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.