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How to get into ISB

Getting into the Indian School of Business (ISB) is no child’s play. Just look at a few numbers to see the school’s impressive haul in the following series of charts.

For the purpose of this article, we have taken the hallowed M7 business schools and INSEAD / London Business School (LBS) as the comparison set.

Salary after ISB
Source: Financial Times 2020 Global MBA Rankings

Alright then, that’s what makes an average Indian candidate make a run for ISB. It’s ranked fourth in the world in terms of % salary increase (before-after MBA). The value and RoI is just phenomenal and continues to be something to beat.

Indians are among the highest GMAT test takers in the world and for many of them, given the above value, ISB tends to be a bit of default choice. This can be further seen in the following charts of Acceptance Rates and Yield.

ISB Acceptance Rate
ISB Yield
Source: Poets and Quants (2019); * ISB date is for 2014; ** 2018 data

The data from ISB on this count is not on point unfortunately and the only time this was made public was back in 2014.

The Acceptance Rate charts tells us that selectivity of ISB is next only to H/S/MIT and more stringent than all other top schools!

This also harks back to the point made earlier about the school being a bit of default choice for Indian GMAT test takers which would always mean that not all applicants would be in the similar league.

The Yield too is among the highest out there. Meaning, the school does attract serious contenders many of who only have ISB in their crosshairs.

ISB Average GMAT

Source: School websites
The average GMAT though is not as high as the M7 for ISB, it is still among the highest out there.
ISB admit with GRE

Now that we’ve established the difficulty and the attractiveness of the program, how can you make it? We will try to break this down into three basic elements here, let’s call it the ABC of getting into ISB for mnemonic’s (look that up if you are preparing for GMAT) sake.

How to get into ISB

The ABC of getting into ISB


A – Ace the objective parameters.

We’ve written in the past about what is most important in an MBA application.

The A for getting into ISB is to ace the parameters that are quantified, in numbers. Namely, your GPA (or percentage), the GMAT/GRE score and scores in any other competitive tests or certifications.

If you are reading this as a working professional, part of it is past sins – you can’t really do much about your undergrad GPA. That is the reason why GMAT/GRE becomes (a bit overtly so may I add) crucial.

There are a few other things you can do but that really depends on a deeper analysis.  For instance, for a career in finance, CFA may help in your MBA admission prospects too.

If you plan in advance around this, it is not impossible to get around the hurdle of poor academics.

If you are reading this article early in your career, push hard for academic excellence. Even if you are passionate about other stuff, academic excellence is valued when you are seeking admission into an academic institute.

Do bear in mind that this is a best practice. Meaning, if you don’t score high, it doesn’t mean you can’t make it. Just that your job is that much harder.

Read on to see what more you can do. Of course, if you are among the high scorers, it’s not unheard of ISB to dole out scholarships and even a 100% ride or a healthy financial aid.

B – Bigger is better

More experience, more achievements, more quantification, more everything.

Another way to read the B of our mnemonic is Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Better and a lot more of being. Let’s try to break this down this statement, which currently reads more like a vision statement more than anything else.

The clue is in the comparative adjective usage – bigger. It means that when you are working, work better than the average performer in your workplace. If you are volunteering, look for ways you can better the way the NGO or the initiative is being run. And so on and so forth.

While you are at it, make sure to think about how you will convey this, how will a person unknown to you acknowledge and understand the impact.

Look for ways to measure impact in objective terms so that proving the bigness of your achievements is not another vision statement, but more factual and something that can bear scrutiny. And most importantly, be better at packaging all of it into compelling essays and overall application.

In terms of length of professional experience, there is a reason why work experience matters.

If you want to challenge the norms, remember, the expectation on being better than your peers would be even more. You not only have to be better than your peer group but ideally, better than those with several more years of experience than you (or less).

Another aspect of being better than the average candidate is by being better informed about the school. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways – by visiting the school, attending information sessions, webinars, interacting with current students and/or alumni, and more.

Doing so will not only help you present a nuanced understanding of the school, and hence show your keen interest to the adcoms, but will also ensure that you are fully aware of what to expect, before putting in your hard earned money into a degree that is expensive.

Being better at something leads to differentiation. Differentiation doesn’t have to mean you are one in a million. You have to be aware of what’s the benchmark.

For instance, we work with a lot of IT applicants who apply to ISB. Most of them would look very similar on paper. But we find ways to help them stand out from all the other average IT applicants.

If you work at an IT firm that employs thousands of others in a similar role as yourself, then that’s the benchmark – what’s the average guy there like.

