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ISB vs IIM (1 year for executives or 2 year) – Which is better?

It’s an India specific problem that MBA aspirants from other countries don’t face. Blame it on regulatory policy constraints or a lack of consistency or an overload of creativity, we are stuck with management program names that confuse more than clarify what the student is getting.

Consider this:

  • The traditional 2 year degree you get from IIM isn’t technically an MBA degree, it’s a diploma called PGP (Post Graduate Programme).
  • ISB Hyderabad started offering it’s own PGP (again, not technically an MBA). But the program format and the class composition for this PGP is very different from the IIM PGP.
  • In close pursuit, many IIMs started offering their own versions of shorter programs to compete with ISB. But they couldn’t call them PGP (as they’ve already been using that name for the longer programs). So they got creative and started giving them 3/4 letter acronyms (PGPX, EPGP, IPMX) that don’t sound remotely close to an ‘MBA’.

While we’ve tried to clarify this in earlier articles and on our forum, every new year brings forth a new generation of MBA aspirants who are scratching their heads and wondering which is better – ISB PGP or IIM PGP or IIM XYZ.


ISB Hyderabad or IIM (for executives) or IIM PGP (2 years)

ISB’s one year PGP program faces tough competition from IIM’s top one year program for executives, like PGPX, EPGP. This is because both have made their way to the FT global MBA rankings.

The class profile tends to be similar; both the programs look for a mix of experienced professionals from diverse backgrounds; both have a one year duration. Both serve the purpose of a change in the career path. In the FT 2018 global MBA rankings, IIMA-PGPX ranked 31st, ISB ranked 28th, IIMB-EPGP ranked 35th.

IIMs one year program for executives vs Executive MBA

For old-timers on our site this might sound like a broken record. Feel free to skip this paragraph.

There’s a misconception that the one year program offered by IIMs is an executive MBA program which is not true. Though the program is meant for experienced executives, it differs from an executive MBA where professionals are not expected to take a break from work.

An executive MBA is one in which you complete the course of your study while continuing with your professional commitments. However, for these one year IIM programs, you’re needed to take a sabbatical from work and completely immerse yourself to be able to meet the rigorous requirements of the program.

We’ve written a more elaborate post on this here: Executive MBA in India confusion.

In this post, in addition to comparing one year programs for executives offered by IIMs and the one year PGP program offered by ISB, we’d also cover the two-year IIM post-graduate program (PGP) that’s been around for so many years and is so popular among freshers or the less experienced folks, especially those from an engineering (B.E., B.Tech) background (close to 95% intake from engineering background in some IIMs).

We are skipping the short-term / part-time variants of Executive MBA from IIM to focus only on full-time MBA programs in India.

IIM’s two year PGP program


The Post-Graduate Programme in Management (PGP) is a two year full-time program and is comparable to the internationally offered MIM (Masters in Management) program.

Among all the IIMs spread across the country, IIM Ahmedabad (IIMA) is the most popular and usually the top choice among applicants. It also leads the Financial Times rankings 2017 in the Masters in Management category. The PGP program at IIM Ahmedabad was ranked 21st, IIM Calcutta 28th, IIM Bangalore 26th.

As the number of students who appear for the CAT and apply for these programs is very high, the percentage of students who’re able to get in is very low at almost 0.1%.

In addition to cracking the CAT with a top score and having a good academic background, there’s also the Academic Writing Test (AWT) and the Personal Interview (PI) rounds that come into picture. The fees at IIM-A for two years comes to around 21 Lakh Rupees. On completion, you are awarded ‘Post-graduate Diploma in Management’.

Course structure

At IIM-A, the first year covers the core courses and you have an internship opportunity of 8-10 weeks at the end of this year. In the second year, in addition to the core course, you can take up areas of your interest.

The student exchange program allows you to spend a term abroad and enables international students from partner institutes to spend a term at IIM-A, thus broadening your network and contacts and giving you a chance to study and interact with international students.

Work experience and average salary

There’s no minimum work experience required while applying to the PGP programs. However, in the recent times, it has been observed that candidates getting in are not just freshers, but there’s a good mix of candidates who’ve worked for a period of one to two years or more.

The average salary at IIM Ahmedabad for the class of 2015 is 19.70 lakhs which includes the fixed yearly cash component, one-time cash payment and total guaranteed cash component. This figure comes as a surprise considering that the students getting in do not have much work experience.

The average salary would vary for other IIMs depending on their reputation and the batch profile.

In contrast to IIM’s two year PGP program, for getting into ISB’s PGP or IIM’s one year program for executives, you’d need significant work experience. A more experienced class translates into better learning opportunities from your peers as each person shares their views and previous workplace experiences. These insights help in the overall learning process.

