Virginia’s Darden School of Business

by John A. Byrne on

Students must be prepared to discuss three cases per day. This means taking a night off from studying is unthinkable as they are always at risk of being cold called by a professor during class. Class time is spent discussing cases about actual business problems and coming up with potential solutions. Because of the case method, Darden is an optimal choice not only for students who want to sharpen their business skills, but for those also looking to hone their communication and oral presentation skills. Recruiters say Darden grads make for good “front office” people. People whom they can put in front of a client or in front of a customer fairly quickly after they’ve been on the job. Darden grads are also highly regarded for their ability to write and articulate ideas effectively and can be trusted to give an effective presentation to senior management.

The school also boasts a highly collaborative culture that resolves around a ritual famous at the school: First Coffee, a time when the entire Darden community is invited to the PepsiCo Forum for free coffee, tea and conversation at 9:30 a.m. every week day. All the first-year students converge there along with at least half the second-years daily and a good number of faculty and staff. When Dean Bruner is in town (he travels 150 days on behalf of the school), he’s there, too. So, while Darden students are challenged profusely, the Darden custom is for students to lift together as they climb. “We have norms and values at Darden that discourage people trying to get ahead by climbing over the backs of others. We encourage people to teach one another and to bring each other along,” Dean Bruner says.

The school is also ideal for students who don’t wish to limit themselves to a specific concentration. Unlike finance schools such as Columbia or a Wharton, Darden’s curriculum is general management allowing students to explore different facets of business without being pegged to just one discipline. Darden’s first year program and required curriculum provide students with a solid foundation in global business leadership. The integrated curriculum — wherein the same or similar cases are used in several different courses and more than one discipline — illustrates how all areas work together and influence one another. The electives in the second year of the MBA program allow students to explore new possibilities and develop more depth in chosen areas of expertise.

Latest Up-To-Date MBA Rankings:

Poets&Quants (2014): 13

BusinessWeek (2014): 20

Forbes (2013): 15

U.S. News & World Report (2015): 11

Financial Times (2014):  16 (U.S.)

The Economist  3 (U.S.)

Ranking Analysis:

For the second consecutive year, Darden slipped one place in the Poets&Quants’ ranking in 2013, this time to 13th from 12th. The reason: Forbes’ new biennial ranking in 2013, which is based on return on investment, had Darden down by six places to a rank of 15th from 9th in 2011. Otherwise, there was bit of inconsequential noise in the latest rankings for the school: Up a spot in both U.S. News & World Report and The Financial Times, and down a spot in The Economist, to 4th from 3rd.

No real big deal, given the tiny fractions of differences in a move of one to three places in any ranking. That kind of movement is not statistically significant. The bigger surprise, frankly, was the Forbes showing. On the other hand, Forbes was tracking compensation over MBA costs at a tricky time, when the Great Recession bore down on the graduating class it surveyed. It’s always hard to interpret these things because you never know if a change is partly due to sample size or valid data. It’s probably safe to assume, though, that with high paying finance jobs significantly down, Darden MBAs had a harder time getting those positions than the grads at places like Columbia and NYU.

In Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s 2012 ranking, the school managed to edge its way into the top ten of all U.S. full-time MBA programs. It was 11th in 2010 when BusinessWeek last ranked the full-time MBAs. BusinessWeek largely ranks schools based on graduate satisfaction with the MBA program and corporate recruiter sentiment. Everyone expects BusinessWeek to change its methodology for ranking full-time programs when it gets around to its latest ranking in the fall of 2014. How that will impact Darden, or for that matter any school, is yet to be seen.

Darden fails to perform as well in the FT survey, which gives the school its lowest overall ranking, as it should. If not for its weak showing in The Financial Times ranking, which has a clear bias in favor of European schools, Darden would in all likelihood be in the top ten of all MBA programs. One reason is because until only recently Darden had a relatively low percentage of international students. The school has now moved this up to 37% with the 2013 entering class, but only a year earlier it was 34% and more importantly the year before that it was just 27%, then among the lowest percentage of any leading U.S. business school. That’s largely because of the school’s emphasis on English language skills which are a must given the fast and furious discussions in its case study classes.

The far more favorable international numbers has already given the school a substantial lift in the 2014 FT survey where Darden climbed to a global rank of 27, up eight places from 35 in 2013. That improvement will be reflected in our updated rankings latest this year.

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  • Bruce Vann

    4 Cases a day is a lot of work. I can’t imagine.

  • Mick

    I visited Darden last month. WOW. great BS!, great faculty, great people.
    Love it and hope to get in.

  • John A. Byrne

    Good luck, Mick.

  • bschool2013
  • Bruce Vann

    Correction. I can imagine because that’s probably where I’ll be going this fall unless Tuck takes me off the waitlist.

  • Mick

    I’m IN. I’m so happy that I got accepted in this great school.
    C-Ville, here I go!

  • Bruce Vann

    Congrats, Mick. I’ll see you there!!

  • John A. Byrne

    Congrats Mick! You’re going to a fantastic school. Well done.

  • Frequent Reader

    12 is a sham. Darden should clearly be ranked higher.

  • Central Banker

    Dear John,
    I was viewing Duke’s profile on this website last night and found a comment by you saying that you are in the process of writing an article about Duke VS Darden. I just viewed GMAT Club’s threads on the two schools head to head, and I gotta tell ya, not so much useful information there, especially compared to the smakdown articles you write. I very much appreciated the article about Northwestern VS Chicago, and I’m dying to get your two cents on Duke VS Darden. