When applicants are turned down for admission to the Indian School of Business, they often call or email V.K. Menon, senior director of careers, admissions and financial aid. Sometimes, he says, there is shock because their test scores and undergraduate records are among the best in the world. More often than not, they seek clarity as to why they didn’t make the cut.
“The more adventurous guys always call,” says Menon, from his small, corner office at the school. “It’s more of an ‘I’d-like-to-know kind of call. We give them feedback and advice because we have a friendly re-applicant system. So they can improve their candidacy for the next time.”
One of the most challenging things the school is trying to convey is that a high GMAT score isn’t enough to get a candidate into the Indian School of Business. For a nation where young people routinely focus on rote drilling and test-focused exercises, that can sometimes be a hard sell. But Menon says the GMAT only accounts for about 30% of the weight in the school’s admissions decisions.
‘THE GUY WITH A 600 GMAT SCORE HAS A CHANCE OF MAKING IT HERE’
“The GMAT is not a make-or-break part of our decision making,” he says. “The guy with a 600 score has a chance of making it here, while a guy with a 780 might not make it. At the end of the day, there are a whole lot of qualitative assessments the director has to make.”
That can cause a good deal of head scratching among Indian applicants who have spent the better part of their lives taking board exams and tests and trying to be among the top 5% or 10% of their classes. “The problem is that the domestic mindset is all around test scores,” says Menon, a former executive with Philips and U.S. West, who had lectured at a business school in Mysore before joining ISB. “They think if you crack an exam, you make it. It’s difficult for us to tell them that it’s not a single-score selection. That’s our strongest challenge.”
Menon says the primary focus of admissions is on “three buckets”—academic analytics, including GMAT, GPA, and exam scores, leadership ability, including promotions at work and involvement in extracurricular activities, and finally the personal interview used to assess a candidate’s communication skills and presence. Each of the three buckets is ultimately assigned a score that is used to determine whether or not a candidate gets through the screen.
ACCEPTANCE RATE: AROUND 22%
In a typical year, ISB will accept about 22% of its 4,100 applicants to draw together a class of about 770 students. When applications come in, they are immediately divided up into four pools: P1, P2, P3, and P4. The single best category to fall into is P3 meant for the very top of the applicant pool. “These are people from IIT with 780 GMATs,” says Menon, using the network of Indian’s elite engineering schools as an example of the best possible feeder institution into ISB. “A P3 is rejected only if there is a significant reason to reject.” In other words, pretty much every applicant designed a P3 gets the chance to interview, and these applications are read once by Menon’s staff.
“P4,” adds Menon, “is the reverse of P3. It’s someone with a weak GMAT from a weaker school. We still read those applications because sometimes we get some interesting sparks.” But generally the applicants who fall into the P4 pile are not going to get an invite to the school.