ISB Application 2007-08 Essay Analysis

I would like to share my analysis of ISB's application essays for 2008 intake. This year ISB has come out with a surprise element of not including a direct "Why MBA?" question. Overall, I feel ISB has done a good job of presenting the applicants with questions asking about (a) the diversity factor, keeping in mind the number of "Indian/IT/Male" category applicants, (b) creativity and (c) your contribution and qualities as seen in your current workplace.

Update: The following is my analysis of ISB's essays for the application year 2007-08. Please refer to my analysis of the analysis of ISB's essays for application year 2008-09 for the latest.

1. The ISB culture stresses on a diverse mix of students; life at the ISB is a unique experience for the students. How will your candidature contribute to this culture at the ISB? (300 words max)

To approach this question, first identify which lot you belong to. Imagine yourself in a room full of people with a similar background to yours and you are asked to differentiate yourself from others. Come up with just 3-4 points and justify your uniqueness in that room. Those points can be about a unique experience, a hobby which you are very good at, a skill that you have acquired which you can share with others.

If this is difficult, just imagine yourself as part of the admission committee seeing just another application same as last 10 applications. You are looking for a "different" background or a different hobby or a unique experience. You do not want to have a class full of people from IT experience with 3-4 years of work experience and the same GMAT score, in which case no one has anything to learn from his/her peers. On diversity, I have written an article on how important and how you can build on it to contribute to a group.

Coming back to the essay, once you have identified your differentiating factors, focus on how those would be a significant contribution to ISB and let it be understood that this is a profile which is rare. Restrain yourself from focusing on your contributions at your workplace. You might have been the no.1 performer but you were supposed to work hard in your job. Secondly, keep those achievements for essay 3.

Finally, you can end the essay with a focus on how you would in turn be benefited from the diversity at ISB and how you will complement the batch of ISB.

2. A million dollars or knighthood: what would you choose and why? (300 words max)

This question has come up as a surprise question by ISB and has put many candidates in a state of obfuscation.

The key to approach this question is to first understand both the situations presented and weigh the consequences in both. The next step would be to choose one option and justify your selection.

If it is knighthood, it will come with a lifelong honor in the "kingdom". You have all the respect and honor by the people world over. Basically it is a symbolic representation of esteem, honor and repute. Here maybe you can talk about why would you take it and what will you do to keep up to the honor. And most importantly, why would you prefer "honor above money".

On the other hand, a million dollars can change your life. You can have a luxurious life and have the backing to pursue your dream which you had always wanted to. You have the option to pursue your hobby. Or maybe you can now start your own business. Here, what the ISB admissions committee is looking for is your attitude and your approach.

Whatever you opt for, you need to display maturity in your justification and do justice to your choice. Consider it a perfect essay to let yourself out and show your creativity.

Summarizing the analysis, just be yourself and choose the one that matters to you the most.

3. You have a new manager who has just joined your organisation. As a part of the handover, the outgoing manager is describing each person reporting to him. How do you think the outgoing manager will describe you to the incoming manager? (300 words max)

You have the chance to talk about your professional traits and your professional achievements as seen by your manager. Just put yourself in your manager's shoes and praise yourself. Wow! what an essay!

This essay gives you a chance to speak about your leadership abilities and how god a team player you are. Supplement your qualities with appropriate examples. There is a thin line between bragging and praising, do not cross it. Being humble will help but obviously do not hide exceptional achievements, if any.

Since it is the current manager, focus more on achievements or examples from the current workplace. If you want to include achievements at previous employer, just mention in a line or two about the previous experience which you have brought to the present employer. Just limit the information from your previous employer that could have been used by your current employer to hire you.

Just focus on 2-3 qualities, supplement with examples and do justice to the 300 words limit.

4. (Optional) Please provide additional information, if any, that will significantly affect the consideration of your application to the ISB. Please do not repeat information which has already been stated elsewhere in the application. You may use this to clarify any breaks in education/work, inform about any other item which you think has not been covered elsewhere etc. (300 words max)

Not only ISB, but all business schools provide an optional essay to give the candidates an opportunity to present information which might further strengthen the application and help the AdCom know you better. It is strictly not advisable to write it just for the sake of it, and providing the AdCom with repetitive information.

If there are any major shortfalls in the application/resume, like low undergrad grades, low GMAT score, etc. you can use this essay to justify that. You might be doing a part-time job to support your education and thus the low grades, obviously supplemented with a good GMAT score. If there is gap in education, could be justified by explaining how that time was utilized.

Another instance could be if you have had a significant contribution outside of work which cannot be included in the essays. this is the perfect place to cover that.


Unknown said...

I found the URL of your blog from pagalguy. I am also an applicant to ISB this year. While, I have gone thru the list of their essays, I needed some advice about how to approach the first essay relating to student diversity.

Fact is I am an Indian, male, IT professional (who has, horror of horrors, worked at TCS for the 1st three years of his career). There can't be a less unique (excuse this concocted term) profile imaginable. I was thinkng of taking the line that every individual is unique and expounding further on it. Is it reasonable to attack the premise of the essay or will they take umbrage at that line of reasoning?

The Teacher said...

Hi Fawkes,

I apologise for the delay in response.

Well, as far as the profile goes, I agree, we (yes, even I am no different) are a whole lot of people and we do have to emphasis on the differentiating factors.

I do believe that every individual is different and that is what many people fail to emphasize in their essays. I don't see any harm with this line of reasoning, and directly attacking the essay's premise, considering only 300 words are allowed for this. And with only 300 words, it's best to talk about yourself and stick to the essay question.

