MBA Application Strategy & Business School Demographics - What We Call "Demo-lition Derby"

When you charge people thousands of dollars to help them with their MBA applications, you had better be sure to look in every nook and cranny for an advantage.

We pride ourselves on doing just that and that mentality has allowed us to come up with incredibly helpful strategies for our clients.  Everything from "structure your essays like a Hollywood screenwriter" to "finish your energy strong with a simple shift in body language" to "add an alternate short-term career goal to your first paragraph on your first Columbia essay" has come from a dogged determination and willingness to constantly find advantages. Obviously, most of those advantages are not for public consumption as it would neither be fair to our clients or terribly bright to reveal every "state secret" we have.  That said, there are some tricks and methods that we find ourselves talking about so often on initial consultation calls that we figure no harm can come from letting the whole world know about it.

Today we've got one of those tricks, which we fondly call "demo-lition derby." 

What this means is taking an extra step in your school selection process to understand the program's demographics and then respond accordingly.  Put simply: understand where you are part of a thundering herd and where you might be more of a lone wolf and then use those realities to your advantage.

This concept is best served with an example, so here is one:

  • An applicant is an Indian male with a background in IT.  Say, 29 years old.  730 GMAT score.  Lots of volunteerism and extra-curricular activities.  A bit of formal management experience on select projects.  Not much experience outside of his home countryA career goal of going into consulting.  Long-term aims of bringing enterprise back to India.
  • You don't have to be an MBA admissions expert to know that this individual is from a highly represented group of students.

What can he do to stand out?

  • Obviously, the best step is to cultivate a highly individualized and personal narrative, complete with robust personality, unique interests, and impeccable polish. However, the first step is to be smart about where he applies. 

Specifically: he should apply somewhere besides the schools were every other person in his demo is applying.

  • Most international students are drawn to schools in huge, renowned U.S. cities.  This is natural as students assume they will find people and cultural markers that allow for an easier integration.
  • The downside is that everyone is thinking this way, so as a result, programs in New York and Los Angeles and Boston and Chicago and the Bay Area are oversubscribed with international students - and particularly Indian males from an IT background.

The counter to that is to look at schools in smaller cities and even small towns.

  • They might make someone from India squirm, but they present a huge opportunity because a fraction of the applicants from that demo are applying there.  Rough estimate here, but I would venture to guess that about a third as many Indian males apply to Ross as they do to NYU, despite the fact that the schools are roughly the same size and have similar admissions profiles.  I would say Tuck gets half as many as Haas.  Duke half as many as Kellogg.  The list goes on.  Schools that are "out of the way" often have a harder time generating a rich and deep pool of students outside of the U.S., making it a prime opportunity for international students - particularly our Indian male test case - to stand out more easily.

Now, this is just one of MANY ways you can play demo-lition derby. 

It works for gender, race, industry, function, academic profile, age, and a variety of other factors.  It should not be the only guiding factor (I helped a client with a profile similar to the one above decide on his list of Rd 1 schools today and while it did include Ross, Tuck, and Texas, it also included MIT, Kellogg, and Haas), but it's just one more way to create the smallest of advantages for yourself in the process.  It's all about putting yourself in the shoes of the admissions officer and understanding what it is like on that side of the desk.  What are their realities, challenges, and desires as they shape a class?  One thing you can do to make their job easier - and yours, in the process - is to make yourself more visible, more diverse, and more desirable ... simply by applying to schools where this is possible.

Don't just follow the crowds and become a small fish in the biggest pond - think creatively and give yourself the best chance possible.

If you want to find out more about how we work and what we can do to help you as an MBA applicant, email us at for a free consultation.