AdmitMBA360 Blog formerly Journey to my MBA

Journey to my MBA

Thursday, December 09, 2004

My Visit to Darden

I arrived in Charlottesville at 4am. Although I had left 21 hours earlier, I had 2 long layovers in Las Vegas and Dallas. American Airlines didn’t have a direct flight into Charlottesville so I rented a car from the Richmond airport and drove the 75 miles to get to the hotel. I stayed at the Best Western Cavalier Inn. It’s a great hotel, if you visit Darden, this should be the hotel to go to because it’s moderately priced and has very helpful staff I barely slept on the plane and now I was checking out of the hotel to head on over to the school. The hotel had a shuttle bus that took me there.

The University of Virginia is huge. As the shuttle turned the corner to enter Darden, the beauty of the school made my heart leap. The best description I could provide for the architecture of the school is that of a cross between old American Colonial with Romanesque facades. There are Roman columns all over the school and Saunders Hall has the largest columns. The red bricks and the white trim of all the buildings is a sight to behold in person. I entered the admissions lounge area to find 3 men and one woman in interview suits. I signed up for the school tour and waited with them. Although I too had scheduled an interview, the date got crossed and so I lost my interview slot; A real bummer. While waiting for the tour, there were two women now and the other guys were now interviewing.

I was reminded by the receptionist of the open door policy of all the profs and suggested we go find a prof and talk to them. So the two girls and I found a professor Sherwood C. Frey in his office. We introduced ourselves and asked if he could speak to us. He said that he had a class later on, but more than happily welcomed us in. I asked him how much time he needed to prepare. His response surprised me. He replied, “As long as it takes.” He explained that he had a passion for teaching and that although he had been teaching there for 15 years, he was looking to see how to create a better class session that day. We found that he taught Negotiations, Quality Assurance, Risk and occasionally finance. He had previously taught at HBS for 7 years. His insights were AWESOME. He was so charismatic and enthusiastic. The real shocker came later when I found out that he was one of THE most liked profs in the entire school and that his classes are incredibly competitive to get into. His Negotiation class is supposed to be golden.

One of the golden points I walked away with was that an MBA has three key core skills no matter where you go and that every other skill set is secondary. He stated that an MBA is simply about learning 1) Operations 2) Marketing 3) Finance. This notion came in very handy in future conversation with admissions directors for the remainder of my trip. Another thing Prof Frey mentioned was the pride of graduating students who could hit the ground running in a multitude of business sectors. Prof Frey emphasized Darden’s focus on general management, practical case studies and corporate projects that all help to put students into real world situation quickly.

The tour helped me to see that the school interior is a mixture of modern and Colonial architecture. The student areas like the study lounges, dining hall and reception areas are all Colonial. We were treated to a free meal by the school with the students who took us on the tour. The classrooms, prof office area and admissions areas are all very modern.

Some things that I learned on the tour are:
1) There are numerous team projects and students spend quite a bit of time in their collaborating. Consequently, teamwork is a high value at Darden.

2) The amount of work for 1st years is high. In fact, the impression I got from students at other schools and from Darden student’s themselves is that they probably have the hardest 1st year of any top MBA school. I believe Columbia, Wharton and Tuck are pretty close.

3) Darden is 100% case study. I also found that most of their cases are Darden case studies as opposed to Harvard case studies like I found at most schools other schools I’d been to when doing case study methods. Darden does use some Harvard case studies and some from other schools as well however.

4) Students are assigned to sections for the classes and they rotate every quarter. As there are 4 sections, by the end of the 1st year, all of the students will have had a class with ¾ of their classmates. Charlottesville is in the middle of the country. I had a rental car and drove down a road for about 10 minutes before realizing I was heading in the wrong direction. What tipped me off? Perhaps it was the fact that I found myself in the middle of the woods and had seen several farms with horses and various farm animals.

the University of Virginia (UVA) to the airport, there are lots of modern stores like Walmart and the like so it’s not total farm country. Outdoor activities like fishing, hiking and camping are rather popular according to Prof Frey. If you’re truly a city person, Darden may not be for you. Students all around the school were incredibly friendly. It was really pleasant. After the tour, I began a series of conversations with the receptionist about my interview situation. She kindly offered to have an admission associate director meet with me anyway to have an informal meeting where I could choose to have the meeting documented somewhat like an interview. I was wearing jeans and wasn't even mentaly ready to answer formal questions. I explained that I would probably wait to just submit my app and then wait for them to invite me for an interview. The policy at Darden is that you pro-actively interview on-campus and after the app submission deadline, one can only have interviews if one is invited.

By now, the receptionist and I had built up a good rapport. After telling her my thoughts, she then pulled me to the side and whispered that I shouldn’t do that. She stated that although the policy aforementioned is true, the admissions staff actually gives a high weight to those who did schedule and come for an on-campus interview and that if one were invited for interview that it was only because the candidate was a stellar applicant. Thus, choosing to wait for an invitation to interview hurts ones chances drastically. I was flabbergasted and then agreed to see what she could do about the informal thing. As luck would have it, she was able to arrange it for me. So 30 minutes later, I was in the associate director’s office talking to her about my background. She actually didn’t have anything formal for me to answer. That was when I decided to see if I could present my background and ask for her assessment of my fit and competitiveness for Darden. So I started with a verbal resume and started to talk about my compassion for helping others. When I got to the point about helping others, I became choked up and my eyes started to water up a bit because my mind did a reflective thing with the hundreds of college students I had mentored. I apologized and went on to talk about why I wanted an MBA and what I was hoping to do with it. I basically answered 5-6 key questions commonly asked in interviews without her having to ask the questions.

She made some suggestions and told me where she liked certain things. The only issue she saw was my GMAT score. She said that an alternative solution would be to wait a year, take a Calculus class, an Accounting I and Accounting II class with excellent grades at any community college. She then said that the GMAT score would no longer be that big an issue. What was truly great was that I concluded that I had just been interviewed and was told straight up how I faired immediately. It was better than an interview.

She told me that she so dearly liked my background, story and passion that she gave me her direct phone line (not found on those business cards), direct e-mail and told me to work with her directly during my application process. She said that she really wanted to see me get in, but not so much at just Darden but any top school. She mentioned Wharton, Stanford and the like. She said that she had an interest to help me get an MBA to get to the next level in my career. She said that she could clearly see why an MBA was something I should have. In all the talks and meetings I’ve had with any associate director, this was the most helpful, honest and practical feedback I’ve ever had mainly because this was all coming from a person who was in the decision chair to accept an applicant such as myself.

Afterwards, I walked around the main UVA campus with 2 other women who were prospective applicants. Grace and Tonya, you two are great! The campus is beautiful and unlike other campuses I had seen in my life, UVA is one of the few campus's where the architecture is consistent among the buildings even though many of them had been built at various times in history.


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