What do you think?

Praveen Ratna Deepak said...

Good job mate. I am just knowing things and this will surely help me when I apply for ISB in 2 or 3 years from now.

Anonymous said...

Ref : Pagal Guy

I don't know whether you will are in a position to answer my Query. (That is if your profile is that of just another MBA applicant )
Cause my problem is alittle wierd.
I have breaks in my education and job that cannot be quite justified, in that case do you think that i should quit thinking of filling an MBA application let alone doing an MBA from a decent B-school?
After major pitfalls i am trying to put my life on track back again. Do you think i will be disqualified just because i failed in life once and did the unpardonable indiscretion of living to see my falure.
Awating your reply .

mbaaspirant2008 said...

Hi Pulyani,
Guess we are both in the same boat. I too will be app'ing to ISB.
Well-written review of the ISB'07-08 essays.
I somehow find the 3rd essay wicked. It almost seems like repeating the reco in 300 words...I know they are trying to basically ask you to describe yourself at work....but grrr! ...yeah I know...anyways good post .

Shweta said...

can the second essay be used to potray yr post mba goals

The Teacher said...


Thanks. Glad to know it helped.

@dire straits:

Whatever your failure was, I'm not sure why you are taking it so negatively. If you have moved on and looking for something better, it's for the better on the contrary. If you are positive in your approach, it will be visible in your application and I'm sure adcom will view take it positive too. All the best!


Yes mate! even I thought it to be a seem but when you start writing it, you understand that the perspective is different. All the best! hope to meet you at ISB. :)


It's totally on your discretion how you want to use the available space. There is no question of can. If it's genuine, it was surely right.

Anonymous said...

I had one basic question about essay 3.

The wording in the question is

"You have a new manager who has just joined your organisation. As a part
of the handover, the outgoing manager is describing each person
reporting to him. How do you think the outgoing manager will describe
you to the incoming manager? "

So now is the outgoing manager going to give a written description or
does this have to be a conversational description. Based on this the
essay tone will change a lot.

Please suggest what your understanding is.

The Teacher said...


Since we are presenting it in a written format, the essay would best come out as a written description of yourself in third person, like "because of XYZ's contribution, out project achieved its milestone".

This is what my understanding is.

laltu007 said...

I am an applicant for ISB this year ....

While I agree with most of the analysis done for the essays ..... I would like to highlight that I don't completely agree with the analysis of the "Knighthood vs Million$"

The analysis suggest that we should evaluate both aspects and than take a stand .... I would say that that is one style or template of the type "Yin-Yan" (from the good old days of compre and essay writing for GMAT/GRE classrooms!!) ..... There can be other types as well ....

I feel the actual purpose of adcoms for this is NOT to see what applicant chooses after evaluating both options in detail ... but the actual purpose is to get a personality sketch of the applicant ....

I would suggest that people should not take these analysis as rules but should take it just as an guideline ..... In fact I feel writing the first draft just based on instints and than refining it based on some guideline should give much better results .....

The Teacher said...


Of Course, the above written analysis is a personal interpretation and not a guideline.

This question is an open ended question and it is upto us how we want to interpret it. Every essay in a B-school application is an opportunity for the applicant to sell him/her. So we can obviously use this essay to highlight an aspect of our personality which is not displayed in the other two essays.

All three essays together should highlight you completely and give the adcom a true description of yours.

M said...


I was googling B school deadlines when i happened to see ur blog. I must say it has been extremely helpful as far as clearing my doubts abt isb essay 2.

Well, I am in a fix right now regarding whether to apply in Round One or Round Two. The basic two reasons being that I am contemplating applying to schools in US and that I feel, I may not be doing full justice to the application as of now. I am sceptical, cause of what I have learnt, most of the student mix is selected in Round One with the main emphasis being to select the as many good students as it is possible. Don't want to leave room for grudges by either applying too early with a lot to work upon the application or by being left out by missing a good chance in round one.
Kindly Advice

Anonymous said...

Hi Nitin,

Thanks for sharing the great analysis.

I had a question though on Essay # 3 - Do we need to talk only about our strengths in terms of our accomplishment or touch upon the weakness too?
My understanding is that the outgoing mgr will give the complete picture of his sub-ordinates.
Please advice.

The Teacher said...

Hi Anonymous,

You are right that the outgoing manager will give a complete picture. Although it is preferrable to mention a weakness which you think is quite noticable by your supervisor. Make sure that you just mention it and do not elaborate much, as the word limit is also less. In addition, if you have taken some steps to improve upon your weakness, make sure to iunclude that detail.

hope that helps,

Anonymous said...


I am just winding up the essays for the ISB application and wanted to reconfirm something before sending it out.
For Essay 3, does the essay have to be written as if the Manager is writing it (example - ABC has good team skills and works well under pressure, etc.) or does it have to be me writing about myself (example - I have good team skills and work well under pressure, etc.)? I read a post about this earlier, but would like to reconfirm my understanding of it.
I know its very late in applying, but thats another story altogather... Any help would be very greatly appreciated!


blog said...

great job budy....i have not taken GMAT yet..and i m just gathering information about getting into ISB...and let me tell u i hv been helped greatly from all these postings...

Anonymous said...

great post.. i plan to take up GMAT by year end and apply for ISB .. can you help - how/where to get started?

Anonymous said...

Nice write up.. i wish i could hav egone thru it last year but still made it ..

read this..

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