IIM one year MBA for executives

IIM started these programs to suit the requirements of experienced folks in the industry who were looking for a top Indian brand that would be at par with an international MBA degree.

The IIMA-PGPX started its first batch in 2006 while IIMB-EPGP started much later. IIMA with its history of being the best as far as the two year PGP program is concerned continues to be the biggest brand among all and leads in terms of its FT global rankings and the class profile.


Though this one year full-time residential program was launched less than a decade back, it has become quite popular. The total intake is around 140 and very less compared to ISB. The class average age is about 32 years and work experience averages around 8.7 years for the top programs like IIMA-PGPX and IIMB-EPGP.

The course fee for IIMA PGPX is INR 27 lakhs and includes tuition, course material and accommodation. The program commences in mid-April and ends around mid-March.

PGPX course structure

The PGPX program comprises of a six course structure beginning with the induction and ending with the capstone. It includes the building blocks (management fundamentals), electives and a two-week long international immersion.

The focus of the course is on leadership positions, strategic training and general management with electives available in other areas as well. It prepares professionals to effectively manage day-to-day situations by widening their perspectives and gives them diverse business exposure through case studies.

Intakes at other IIMs

The intake for IIM’s other well-known programs for executives is 70 for the IIMB-EPGP and shy of 70 for IIMC-PGPEX program.

Due to limited intake capacity, you’d need a good GMAT score and a strong application to get into the best programs. Other similar programs include IIM Lucknow’s IPMX and IIM Indore’s EPGP.

Indian School of Business (ISB)


ISB’s Hyderabad campus came into existence around a decade and a half back in 2001 and had at one point of time become the most sought after one year program comparable with international MBA education. ISB has a sprawling self-sufficient campus with residential and recreational facilities within.

The fee for the program comes to around 33 – 35 lakhs. The intake capacity increased greatly to more than 800 with its new campus at Mohali (functional since 2012). Around 73% of the class of 2016 is from the engineering background.

It’s a fact that these institutions (ISB and IIMs) cannot confer a MBA degree as degrees can only be offered by universities in India, so instead of an MBA degree, at ISB, you are awarded a PGP or Post Graduate Program in Management.

Course structure

The ISB commences its program in April and completes in April the following year. The ISB curriculum is well-designed beginning with a LEAD program helping students identify their strengths as well as weak areas that need improvement.

The one year intense program has the core courses, electives as well as an opportunity to pursue areas of your interest under a faculty member under the ISP (Independent Study Programme).

You can also exchange campuses at Hyderabad and Mohali. The international exchange program allows you to spend time at international partner schools and allows international candidates to spend time at ISB, thus providing cross-cultural exposure and giving you a chance to know about their work culture.

At ISB, visiting faculty from top international business schools bring in varied perspectives and add value to the overall experience of the program.

Average salary comparison

The average work experience is 4.7 years at ISB and is much lower than the IIMs one year program for executives (~9 years).

It would be obvious that considering the notable difference in the average work experience of the class between the two, the salaries would also differ.

Those with a higher experience would draw bigger paychecks, which is why the average salary at IIMA-PGPX tends to be greater than ISB.

The average salary for IIM PGPX class of 2015 is around 23 lakhs , while for ISB it is Rupees 22 Lakhs.

Which is the best program for me – ISB or IIM?

We’ll avoid the diplomatic response (“It depends”) and try to make the decision making easier for you.

Based on the experience you have at the start of the program (and not while applying):

  • If you have between zero to two years experience, the 2 year PGP at IIM will be good.
  • Between 2 to 7 years of work experience, you’d be closer to the average ISB student.
  • For mature professionals, with over 7 years experience you can start looking at IIM PGPX.

Now that may sound like an easy flowchart to follow, but keep in mind that IIM / ISB are the toughest programs in India to crack. If your profile isn’t competitive enough to get into any of these, there are other choices in the 2 year and 1 year MBA formats.

When you expand the criteria to include study abroad options, the choice of international degrees outside India is huge.

Some more interesting articles for you:

ISB MBA admission with full scholarship
Is ISB still worth the money and time?
How I got into ISB with scholarship in my third attempt
ISB Hyderabad admission with low GMAT score of 610
How the ISB admission process works
All about ISB Hyderabad MBA

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About Swati
After working for over a decade in technical and managerial roles in the corporate world, Swati now works as a freelancer and writes on a variety of topics including education, career guidance and self-improvement.

25 thoughts on “ISB vs IIM (1 year for executives or 2 year) – Which is better?”

  1. Dear Swati and Sameer,

    Thanks for the article. I have been trying to gain more information about ISB vs PGPX.

    My work-ex is ~7.5yrs (at the time of joining) so am at the borderline for ISB and PGPX.
    My current profile is Business Development and I want to move to branding/marketing.
    Undergrad is IIT B.Tech

    Which college should I join?

  2. Dear Team,

    I am having a work ex of 6+ years. I am a Civil Engineer by profession. working in a leading Water EPC company. My experience majorly consists of 4 years of Site Execution experience. 6 months of Project Co ordination and 2 years of Business Development & Sales experience.
    I understand that this is a rare combination.
    But my academics r not great.
    Class 10 – 78%
    Class 12 – 71%
    DGPA – 7.73
    GMAT – 590.which I think is quite less.

    With decent extra curricular activities.

    I plan to apply in R2 and I dnt have the time to re take GMAT.

    Is there any chance that ISB may call me for an interview.. Expecting non diplomatic replies.

  3. @Rohit: Your experience puts you right in the middle of the averages for the two programs. Why not apply to both?

    @Arindam: Sorry, but I’d think that GMAT would be the deal breaker here, despite the unconventional experience and background. Why not re-take the GMAT and try for next year’s applications?

  4. Hi Swati and Sameer,

    Good info – clear and concise. Looking forward to your thoughts on a couple of my questions.

    I have a work-ex of around 11 years in the filed of chip designing across major semiconductor giants, currently also working in one. Role has been primarily technical and core engineering. Have a ME degree in engineering from BITS, Pilani (full time). Need your advice, if career-wise undertaking in for ISB or IIM PGPX, will be good decision? Or will that offset or have a setback to my career (given that my work-ex is in tech companies and not sure what value add does earning a PGP have in tech companies or how many non-tech companies would like do a lateral hiring given my tech background)? Please advise.

    Where can I look for more clarity (given my professional background) on helping me decide to write GMAT. Will attending ISB info sessions give me more insight?

    What GMAT score should be the minimum I need to target for ensuring an admit.

    Thanks for your help.

    • Ritika, if the 11 year experience has only been in a purely technical role, an MBA is unlikely to help you break the perception in minds of future employers about what you can and can’t do in a managerial or business oriented role.

      Think about the pros and cons of letting a good job (and a good salary) go in pursuit of better opportunities, which may end up being more of a mirage.

  5. Hello Swati!!
    I’d like a suggestion from you regarding post grad degree.
    I have 4.7 years of work ex as a project lead/project manager in a couple of organizations making trucks and motorcycles. I’ve got an okayish cat score which got me an interview call from IIM indore and all the newer IIMs.
    Also, I appeared for GMAT last year scored 630, applied for ISB and didn’t get a call….
    My previous scores are like- 10th 88.8%, 12th 85.5%, B.Tech. CGPA-6.43

    In your view, would it be better (**If I get in**) to join the 2 year program or improve my gmat score and try for a 1 year program at ISB and other international universities.

  6. Hi sameer & swati,
    I have total experience(pure technical) of 3.7 years (as of 2016-April),
    M.Tech – IIT Delhi – 6.2 CGPA (extension 6 months)
    One year GAP (GATE preparation)
    B.E – Mechanical – 60%
    12th – 76%
    10th – 72%
    i am planning for One year full time MBA program in 2018 or 2019,
    What are my chances of getting into IIM A/B/C or ISB..?
    (my concern is- 6 Month extension during program, 60% in BE and one year GAP before masters). pls help me.

  7. Hi Sameer & Swati,

    I have 12 years of IT Technical experience without any business skill set in my profile.

    Now I would like to transition my career into business management for which I am looking for business skills.

    I’ve gone through GMITE (General Management program for IT Executives ) from IIMB.

    Can you please suggest if we have an equivalent program from ISB as well.

    I am not particular neither to ISB or IIMB nor GMITE or any other program.

    I need some inputs as to which program I can take up to meet my requirement and then wanna know the eligibility criteria,

    Please suggest

    Thanks in advance,,

  8. @Vin: Sorry we can’t talk about chances. You’ll have to use the optional essay to explain the academic gaps. Start preparing for the GMAT anyway, since it is an integral and mandatory part of the application.

    @Seetaram: We generally focus on the flagship program, since the number of variant courses (designed for highly niche audiences) is too high for us to really keep track of. Almost all institutes from Harvard to ISB offer them. Keep in mind that the selectivity and entry barriers for such courses tend to be lower than the main program.

