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Admissions Director Q&A: Rupesh Bisht of the Indian School of Business

rupesh_bishtdMoving right along in our Q&A Series, we turn this week to India, specifically the Indian School of Business (ISB). With campuses in Hyderabad and Mohali, ISB features an accelerated one-year Post Graduate Program (PGP) in Management, as well as a PGP for Senior Executives, a Fellow Program, a Management Program for Family Business and several additional executive education offerings.

Against time zone odds, we were lucky enough to connect with Rupesh Bisht, ISB’s associate director for admissions and financial aid. An alumnus from the ISB class of 2009, “I am an experiencer of the product itself, which gives me some advantage in terms of knowing the product inside out,” he tells us. In addition to his admissions responsibilities, Bisht also oversees international marketing for ISB, as well as the school’s Young Leaders Program (YLP).

He brings extensive experience in sales and marketing across a range of industry sectors, including insurance, media and entertainment. He also spent some time working for a venture-funded firm before returning to work at ISB.

Bisht has several interesting things to share in the interview that follows, including the launch of a brand new mobile app designed to give prospective applicants an inside glimpse of ISB from wherever they are. There is also some big news in terms of scholarships: ISB will award 10 full-tuition fee waivers to the ten top applicants in the upcoming class. Read on to learn more about these developments, as well as exactly how the admissions process unfolds for Bisht and his team.

Clear Admit: What’s the single most exciting development, change or event happening at ISB this coming year?

Rupesh Bisht: From an admissions and financial aid perspective, there are two things we are very excited about in the coming year. For one, for the very first time we now have an ISB mobile application for admissions. Called ISB 360, it features a range of different personas an applicant can identify with. The app provides a tailor-made tour featuring facts about the program and other details relevant to each individual based on their motivations for considering ISB.

To date, we have rolled out seven different personas. (Users indicate whether they want to accelerate their career, make a career shift, start a new venture, grow their business, move to India, gear up for leadership or know more about ISB.) The app is very interactive. It offers a range of content, including infographics, as well as the opportunity to connect with an ISB alumnus or even take part in a class with ISB. In a nutshell, it gives you an insider’s view of the ISB experience.

The ISB 360 app is free and available for Android, Apple and Blackberry. To access it, simply go to the Google Store, Apple Store or Blackberry Store and search for the ISB 360 app.

The second big initiative that we’re excited about in the year ahead is that ISB will be offering, also for the very first time, 10 full tuition-free waivers to the top 10 applicants. These are in addition to our merit scholarships, which students compete for and which range from INR 5,00,000 to INR 10,00,000 (roughly 16,500 to 33,000 USD).

No application is necessary for these new full tuition-free waivers. Simply complete the ISB application, and based on our evaluation of all of the candidates, the selection of recipients will be done by the Admissions Committee for the Post Graduate Program in Management. The committee will look at a combination of academic brilliance, leadership potential and other attributes, including work experience, exposure, etc. to award this waiver to the top 10 candidates. Recipients will be notified of this decision at the time of admission.

CA: What is the one area of your program that you wish applicants knew more about?

One thing I would like to take this opportunity to highlight is the applied learning component at ISB. To complement classroom learning and peer learning, we have something for students called an Experiential Learning Program (ELP). As part of our ELP, companies from throughout India and abroad come to ISB with a real-life business problem they are facing. Participating companies have to pay a fee to benefit from the consulting provided by ISB students.

Students, for their part, form groups and pitch as to why they are the best team to handle the assignment. The companies then select a particular team and work with that team for a period of three to four months. The team will present recommendations to the company, and often the companies implement the recommendations to address the business problem they face. We have had several companies return to ISB in subsequent years to participate again because they find real value.

We also have a second program for people who are more entrepreneurial in nature. Called Planning an Entrepreneurial Venture (PaEV), this program allows entrepreneurial students an opportunity to develop a business plan and then use the ecosystem at ISB to refine it. Finally, participants also get an opportunity to pitch it to venture capitalists (VCs). We have a very strong connection to the VC community at ISB. We also have set up an incubator called the Design Lab, where students may also attract funding from investors.

So both in terms of ELP and PaEV, there are lots of services available at ISB to support your career aspirations, whatever those may be.

CA: Walk us through the life of an application in your office from an operational standpoint. What happens between the time an applicant clicks “submit” and the time the committee offers a final decision (e.g. how many “reads” does it get, how long is each “read,” who reads it, does the committee convene to discuss it as a group, etc.).

RB: Every application comes to us as a complete document comprising 20 or so pages. We print out two copies. Every application is reviewed by senior members of the admissions team and a couple of students, all of whom independently evaluate the entire application.

Each student or staff member will rate the applications on certain parameters, such as work experience, essays, achievements, etc. After evaluating the entire application, they will have only three things to say: 1) yes, call for interview; 2) no, deny; or 3) maybe.

If both evaluators concur on a decision, then the decision is already made. If they differ, the tie goes to the admissions director himself. He will then make a final call on whether to call for an interview or not.

Once an applicant is called for an interview, the interview panel will also rate him/her on certain parameters like quality of work experience, communication and overall interview performance. A weighted score from the interview is then added to weighted scores from parameters evaluated in the application earlier. The final weighted scores are then presented to the Admissions Committee, and the committee makes a final call on acceptance to the class and financial aid offer decisions. Every single line of the application is being reviewed very carefully, and we spend approximately 30 minutes per applicant reviewing the application. The Admissions Committee makes the final call on whether to admit or deny.

The weighted average scores also will determine the recipients of our 10 full-tuition fee waivers, with awards going to the applicants with the 10 highest scores, as well as our other merit scholarships. In terms of need-based scholarships, applicants are asked to provide an essay as to why they should be provided financial assistance, which is reviewed by the financial aid team.

Clear Admit: How does your team approach the essay portion of the application specifically? What are you looking for as you read the essays? Are there common mistakes that applicants should try to avoid? One key thing they should keep in mind as they sit down to write them?

RB: By looking at the essays we try to get sense of the kind of person the applicant is, his/her thought process, how he/she can structure and present an argument. There are no right or wrong answers to our essay questions as long as the argument is presented well.

In terms of pitfalls to avoid, some candidates tend to present a laundry list of achievements in the essay. Almost always, the essay loses quality as a result. In these cases, the applicant is unable to present a compelling story.

My advice is to think about the structure carefully and avoid being repetitive. We should really get a picture of the applicant from the essays. One other note: In our optional essay, the candidate is free to write what he/she wants, but he/she should keep in mind that it should add to the rest of the application, not simply recap elements captured elsewhere in the application. There is no point in wasting the real estate in repeating things you have shared elsewhere.

Though we do employ a weighted average in evaluating our candidates’ files, we also take great pride in our evaluation process being very holistic in nature. It does not hinge on one particular attribute – no particular attribute will make or break a candidate. Generally speaking, we evaluate candidates in three buckets – an academic, a leadership potential and a personal qualities bucket. Roughly, these three buckets are weighted equally. Obviously the GMAT and GPA fall into the academic bucket, work experience often contributes to the leadership potential bucket, etc.

CA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

RB: For the benefit of international applicants – and by that I mean people who don’t have Indian passports – I would like to note that we have a lot of international scholarships available. The deadline for international applicants is January 15, 2015. For people with Indian passports, our deadlines are September 15th and November 30th.

I would also like to extend one further recommendation to students. Some people look at examples of people they have known to be admitted to ISB and try to emulate their profile. But in that process they lose genuine-ness and authenticity. I would advise prospective applicants to avoid trying to mimic someone else. Be creative and be very, very honest. That will give us a good picture of who you are and will serve your candidacy well.