Periodically, mbaMission interviews business school students and alumni to gain insight into their experience attending top MBA programs. We recently spoke with a second-year student at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who graduated from a small liberal arts college before spending several years in retail with firms on both U.S. coasts. After working on a strategic project for a family business in the industry over the summer, she has her sights set on joining a mid-sized retail company after graduating later this year. (February 2019)
mbaMission: When you were deciding where you wanted to pursue your MBA degree, what led you to ultimately choose Darden?
Darden Second Year: From the time I began researching business schools, Darden stood out to me. I was particularly interested in the case method, the emphasis on the student experience, the general management curriculum, and the quality of the professors. mbaMission’s guides [Insider’s Guides] to the different schools helped me to learn more about Darden and some other schools. They included a lot of information on the actual, current student experience. The priority for me in the business school application process was finding the right fit. I wanted to make sure that I went to a school that was a good fit for me.
During the application process, I spoke to a recent Darden alum—a friend of a friend from college—who answered my questions, shared about her experience, and provided necessary links for me between what I valued about our college and what I would find at Darden. Soon after, I realized that Darden would be the right fit for me for business school. The admissions team handled the process so well, and I am very grateful for the opportunity to be here.
mbaMission: I’m glad it worked out! Now that you’re in your second year of the program, would you say the school has matched your expectations?
Darden Second Year: Darden has matched—and exceeded—my expectations. The school was absolutely the right fit for me. I have thoroughly enjoyed it, and particularly the in-class experience. The school delivers on what it is known for and genuinely cares about its students. It has been a challenging, rewarding, and meaningful experience.
mbaMission: That’s great. How do you like living in Charlottesville, and how do you think it’s affected your MBA experience?
Darden Second Year: The University of Virginia [UVA] is a unique and special learning environment. If someone in any way is attracted to what it stands for and what Darden has to offer, I would encourage that person to visit the school and just apply. UVA and Darden communicate well, and student safety is a priority.
mbaMission: What are your overall thoughts on the core curriculum and the way Darden in particular executes it?
Darden Second Year: I think Darden’s first-year core curriculum is extremely effective. Everyone takes everything, and this is a key part of the collective experience. Through the case method discussions, there are numerous relevant, direct applications for business leaders and managers. The faculty is attuned to the topics covered in other classes and helps the students to make important connections—including teaching joint classes that combine the subject material. These gave us examples of how various functions within a workplace can intersect in productive ways. In my experience, putting in the hard work, effort, and preparation—and fully listening in class—will lead to tremendous learning and valuable takeaways for any future business role.
mbaMission: I know that Darden puts students into groups of six or seven to prepare for classes together and that these Learning Teams are a large part of the school’s MBA program. How has your Learning Team experience been?
Darden Second Year: My Learning Team was great. My Learning Teammates were nice, collaborative, and patient students. The nightly group sessions prior to each class were important to us, and we remained collectively committed throughout our time together. I learned a lot from my Learning Team and appreciated that everyone came prepared for each other. I think Learning Teams are an important and necessary part of the first-year experience at Darden.
mbaMission: UVA is rather well known for its honor code. How does that code come into play at Darden?
Darden Second Year: The honor code at the University of Virginia is a big deal. It is at the foundation of the student experience. Each of us has a responsibility to abide by and uphold it. At Darden specifically, there is a sense of trust, and with that comes certain privileges for students that make the academic experience distinct.
mbaMission: Have you done any Darden-related traveling during your MBA experience, whether as part of a course or an exchange or just for fun?
Darden Second Year: I haven’t personally, but many of my classmates have. And the school offers many wonderful opportunities to travel in a small group with a faculty lead. These combine culture and business to create interesting and relevant learning experiences. My classmates have really enjoyed their Darden Worldwide Courses.
mbaMission: Speaking of classmates, how would you characterize your fellow students and the Darden community as a whole?