  9. Hi sameer & swati,
    I have total experience(pure technical) of 5 years (as of 2016-April),
    B.E – Mechanical – 62%
    12th – 78%
    10th – 76%
    I am planning for full time MBA program in 2017.
    My first concern is
    Am having confusion in 1 Year and 2 Year program.
    Which should I prefer ?
    As am thinking ISB Strength of class is too much i.e nearly 700 students in one batch for 1 year MBA course and IIM A having only 85 students intake but it requires 9 years Exp. Which am not having,So better to go for 2 year MBA Course.What is your suggestion on this ?
    My second concern is
    As am not having any management experience in my work experience ,So will it effect during campus selection of 1 year MBA Course ?
    Is it necessary to have your experience in management field ?
    Please suggest.
    Thanks in Advance.

  10. Dear Swati and Sameer,

    I work for department of Atomic Energy and have around 7 years of experience and of course it is purely technical.
    I did my Btech (Mech) from NIT, Raipur (77%) and MTech (Nuclear) from HBNI, Mumbai (80%). 10th and 12th marks are 77% each.

    I’ve also been working on a startup idea for the past 1 -1.5 year.

    My only management experience, if at all, has been those while working on the startup idea.

    I’m planning for full time MBA in 2017 and I’m looking for 1 year course from IIM A or ISB.

    Looking at my profile and experience which of course is purely technical with a couple of years of experience as an entrepreneur, what do you think are my chances in getting into IIM A or ISB?

    I am pretty sure that recruiter (& placement cell) will have really tough time finding the right position for me :). What do you suggest?

    Thanks & Regards
    Prashant Sharma

  11. @Adesh: For the experience you have, a 2-year MBA outside India is a good option for you rather than a 2-year MBA in India. You’ll have plenty of time to experience and enjoy the program. Management experience before starting the MBA surely helps and most of your competitors will be talking about it in some form or another. Not having it can be a weak point.

    @Prashant: Before the placement cell comes into the picture, the Admissions team will worry about the point about where you’d fit in. If you don’t have an answer to that question, don’t jump into applications. There’s more at stake for you than for bschools. Go back to the basic questions about why you need an MBA, why now and what you expect to get from the experience.

  12. Hello Everyone,

    I need some guidance/advice/suggestions from experts on the Quora community who are related to or have experience in MBA ( from ISB or IIM or renouned University).

    To give my background :
    I have 9 years of planning & supply chain experience in big companies in India , my last designation was senior executive Cadbury India. I am an Electronics Engineer.

    I always wanted to have my own business and I started
    pyrolysis plant with the financial help of my family near home town .
    Initially we had good response but due to bad market conditions ( oil industry) we suffered huge loss in it and don’t see any growth in continuing in same industry as of now as my family bread and butter dependent on it.

    When I think of moving to professional career again,I realize there is much more to learn professionally.
    So I am looking forward to do an 1 year MBA either from ISB or IIM , also have started working on GMAT preparation .

    I need your sincere advice/suggestions for :
    Is it right decision/time ( I am 36 now) to pursue 1 year executive MBA?
    What is the salary I can expect with 1 year MBA and 11+ years of experience in Supply chain and business.
    What are the MBA streams I can focus on?
    Apart from IIM and ISB which are other good schools which will help me setup good professional future?
    Are there any companies who run sponsorship program for MBA ( if I have admission letter in hand) and then join the company?

    Thank you for your help and guidance in advance .

    Best Regards ,
    Vinod .

  13. @Vinod: You’ve broken our heart by calling us Quora, instead of the name that we so lovingly gave it. But I’ll try to address your queries nevertheless.

    – Options like PGPX may be worth a shot since they get mature applicants. However, at 36 most full-time programs (like ISB) have drifted out of reach.

    – Indian recruiters are less enthusiastic about hiring laterally from such 1-year programs specially when someone brings in so much experience.

    – I am not aware of any company that would sponsor someone who isn’t already an employee with a strong track record of loyalty.

    Having said all that, the silver lining is that you already have 9 years of good SCM experience before you moved into entrepreneurship. So instead of assuming that the MBA is your own option back into the corporate world, why not try directly. Reach out to some placement agencies and share your CV. Hopefully you’ll get a good break soon.

    Good luck, buddy!

  14. Hi Sameer,

    I have total almost 4 years for experience now. I am willing to go for 1 year full time mba program in India. I heard ISB is a very good college. Can you advice if i will be eligible for 1 year PGP program from ISB if my total experience cross 5 years? Or can you suggest which cross should i go for at this stage of career which is benificial for financial and job profile objective

  15. Hi Swati,

    Its very detailed and informative article. Thank you so much for this post.

    I think I am getting to read this article after very long time and not sure if I would even get reply, just trying my luck.

