the admissions process at ISB for the 2024 intake, you must answer 2 mandatory essay questions for the Post Graduate Programme (PGP). The word limit for both essays is 400 words. Additionally, the application provides the opportunity to answer an Optional Essay within a 250-word limit. If you are a re-applicant, you are required to answer a re-applicant essay in not more than 200 words.

ISB PGP Essay Questions for 2024 Admissions

The following are the questions for the ISB PGP application for the 2024 intake:

Essay 1: Provide an honest portrayal of yourself, emphasizing your strengths and weaknesses. Highlight the key elements that have shaped your personal journey. Give relevant illustrations as needed. (400 words)
Essay 2: Contemplate two distinct situations – one where you experienced success and another where you faced failure. Delve into the personal and interpersonal lessons you learned from these instances. (400 words)
Essay 3: Given your previous experience and future aspirations, how do you plan to use the PGP at ISB to fulfil your professional goals? (250 words)

At ISBmantra, with our Core Team of Former ISB Admissions Officers, we have mentored 1000+ applicants over the last 10 years. Here is our analysis of the ISB PGP 2023 Application essays. 

ISB PGP Essay 1 Analysis

Provide an honest portrayal of yourself, emphasizing your strengths and weaknesses. Highlight the key elements that have shaped your personal journey. Give relevant illustrations as needed. (400 words)

First things first – this is NOT a “personal story” essay. Don’t get misled by phrases such as “portrayal of yourself” and “personal journey” and build an entire essay on how you had a difficult childhood, or how your passion for dance drives your life, or how you lost weight after following a strict regime, etc.

Vikram Singh
Former ISB Admissions Officer

These can very well be a part of your story, but the larger goal of the essay needs to be about establishing strengths and capabilities that are relevant professionally.

Your stories may be influenced by some personal incidents. You may very well provide a personal example or two. But don’t stop there. Review your strengths as well as examples from a professional lens and make them relevant to a business school essay. This isn’t an essay-writing competition. Being candid is good, but being candid and prudent is going to be critical.

Look at this essay as your elevator pitch – albeit a well-expanded one. As the starting point, list 3 to 4 aspects of your profile that make you a strong applicant to ISB. These could be a specific incident from your childhood, choice of a degree, choice of a job role, personal values that have driven your professional journey, a personal incident that had an impact on your life, a professional initiative, a decision that you consider important and life-changing, etc. Go deeper.

Ask yourself the How-What-Why questions to come up with the most relevant details for the essay.

Once you have the right incidents and stories listed, arrange them in a way that the reader is able to view a holistic picture of your personal and professional personality. Try and connect the dots for the essay reader, highlighting your strengths as well as areas you believe you are looking to further grow in.

The “emphasizing your strengths and weaknesses” part of the essay prompt doesn’t really require you to list your strengths and weaknesses like you would do if this were asked to you in a personal interview.

In this essay, you are better off focusing on the right stories and relevant aspects of your life journey, touching upon your strengths and weaknesses in the process. 

ISB PGP Essay 1 Sample Structure

ISB Essay 1 Analysis, Tips, Sample format

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ISB PGP Essay 2 Analysis

Contemplate two distinct situations – one where you experienced success and another where you faced failure. Delve into the personal and interpersonal lessons you learned from these instances. (400 words)

The achievement story has remained the mainstay of business school applications for a long time. ISB has asked this question in one way or the other several times in the past. This can often become the deciding factor in your application journey primarily because if, what you think is your best achievement, or what you present as your highest point of success, isn’t impressive enough, then the rest of your professional stories aren’t going to impress either.

This achievement/success story, therefore, has to be a professional story, well thought of, and deftly articulated, presenting skills that are also relevant to your future plans.

Therefore, a situation where you had great success at designing and delivering a training program for your team, will fail to impress the reader, if your plan is to take up a Brand Management or Strategy Consulting role post-MBA.

The failure story is no different, except the outcome. The details about the project you were involved in, the tasks that you accomplished, the stakeholders that you worked with, etc. will go on to establish your professional potential – even with the undesirable outcome.

Sometimes, it is not the failure of the entire project or task, but a particular aspect of the task that you were particularly hopeful about, may also be a failure that you may want to touch upon. Talking about an initiative, how it was something you tried your hands at for the first time, or how things didn’t go the way you expected, can also be a good example of an undesirable outcome that left you with a lot of learning.

Again, the “personal and interpersonal lessons” can be a misleading phrase to some. It is more about the learnings from what you did, and there is no reason to fret over how these lessons are personal or interpersonal.

Dr. Naveen Das

While it is important to present how you could have done things differently or what didn’t work in your failure story, it will also be wise to list lessons from your success story and how you used these lessons to further build on future success.

A final word of caution as you build your success and failure stories – do not judge your story by the outcome or the millions of dollars saved/generated. The best stories are those that have an interesting and detailed task/project in their backdrop, involve complexities and challenges that prove your potential, touch upon “your” contribution and engagement, and provide a good picture of the quality of your work. 

ISB PGP Essay 2 Sample Structure

ISB Essay 2 Analysis, Tips, Sample format

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ISB PGP Essay 3 (Optional) Analysis

Given your previous experience and future aspirations, how do you plan to use the PGP at ISB to fulfil your professional goals? (250 words)

It is interesting that the Indian School of Business has asked applicants to write an optional essay this year, with an essay prompt so well defined. The optional essay that’s truly optional is the one that asks for “anything else that you may want to communicate to the admissions committee”. This isn’t an “anything else” essay. With a clear ask, and given that the career goal essay has always been asked by ISB in the past, you would be remiss to not present your future plans. Another reason for not treating this essay optional is that it will really help the essay reader place all your stories in context if you are able to give them a hang of why you are taking this important decision of leaving your current employment and spending the time and money to pursue an MBA.

Do not get too engrossed in detailing your plans for the “future and beyond”. The focus should be on what you want to achieve immediately after the MBA, while touching upon  how you want your career to shape in the medium to long term.

A M Kannan
Ex ISB Director, Admissions and Financial Aid

Provide specific details about the industry, function, etc., pertaining to your post-MBA dream role. Do not get into designations. You may very well be made the CTO of a company with 5 employees – but is that what you want? It helps to keep your short-term goals consistent with your past. The recruiter is going to value your experience until now; hence do not underplay it. The idea is to demonstrate your intention of effectively leveraging the experience and exposure you have gained until now. You may want to move to a different function or industry. Focus on the transferable skills that will equip you to perform in your new role.

If you recognize that the role/industry you want to enter is a bit too competitive, it may be a good idea to also present a Plan B that is consistent with your long-term plans.

Conclude by validating the indispensable need for an MBA and why you think ISB precisely resonates with your aspirations. Remember not to go overboard with ‘why ISB’, since it would be too simplistic to expect to be selected just because you were able to list several clubs, electives, and the faculty at ISB. The essay is more about you and how ISB remains the most relevant choice in your scheme of things.

ISB PGP Essay 3 – Sample Essay Structure

  1. Briefly Establish your career progression to date and the skills that have been developed
  2. Present your career aspirations, focusing on your short-term goals, and adding a flavor to your long-term plans
  3. Talk about specific aspects of the ISB PGP that will equip you to achieve your career goals
ISB Essay 3 Analysis, Tips, Sample format

ISB PGP Re-applicant Essay Analysis

How has your profile changed from the time you last applied to the ISB (200 words max)?

Since your last application to ISB, did you create opportunities to enhance your skills? You presented certain career goals in your last application. Did you take up professional initiatives and self-learning opportunities to move towards your professed career goals? Did you assess what might have gone wrong, talk to alumni and industry experts, and attempt to position yourself better this year?

If your GMAT score was not good enough, were you willing to push yourself and retake the test? If you end up scoring the same again – the school will still appreciate your intent and your commitment to the goal of doing the MBA at ISB.

Talk about the new projects, new learnings from these projects, things that you got to do for the first time, and interactions you have had that had an impact on you and your career plans. Do not forget to include the experiences that helped you refine your core and soft skills further.

If you presented a goal or a career plan last year that you failed to justify in the interview; or if, after more thorough research, you have decided to opt for an alternative plan that you can validate, do not hesitate to make a statement.

Feel free to present the specifics of the research you engaged in to arrive at a more rational career plan. For all logical purposes, this is a better approach than presenting the same career plans again, when you are not too confident about being able to substantiate them in the interview.

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ISB Sample Essays

Essays are the most powerful tool for you to narrate your story. It is an opportunity for you to highlight the important information, building a convincing point on why you are a good fit for the ISB MBA program. When you start writing your ISB essay, it is important to keep in mind to answer the entire question and not just a part of it.

Here are a few essay questions asked by ISB in the past few years:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Describe with examples the most important personal quality that you possess that significantly enhances your prospects of being successful as a leader.
  4. What are your short-term and long-term career goals? How will the Post Graduate Program at ISB assist you in achieving your goals?
  5. Peer Learning is a major building block of PGP at ISB. Help us in understanding how will you be able to add value to the PGP peer group through your personal and professional qualities/capabilities?