However, it doesn’t stop at that. The benchmark is also without – meaning, someone say in a non-IT field, with a similar age/experience range.

Maybe your classmate from engineering who chose to go into a core engineering field versus you who decided to opt for the software world.

The job of an MBA adcom is tough since they have to judge both of you, without a clear objective way of doing so. Getting over the hurdle of more than average work experience can be easily overcome, if you showcase how bigger is better.

Like this candidate did and got an ISB admit offer on the spot within 3 minutes of the interview!

The journey to identify one’s potential and differentiation becomes even more critical for reapplicants. Many of them have the innate potential but it just takes them time to meet or find that potential.

We’ve worked with candidates who’ve gone through the grind thrice and come out winners (read ISB with scholarship in third attempt. The mantra here is to not give up hope.

C – Comprehensive

Don’t leave out anything, including the lows, not just the highs.

Being complete and comprehensive is important. The reason for an application in very basic terms, is for the school to get to know you, the whole you. Both your personal and professional attributes.

Why is that important? It’s because a top school like ISB always tries to have a good mix of people in a class.

Diversity, of any type, helps invoke discussions and the learning process is thereby elevated. Discussions and debates help you learn a concept better and more importantly, ensure that your understanding is not just theoretical.

Doing these discussions in a classroom full of people with varies personalities and professional experiences means you get to learn how the theory is applied differently by different people, different organizations and under different circumstances.

If there are any issues in your candidature, low grades, fail grades, gaps in your career or any other factors that are not apparent from the basic application, do try your best to convey and explain those. The best place to do so is in your optional essays or, if not available, within your main application essays.

Remember, hiding facts or lying in your MBA application is never going to be of help. If anything, this can completely jeopardize your chances.

And ignoring it, trying to shove it under the carpet won’t help either. If you don’t explain something that needs explaining, adcoms are free to assume the worst and that would be enough to make you stumble.

But, you can overcome test score and employment issues, if you know how to handle it well.

Check out how this candidate got into ISB with low GMAT and a career break.

Here’s another story of someone who got into ISB with a super low GMAT score of 600.
We hope this primer gives you enough to get cracking on your ISB journey and also acts as a beacon of hope, reading through various inspirational stories.

We only take on a few ISB applicants each year. Drop us an email early, if you need consulting help with your ISB application: info [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com
Watch this video next: All you need to know about ISB

Also read:
ISB blogs and success stories
Best admission consultant for ISB

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Manish Gupta
About Manish Gupta
Chief Consulting Officer at MBA Crystal Ball, ex-McKinsey, IIT & ISB topper. MG can help you get into the top B-schools. Read more about this top MBA admissions consultant. Connect with MG on Linkedin, Facebook or Email: mcb [at] mbacrystalball [dot] com

35 thoughts on “How to get into ISB”

  1. Hi Manish Sir,

    I have 3 years work experience in Business development field.
    I scored very poor in my XII- 59.16% and I realise the drawback today.
    I want to apply for top MBA institutes, but donI have any chance?
    Please share if there are any magical stories to clear my doubt.

    Thanks in advance 😉

    • I am a MBA ( finance) 2001 batch from mumbai and IIM cal student of Advance program in strategic management from 2016 batch and at present i am employee of a PSU bank i.e. United Bank of India now its merged with Punjab national bank and at present working in delhi.
      I am very much interested in any good short duration course from ISB to enhance my career to tap some good top level global opportunity .
      Which course would be better for me.
      Any rough or good idea or suggestions can i get from you.

      You may write me on whats app on my provided mobile no.

      Mob -9874259888

  2. I am 30 years old, worked in Software industry of Private Company as well as PSU. 85% on class X and 83% in XII. 76.6% in undergrad. Want to learn business. What is your advice on pursuing ISB?

  3. Sir I have completed with around 70percent cgpa and I am currently working in private consumer goods industry! Will this profile provide any ease in making into ISB through Gmat?

  4. Hi Sir,

    I have done my btech in electronics with 82.3 % . Currently working in Deloitte as business analyst and have 1 year of experience. My gre score is 318. Sir with this score and profile what chances do i have in early entry option? Or should i retake gre or gmat ? Which one is preferable ?

  5. Raghav, schools accepting both scores would always say that there is no difference between the two tests. And that’s true to most extent. Since you have already started on the GRE path, no specific reason to alter (unless say if you want to target consulting after). The expectation at ISB is likely to be higher. Besides, for EEO, the objective parameters tend to matter more. So, a retake will be a pretty good idea.