    I have overall experience of 3.5 years, first 2.5 years into a renowned e-commerce start up(Joined since inception), next 1 year in an advertising agency into client servicing and business development. I am confused if I should join ISB or IIM PGPX. I have not appeared for GMAT yet, would be very much grateful if you could throw some light on the same.


  16. @Shikha: Yes, ISB will consider your application if you have 5 years of experience or even higher, as long as you put in a competitive application.

    @Dharmishtha: ISB will be a better option than IIM PGPX. For the latter the average experience in the class is very high (9-10 years). But the competition for ISB is intense, as you might already know. So, ensure that you have other (international) programs on your shortlist too.

  17. Hi,

    I currently have just over 2 years of work experience. I was thinking of applying for ISB class of 2017. Overview of profile: Int. Mtech. IIT R – Shell (1 year), Startup (Marketing – 1 yr). GRE – 333. I was also thinking of giving CAT.

    Among the IIM and ISB which do you think suits my profile more? I plan to work in Marketing itself post MBA.

  18. Hi Swati and Sameer,

    Thanks for your post. It was really helpful. I have 8 years of experience in networking and routing as senior tech consultant. I want to move into management side now to explore a better growth opportunities. I have started preparing for gmat however I am confused about which course to join epgp, gnite or a proper 2 year pgp course ? I am a pure technical person hence I prefer a course which takes me all the way through to the top.

  19. Hi Swati and Sameer,
    I see a lot of insights on your article .Kudos on your effort to get the students off doubts and confusions.
    I got a few queries ,looking forward to you discussing on my stuff.
    I have been in IT-world for the last 2.5 years, now that I am thinking to do an MBA and have stopped by “ISB or abroad”, which one do you think is better for my profile?
    I have jus 2.5 years of experience ,Do guys like me are given less priority than those with 4-5 years of experience guys at ISB during placements or all through the course?
    Don’t we get as good pay as those more experienced guys’ given our performance is better than theirs during the course of study?
    Kindly help me out here:)

  20. Hi Sameer,
    I am on the mba question – to do or not to do? 1 yr? India? Would you please advise me?
    I am a BCOM and CA with 15 months in a big 4 tax consulting environment, 6 months in company taxation in IT sector MNC, a break of a year when i had to shift to the US and then 3 years in corporate finance in a MNC in the IT sector now. That is a little less than 5 years experience post CA (+3 years of CA articleship in a small firm). My experience in Corp Fin is in a USGaap reporting specific (i could even say company specific) kind of a profile. I am looking for vertical growth in finance – corporate/business finance. I have been actively applying for finance job openings fir over a year but have not heard back from anyone so far.
    I scored a 710 on my GMAT recently and i am looking to apply to 1 year programs in India. Also I am a 30 year old indian female with no family commitments now. What would you advise me on:
    1. Would MBA give me the necessary value add for vertical growth in corp fin?
    2. 1 yr or 2 yr? Will 1 yr look at my past experience favourably. I would like to do an mba, if i have to do one, within the shortest possible time. And in finance concentration/ electives.
    3. Isb vs iim 1 year programs (B,C,L) – from suitability and marketability for my profile.

    Please share your valuable advise.

  21. HI Swati & Sammer,

    Nice Article Swathi with lots of insights in it.

    I have more than 8 years work experience, started my career as software Developer now i am handling a team as Technical Lead.
    I have very decent(poor) academic records with two time gaps in education one year while perusing 10+2 and one year while perusing graduation.

    10th –> 76.48%
    10+2 –> 63.3%
    BE –> 58%

    though my academic records are poor after graduation i took up the challenges now i am playing vital role in my profession & now really wanted to get into IIMs/ISB/any International MBA colleges (outside India) even if it needs hard work.

    With my above records & education gaps are there any chances for me, need your prompt answer as i need to make my decision. Thanks in advance.

  22. Hello Team MBACrystalBall,

    It was a very insightful article to read. Wonder if you could help me.

    I have now 6 years of Work Experience in FMCG (ITC Ltd.) as a Sales Executive in Retail Trade. I have already completed my Full Time 2 Years MBA (MMS) from an average Mumbai Management College in 2014. I did my Graduation in B.Sc.I.T (in which I was least interested) from Mumbai itself. I have a 1 year Gap after my 12th & also I worked in my Family Business for 1 Year before joining ITC Ltd. But now I feel stuck.

    I have good past academic record

    10th – 88%
    12th – 86%
    B.Sc.I.T – 67%

    I have till now not handled a team of On-Roll employess under me.

    Kindly help if PGPX course would be beneficial.


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