When I entered my final year of college in 2015, I was convinced that I would spend the next few years working towards a PhD in Economics. I had grand designs to build a shining career in academia. Life, of course, had other plans and with time, so did I. As I started my first job and began to explore the world around me, I realized that I wanted to become a management consultant. I wanted to fill in the knowledge and skill gaps I had, access recruitment opportunities and alumni at top firms and gain the brand equity I knew to be very important in this industry. An MBA from a highly ranked institute seemed to be the best platform to do so. That is how I found myself joining the Indian School of Business (ISB) in April 2018 as a member of the Post Graduate Programme (PGP) Class of 2019.
ISB offers a broad portfolio of management education programmes called the ‘PGP Suite’ to executives with varying work experiences and needs. Here, I will only discuss the full time 1 year residential PGP. There are 3 modes of admission. All prospective students are required to have at least 24 months of full time work experience before joining; applicants meeting this criteria can apply in a process similar to other global b-schools, built around compelling statements of purpose, favourable reference letters, strong test scores (GMAT or GRE – not CAT) and a well-rounded profile.
Additionally, the Young Leaders Programme (YLP) targeted at high-achieving college students gives successful applicants a deferred admission while still in college, allowing them to join the PGP after 20 months of work-ex. The Early-Entry-Option (EEO) is like the YLP, aimed at newly employed professionals fresh out of college. Admitted candidates also get a deferred admit, and can join after completing 24 months of work. Due to its somewhat unusual admissions process in the Indian context, the School eventually selects a very diverse class of high-performing and seasoned individuals. The Co19 stretched between the ages of 22 to 42, with an average work experience of 4 years and 35% of students being non-engineers.
The course itself is an intensive, 51-week roller-coaster ride comprising 8 terms, administered across two campuses at Hyderabad and Mohali. ISB follows a much discussed ‘one school, two campuses’ policy. Students across both campuses are treated as one cohesive cohort and every effort is made to ensure homogeneity and standardization of the experience. Admissions and placements are a combined exercise, the faculty pool is common and campus allocation is largely random, with some weightage given to personal student preferences. Both campuses house world-class infrastructure and architecture. Students are very well taken care of to ensure full focus on the course and their goals. By the time they graduate, many even complain of being ‘too spoilt for the real world’.
The programme itself and subject syllabi have been designed via collaboration between ISB and other global schools like Wharton and Kellogg. Classes are taught by a mix of residential and visiting faculty from these top-ranking partner b-schools, all of whom are very accomplished and at the cutting edge of their respective fields. The teaching pedagogy is built around hands-on assignments, case studies and (lots of) exams dealt with simultaneously at the individual and (study) group level. Professors are supported by a team of residential academic associates at both campuses to ensure everything runs smoothly. The first 3.5 terms are based on mandatory ‘core’ subjects that provide an introduction and foundation in key business areas like marketing and finance. Thereafter, students are free to choose from a wide range of electives and major in their desired field(s).
There is an army of staff manning the offices across campuses to take care of everything from placements to academic administration to extra-curricular student development. On the professional front, ISB’s 10000+ alumni are its greatest strength. They regularly take time out to visit campus and coach current students on vital work and life skills via workshops and one-on-one sessions. Experts are also enlisted to conduct regular interventions as and when required for things like business communication and industry deep-dives.
Many call life at ISB a buffet; there is lots to choose from, and only so much room on the plate. Students can be a part of professional and social clubs, special interest groups and the Graduate Student Board (GSB) in various capacities ranging from active leadership to voluntary membership. This helps them engage with their classmates, shape student life and explore issues and topics that excite them. The academic calendar is marked by a host of marquee events like Equinox and Solstice for alumni engagement and ISL, ISB’s multi-sport league built on the IPL format. Students are free to take part in planning, executing and participating in these. Case competitions, regular speaker sessions by visiting dignitaries and business leaders and exchange programmes to partner schools are among the other activities people indulge in.
Given the wide range of work experience in the class and the class size (almost 900), placements are a massive exercise. From resume preparation and company pre-placement talks to shortlists and placement preparation, students receive continuous aid and guidance from the career services team, the ‘career advancement council’ (selected from the batch itself) and alumni. The entire cohort is collected at either of the two campuses for Day 1 and 2 (typically over a week) and the school presents its students as one class with no disclosure of campus origins. Roles range from entry-level stints for lower-work ex candidates to senior leadership positions for the more experienced ones, across industries and functions. Among these, consulting, sales and marketing are the most popular with the heavyweight recruiters from these fields present and hungry for talent. Consulting, especially, is what ISB is best known for and all the major firms hire in large numbers. A special mention here for product manager roles from top firms like Flipkart and Microsoft that are also offered and highly coveted.
In my opinion, what really works for ISB is first and foremost, its diversity. It was challenging for me to work with classmates who, in another life would have been my seniors or bosses, but I grew tremendously because of it. Combining solid, professional experience with rigorous training creates unparalleled peer learning (in India) and forges excellent MBA candidates ready to be deployed by recruiters from day one. The invaluable alumni network is active, vibrant and always ready to help. Moreover, the course itself, its design and the faculty run on a continuous loop of feedback and improvement – a flexibility the school has since it is private and not accredited by the government (although it is internationally certified by other bodies).
Students get a chance to learn from celebrated academicians from around the world and get a flavour of an education thus far reserved for those with the means and the opportunities to study abroad. The infrastructure, staff and facilities provide a very high quality of life and create an environment conducive to learning and ‘transformation’ both in the classroom and outside. Everything is streamlined and efficient, and any grievances or complaints are readily examined and remedied. Competition is intense, but the high pressure environment pushes students to lean into themselves, prioritize and envision what they want, and become comfortable with the trade-offs involved.
Naturally, there are some challenges here also. The lack of government accreditation can be a deterrent to some, but ISB diplomas are exceedingly respected and sought after in the Indian corporate world. Doing a 1 year course compared to the standard 2 for other local schools can be very stressful. Yet, the programme is designed to be a demanding but robust and comprehensive experience, all while ensuring minimum disruption to students’ careers. The opportunity cost of saving 1 year away from work should also be factored in while considering ISB’s admittedly high fees. Furthermore, the cost should be compared to MBA schools overseas and not just in India, since these are often the next-best alternatives for many experienced candidates who have not taken the CAT or gone through the traditional admissions process for other Indian schools.
The large class size is another common concern. Here again, the programme design ensures that the individual experience does not suffer. ISB always finds excellent candidates to fill its seats, and this year alone, 96% of the Co19 were placed at the time of graduation, showing that there is both a healthy supply of raw material and demand for the finished product it creates. Naturally, this also translates into a healthy growth rate for its alumni network. Lastly, international placements are nascent and not a significant percentage of the overall scenario. The course is best for students who wish to work in India post graduation, albeit with a global perspective. Those wishing to work overseas immediately would do well to consider options in their desired destination country.
Since its inception in 2001, ISB has risen to become a pre-eminent management institution both in India and the world (a simple press search will reveal its ranking credentials). It straddles the dual worlds of being an insurgent, hungry for growth and evolution, and a proven incumbent, with acknowledged excellence and distinction. And this, perhaps is the spirit that it seeks to inculcate it in its graduates as well. Don’t take my word for it, though. If anybody reading this is interested, I would encourage them explore more and decide for themselves.
References for further reading:
Views expressed are personal and not those of Polemics and Pedantics.
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About the Author
The author holds a BA(Hons) in Economics from Hansraj College, University of Delhi, and has completed his MBA from ISB in 2019. He will be joining Bain and Co. in July 2019, as a Management Consultant.