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MBA Program rating [21]

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MBA Program Review
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     By 73atBirdwood 0 0
This review is for: Darden

Full Time MBA

Class of:


Experience during the program

For context, my background is as follows:
Service Academy undergrad
5+ years experience before matriculating
GPA / GMAT: in line with Darden averages

I applied to business schools that I thought were well suited at providing me opportunities across three dimensions:
1. Broad and robust education, since I lacked any meaningful private sector experience; moreover, my undergraduate studies were concentrated in humanities and engineering
2. Access to bulge bracket banks and top tier consulting firms because I wasn't sure what I wanted to do and wanted to sample the former with the option of pursuing the latter full-time
3. A smallish, yet strong sense of community both while in school and within the alumni network

On the basis of these criteria, I concentrated my applications on Darden, Tuck, and Johnson. I got into Darden and Johnson (w/ partial scholarship) and ultimately selected Darden because like most rational people, it's hard not to fall in love with Charlottesville! I am joking a little bit...but only a little. I also perceived Darden as offering a more robust core curriculum, better access to top consulting firms, and a little more brand equity.

First year Curriculum / Case Method:
In the end, Darden didn't disappoint, even if it wasn't always pure sunshine and roses. While the curriculum at Darden has been dialed back a little bit relative to the 1990's and early 2000's, it remains rigorous and that largely owes to the case method. If we are completely honest and in a safe space, it is true that each business school is covering most of the same stuff in the first year (with the exception of Sloan and Booth providing more latitude in the first year; and I know some schools let you validate out of certain courses and substitute another course ). The reason I say the case method is vital in maintaining the rigor of the curriculum is because it has the potential to expose you. In speaking with folks from other programs during my bulge bracket internship and since starting consulting full-time, it sounds like preparing for class was a nice-to-do, but not an imperative. At Darden, it is more of an imperative. There is a fear inside every sentient being that they'll be exposed in front of 63 classmates if they don't at least make a modest attempt at preparation. That fear -- or desire to learn for the more altruistic -- coupled with desire to contribute to your Learning Team each night drives a rather intense albeit civil and supportive classroom environment. This is especially the case in the fall of the First Year, when you are combining people from a variety of different professional, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. To be sure, there are people arriving with backgrounds at quality consulting firms or who spent time on the Street as analysts at banks...and these people have a less intense fall than others, but there are enough twists and turns in each case to keep their attention as well. If there is one thing that nobody is prepared for, it is the Global Economics for Managers course. Few people have exposure to the IS/LM economics model prior to starting at Darden and it has wracked the brains of many, even the sharpest. Having said all of this, everyone that wants to make it through the fall makes it through (I think one person out of 320 decided to leave). Given my background in the military and prior educational experience, everything I saw each day was new to me. Hindsight being 20/20, I would have benefited from taking a Finance or Accounting course prior to school if only to get comfortable with the language. It would have enabled me to focus more on the advanced concepts in the cases as opposed to getting bogged down in jargon.

In terms of more actionable advice while going through the application process, I think there are two things to keep in mind:
1. Visit the school if you're in the U.S. I also recommend attending an Admissions event, even if it means taking a few hours off from work to travel 150 miles to a city with an event. If you're outside the U.S., there isn't an expectation that you visit, but try to get to an event. At minimum, do an Admissions Webinar. These things matter once you get outside those top 5ish schools. Tuck, Darden, and Johnson give you brownie points for this stuff. It doesn't take a weak application and turn it into an admit, but these are tie-breakers that give you a little nudge when things are roughly equal. These schools want to know that you want to be there. HBS, GSB, and some others are the super models. Everyone wants them. Tuck, Darden, and Johnson are more of a high end Girl Next Door with discerning taste and a calibrated eye for who is truly interested in them as opposed to only considering them if thinks don't work out with the super models.
2. Focus on establishing fit in your app. It's cliche to say this, but cliches are cliches because they are true.