Based on our analysis of ISB Essay questions from previous years, we understand that ISB typically asks these categories of questions:

  • Why you?
  • Personal/professional qualities with examples
  • Your career plans post-ISB
  • Why ISB?

Here are two ISB Sample Essays, which will give you further insights on developing holistic ISB PGP Essays. Do note that these essays do not directly answer the current year’s essay questions, and are presented here to help you understand the right approach. 

ISB Sample Essay 1

I have deliberately explored beyond the traditional boundaries and outside my comfort zone, in the effort to evolve more comprehensively, as an individual and as a professional. Be it launching my footwear venture while still in college, stepping into a fundraising role at Cerestra, a niche private equity firm, or moving to a new country where the orientations and regulations were unfamiliar, I have measured up to every challenge and performed commendably, in every domain I have operated in. The appetite for quest and learning is the defining feature of my personality.

Working in one of the most internationally diverse cosmopolitans, Dubai, has taught me to respect and embrace diverse cultures and ethnicities, in the workplace and outside it. My international experience will serve to add global perspectives to classroom discussions with the diversely accomplished peer group at ISB. I hope to share valuable insights and perspectives, culled from my professional journey, during experiential learning and case study sessions.

I learned the dynamics of the Real Estate industry in an emerging economy through my stint at Cerestra, the first ‘education real estate’ focused private equity in India. I furthered my understanding of the industry in a developed economy, through my work in the Corporate Finance team of Sobha Realty, one of the largest real estate developers in the Middle East. I hope to leverage my knowledge of the industry while participating in and leading the SREI Infrastructure Club of ISB. By organizing networking sessions and coffee chats with industry stalwarts and treks, and site visits to leading companies, I want to further the club’s objectives and provide a practical platform to promote the development as well as the investment aspect of Real Estate.

I was introduced to long-distance running 3 years ago and founded ‘The Barclays Global Markets Running Group’. As a team of 15 colleagues, we participated in various 10 km and 21km marathons in Mumbai. I hope to continue the trend at ISB and introduce the Running Club. 

Having had the opportunity to interview for the ISB YLP even with a 640 GMAT score, during college, I have remained focused and driven by my ISB dream, and plan to consolidate and draw from my professional experiences post-college, to contribute to the learning of my peers even as I enhance my own knowledge and skills in the process.

ISB Sample Essay 2

Working with Barclays allowed me to engage proactively, in Finance, the domain that fascinates me immensely. Leveraging my CFA Level-2 learnings, I embraced FinTech and complicated marketing strategies, while transforming into a mature professional. Targeting the sought-after ‘buy side, I learned the impact and mechanics of ‘socially relevant’ investments at a niche private equity, Cerestra, which exposed me to the core and core plus investment strategies. Impelled to explore the mammoth Real Estate industry, I joined the Corporate Finance team of Sobha Realty, Dubai. Collaborating with CXOs to start new verticals induced a steep, learning curve.

Post-MBA, I hope to operate as an Associate at a prestigious Private Equity or Asset Management firm, where I can specialize in Real Estate. Working with companies like Aditya Birla Group, Kautilya Finance, or Shaporji Palonji Investment, I can hone my skills in identifying the most rewarding asset investment opportunities. After consolidating my competencies, I aspire to launch a crowdfunding venture to fund Indian developers, who focus on affordable housing. I aim to provide low-cost capital to affordable housing projects, by pooling investments from the growing middle-class segment. 

The ISB PGP will acquaint me thoroughly with the theoretical and application-oriented aspects of business functions such as Operations, Marketing, Technology, and Strategy while allowing me to imbibe multidimensional skills from the richly diverse peer group. I hope to collaborate with the Punj Lloyd Institute in research on Crowdfunding Real Estate. The Practicum Courses will enlighten me about mid-sized firms in fundraising. Scanning student blogs, researching college facilities, observing the profiles of reputed faculty, and conversing with alumni like Anubhav Chakrabortty (ISB’19) and Shailesh Chandak (ISB’12), about their transformational journeys at ISB, I reaffirmed my belief that ISB is the best equipped and most enabling platform for me to accelerate my onward journey.

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Breaking down the ISB Admissions process with Former Sr Admissions Manager:

Richa Agarwal, Sr Admissions Manager at ISB, shares insights about how to get an admission at the Indian School of Business, speaking about various topics such as: 

  • Standing out from the rest of the PGP applicants 
  • How to deal with a low GMAT/GRE score
  • What does ISB look for in its candidates and much more

Make sure you watch the video if you are  applying to ISB this year – 

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