That would be a really tough decision and I would need some more time to think about it (and I haven't been admitted to Darden yet). I actually received my Darden invite the same day that the Duke decisions were released, so I've been spending most of the past week preparing for my Darden visit. Darden decisions are due out on Friday, and the Adcom I met with suggested that I should know before that, so I will probably just take it easy for a few days, see what happens there and then start digging and analyzing in earnest to decide between the schools.
My thoughts are currently something like this, but I'll need to dig deeper and refine before my final decisions:
1. I like Darden's west coast alumni better. Darden threw the best info session of any school I met with (back in the fall). Their Dean attended, along with a 20 alumni to greet about 30-40 perspective students. They were a very enthusiastic bunch as well. Quite a few alums were in important positions with banks, venture funds and in-house tech investment funds. I also had a positive experience at Duke's info session. The brought a current student (on break I guess) and a professor. I did observe that the alumni that attended were recent grads. I'm not sure if the alumni base is smaller, or less engaged, but Darden definitely mustered a more impressive group.
2. I think Duke has some positive momentum in the rankings. I keep going back and forth on how much weight I should put on this. Obviously, nobody wants to hold a degree that "devalues" 10 years down the line. It would be great to be part of a program on the rise. On the other hand, I think it's a mistake to try to "momentum invest" when deciding on a school. It may seem that Duke has momentum, but I don't honestly think we can predict what things will look like in 10-20 years. We have all heard so many things about so many different schools; Michigan is going up with their new building, Yale is going up because of their new curriculum, Cornell is going up because of their new focus programs, Chicago is going to be a fixture at the top because of their new BW ranking and new facilities etc. It seems that pretty much every school is headed up in the rankings because of recent developments and it just doesn't make sense that every
program is going to be ranked higher 5, 10, 20 years from now; and more importantly I think it's impossible to predict. Generally speaking, I think that Darden and Duke will always stay very close in terms of rankings, prestige, job opportunities, etc.; the one factor that could really change things is a huge pile of money.
3. I have to keep reminding myself that I hate Duke basketball, but I have nothing against Fuqua
I have spent time around both Charlottesville and the RTP area and they are both very nice. For me, I think the key difference is that most Duke students don't live in RTP, they must live around Durham which isn't really very nice and there isn't much to do in the immediate area (Chapel Hill is great though). On the other hand, there is a lot of housing within a few minutes of Darden, and there is easy access to the local college town.
4. I haven't yet formed an opinion on which learning style I prefer. My law school background probably means that I will have an easy time with the case-study method (especially compared with people with IT, engineering and science backgrounds). I actually think that with my reading & writing skills, I might required just 1/2 to 1/3 the amount of prep time compared with the average engineer in a case study environment, but I do have some question as to whether that is the best choice for all class situations. I think that the team Fuqua concept is great, but I'm not really a rah-rah type and I wonder if I'll be happy in that environment. In either case, I don't think the educational style will be a huge influence on my decisions (I'm willing to deal with whatever it is at any of the schools I applied to).
So, I still have a lot of thinking to do. First, I need to get an admit from Darden before I will spend much more time thinking about it. Also, an admit from UCLA would change the though process, and I'm still waiting on Berkeley and Stanford (losing hope there actually). Money might be a factor as well, though that is way down on my list of priorities at this point.