Darden Second Year: The Darden community is a nice, positive, and safe learning environment. People are willing to listen to others’ viewpoints. Ideas are challenged in a way that encourages more thinking. And Darden is collaborative, not competitive. Students are supportive of each other both inside and outside of the classroom. The faculty are genuinely interested in students’ contributions and enjoy learning from us, too. The professors care about the students here, and they often do more than what is expected. They enjoy getting to know the students and always make time for us. Multiple professors have helped me outside of the classroom, and many have positively added to my experience at Darden.
mbaMission: Are there any professors in particular that you’ve found especially impressive? Or specific courses that have stood out for some reason?
Darden Second Year: Overall, the professors at Darden are excellent. There are so many good ones. They can teach complicated material in a way that is accessible, easy to understand, interesting, and stimulating. And they want to know what students are thinking about. Many of them make class fun, light, and enjoyable. Prior to business school, I had taken no business or math courses in college and only one introductory economics course. Yet all of the required quantitative classes were doable. And I was pleased with how I did in them. There are various resources available to students to aid in our learning. Some of these were extremely useful for me during the first year and helped me to better understand new and challenging concepts.
Many of the first-year core curriculum courses were relevant, useful, and worthwhile. Second-year courses that stand out for me are “Management Planning and Control Systems,” “Strategic Intuition and Eastern Philosophy,” “Ultimate Questions for Responsible Management and Value in Business,” and “Organic Growth: A Challenge for Public Companies.” Most of these are not “traditional” or “core” business courses, but I found them to be extremely relevant and useful on a business and personal level. I have also learned a lot from all of my other second-year courses, which have covered a wide variety of topics from business law to understanding the nonprofit sector.
mbaMission: What is the student body’s general impression of Dean (Scott) Beardsley? Is he very accessible to students?
Darden Second Year: I was fortunate to be in a class in which Dean Beardsley guest-taught. It was enjoyable, and he was very effective at engaging students and encouraging us to think more deeply. He teaches his own class here for second years. He is committed to the school, its mission, its values, and making Darden better. I have seen immediate improvements during my time here, which I think reflects the school’s leadership and the dean’s vision. There are also good processes in place at Darden to act on student feedback and to improve the student experience. Darden has shown me just how effectively a school can operate. I look forward to seeing how it will continue to evolve and improve.
mbaMission: Have you been involved with any of the student clubs while at Darden?
Darden Second Year: I am a member of the Retail & Luxury Goods Club, the Darden Business Innovation & Design Club, the Marketing Club, and the General Management & Operations Club. The second years in each club work hard to provide resources and create experiences that set up first years for success in the recruiting process. The clubs also offer opportunities to hear from alums and other industry experts.
mbaMission: So, have you had much interaction with members of the Darden alumni? Would you say the alumni are fairly receptive to students?
Darden Second Year: My experience has been that Darden alumni are willing to help. I have enjoyed listening to different alumni return to school to speak, both inside and outside of the classroom. For example, Hal Lawton, the president of Macy’s, spoke as part of the Darden Leadership Speaker Series.
mbaMission: What would you say are some of the best parts of Darden’s campus and facilities?
Darden Second Year: Darden—and the University of Virginia, in general—is a beautiful place. The technology in the classrooms and in the Learning Team rooms is great, and it all contributes to the collaborative and multifaceted experience. The close proximity of the faculty offices and the classrooms is also nice and contributes to the professors’ accessibility.
mbaMission: What do you think more people should know about the Darden MBA program that they probably do not know, particularly candidates who might be considering the school—or who are not considering it and should?
Darden Second Year: The Darden MBA program is unique and special. During my admissions interview, the second-year student interviewer shared that his time at Darden has been the most transformative two years of his life. I would add that if you are interested in what Darden has to offer and, once you arrive, if you trust the school’s process, you will learn and grow tremendously—as a business professional and a person—in ways that may be hard to imagine right now. I’m so grateful to have had this experience.
mbaMission: Thank you so much for your time!