  6. I am 30 and work in the development sector. I have a masters from TISS, Mumbai. I scored 74% in 10th, 78% in 12th, 41% in undergrad from DU and 67% in masters the selection for which was very competitive (30 seats only). I took the GRE in 2018. V:155, Q:159. Not a great score but not bad as well. Last year, I got interview calls from ASU, Olin and Mays but none of them converted. Is it because of my bad undergrad score? I wrote compelling essays and had stellar recommendations. I went through your article on how an MBA after 30 is tricky/difficult. Did age play a role last year and if not an MBA then what? Should I even consider one year executive programs given my average performance in school and terrible performance in undergrad? On the work front, I have been an exceptional performer and I can get amazing recommendations from senior management in national as well as international non profits.

  7. Sir I am a BBA first year student. I had heard much about ISB and I wish to pursue my Post graduation from ISB. Can you please say what are the pre steps I should take so that I could mould myself to pursue my future studies.?
    Hope you’ll reply to my concern

  8. Hello sir, I am 26 and working in Automotive OEM. I do have 5 years of work experience. 12th – 93.5%, B.E. – 8.54 CGPA. Planning to give GMAT by June 2020. I would like to know the GMAT score range, that could help me getting into ISB or IIM B. Also kindly clarify if I give GMAT by June 2020, can I apply for upcoming academic year ?

  9. Good morning,
    I have a work exp of 4.5 years as of today. I am planning to apply to ISB this year.
    My profile is as follows:
    My career goal is to work in a general management role or in a marketing role post MBA. After reading my profile please suggest what would be more suitable for me.
    Best Regards.

  10. Hi Manish,

    I am a CA working in a Big 4 in Tax. Now an MBA aspirant wanting to get into managerial roles. Trying ISB and no other B-School. Currently 30 years with 4 years work-ex (lost about 2 years due to 3 attempts to clear CA Final and started CA after B.Com). X – 91%, XII – 94%, – 82%. Extra-curricular – Active in the Quizzing circuit and was National Finalist of Tata Crucible Campus Quiz.

    Wanted your advise whether with these credentials and age-factor, is it worth taking up GMAT and doing MBA. I plan to write GMAT in July-Aug 2020.


      • Hi Manish,

        Thank you for your reply. Wouldn’t CA”s get some kind of weightage by the ISB admissions panel. ? And do we have 30+ yrs old folks at the ISB or are there very few cases like that…Now I am really confused whether to take up the GMAT or not. The thing is I want a career shift and aspire to work in the MBM firms. And sadly the only way to do that is to get an MBA. Hoping there is a ray of hope


        • Sure, it would help. There are definitely quite a few people in the 30s. Just that, they are not in majority and a small minority. Even so, since the class size is big, the absolute number is not small.

          I presume you meant MBB? That will always be an uphill battle as the competition for those is intense. So, if you go for it, make sure to also have a solid backup plan.

  11. Hello,

    My profile is a follows:

    10th, ICSE- 85.83% ( 2014)
    12th , ISC- 73.16% ( 2016)
    Graduation, BCOM HONS with specialisation in Finance and Investment from Christ University- 8.63 CGPA (2019)
    IELTS- 7.5 (overall band) (2019)

    Won 3rd prize in Street Play in college at Darpan, an inter deanery fest in college.
    Participated in dances every year
    Won best student for Value Education, 11th std
    Won prize for singing in school
    Participated in badminton competitions
    Work Experience
    Worked as a Process Associate at Robert Bosch Engineering and Business Solutions Pvt Ltd from June, 2019 to May, 2020.
    I was part of the Invoice Processing team under the Accounts Payable team.
    Won the SPOT AWARD in December, 2019 and got Rupees 1000 as a reward for my good work.
    Extra Courses and Professional Certifications
    Course on Blockchain and Bitcoin Fundamentals
    Course on Improving Global Health: Focusing on Quality and Safety from Harvard University
    Completed Level 1 of CISI, UK. ( Professional Course)
    Course on Ethical Hacking
    Virtual Programs and Internships
    Interning with Women For India as Finance Intern, (May, 2020 to June,2020)
    Completed Global Consumer Banking Virtual Internship Program from CITIBANK ( May, 2020)
    Completed Strategy Consulting Virtual Experience Program from BCG (May, 2020)
    Interned with Magma Fincorp as a Summer Finance Intern for a month in April, 2018.
    I am currently taking a break and preparing for the GMAT which is scheduled for 18th Nov, 2020.

    What do you think of my Profile ? Do i stand a chance ?

    Thank you.


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