About professors, classes and curriculum

If you're spending time on GMATClub I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're at least somewhat familiar with the business school landscape. In light of that, we'll accept as given that there are a number of pedantic debates about the "strength" of faculty across various schools. Strength can be defined any number of ways, but for my purposes as someone that was paying a lot of money, I defined faculty strength as a combination of teaching ability and accessibility. Measured according to this definition, Darden's faculty knock it out of the park. Some people would define strength based on number of research papers published in a year, which journals they are published in, or whether faculty are under consideration for leading prizes such as Nobels...or have won them. Rightly or wrongly, to me this always missed the point because if Professor Nobel Prize is terrible at teaching and / or seldom in class (and instead handing it off to an assistant), it did not matter to me that they were highly thought of by other academics. There are b-school students that would benefit from exposure to Fama, French, or Adam Grant at Wharton, but these people are few and far between...and these people could usually derive the same magnitude of benefit from another professor that is merely adept at teaching what these more prodigious minds have pioneered. Given this reality (or perhaps it's only my reality), I would say Darden's faculty are top notch on what matters: teaching and being available. To effectively teach in a case method environment is not always easy and these faculty are adept at using the composition of the room to make sure you get to the important discussion points. As a student, this can be painful at times because you want the down and dirty takeaways, but there can be benefit in collectively going the wrong direction for 45 minutes before the faculty force a pivot and guide you toward "what right looks like" over the last 45 minutes. And if you didn't comprehend it all during class -- and I often didn't -- they are available in the afternoons for further discussion or email follow-up. As somebody forking over $55K a year, I appreciated this level of customer service.

About job placement process

Recruiting: This is always an interesting one. I read a lot of different blogs / message boards when I was going through the application process and a lot of folks are fixated on the number of companies that come to a school. That's well and good I suppose...although at the end of the day -- and I say this with the benefit of hindsight -- the only thing that matters is whether the firms you have interest in recruit at the school AND whether those companies have a track record of hiring people with your background. I say this because as someone with a military background, there were companies I had an interest in, but that politely said "Thank you. We're looking for a specific kind of professional background that differs from yours." Nobody outright says that, but you can figure out by reading the job posts and speaking to alums and / or the cute HR girls that they send out. It is cliche, but finding an internship or full-time job is like dating. I can be interested in Kate Upton or Karlie Kloss all day long, but it doesn't really matter if they have a preference for Jack Dorsey, Russian Oligarchs, or Saudi Princes. I say this because I hear people concerned about whether PE/VC, asset management, or tech firms recruit at School X...and it's a moot point unless you have what they are looking for. Although I've taken the circuitous route, Darden provided what I wanted: the opportunity to interview for and intern with a bank, and the opportunity to re-recruit in the second year for consulting. I'd always wanted to "test drive" finance and I'm glad I did, because although I could have returned to that industry after the summer, it was not going to be good for me. Nonetheless, it set me up well for second year recruiting. In and of itself, this capability exists at each of the top 10-15 schools. I would say Darden differentiates itself in recruiting with both the responsiveness of alumni, extent to which classmates are willing to help, and quality of the Career center.

I'll treat alumni responsiveness as self-explanatory and focus more on the latter two pieces. With respect to classmates helping, it was not uncommon to have a classmate come out of an interview and tell you the questions an interviewer asked, or tell you what not to say because it hadn't worked for them! This happens a little bit at every school, but not a lot at every school (according to coworkers from other programs). It happens a lot at Darden. If you pair this with the relative size of the school and Career Development Center (CDC) Staff, you are pretty well set up to succeed in interviews if you're willing to put in the time. The CDC has staff that specialize in certain industries and they'll prep you pretty intensively if you want. The school has also made an effort to deconflict the academic schedule with the prime internship recruiting season (January of first year) and that's a break from decades ago when they didn't. Some first year recruitment doesn't work out great with the schedule, but you get through it...and second year you have a lot of control over and faculty are understanding if you have to miss a class, although it would be nice if the school recognized interview conflicts as "Excused Absences". It's kind of petty and my only substantive gripe about things at Darden.

Overall BSchool experience
Schools contribution
Classmates rating

Strengths of the program:

Curriculum, Classes, Professors

Alumni Network

Career opportunities provided by school



Culture & Student Support

Best fit at this program:



Investment Banking


Can be improved:

Broader offering of second year Economics courses

Was this review helpful to you? 17 out of 17 people found the following review helpful
Comments [3]
1 Commented by emwinn on January 26, 2016
This was extremely helpful to me as a prospective student to Darden. I especially appreciate three points that you touched on and would like to ask for some further advice/feedback.

1. On the area of establishing fit in the application... what is the best way to do this? How can prospective students get a better idea of what Darden is looking for when it comes to personality, work experience and potential? Where would you most likely get a sense for this during a visit - professors, students, the classroom?
2. Speaking of visiting campus, I think you make a very good point on the super model schools and where Darden and similar programs compare.
3. You mention that it might have helped to take some introductory courses in accounting and finance to feel more comfortable prior to starting classes. Knowing this now, how would you have gone about this? I've looked into this a lot and have found that there is very little guidance on prep of this nature at universities and colleges around me. Did you know anyone that did this and if so, what did they do?

Thank you for sharing your experience and being candid in doing so.
2 Commented by Dondarrion on January 27, 2016
Thanks for posting this assessment!
3 Commented by optimusTR on February 01, 2016
Thx a lot, it was very very helpful!

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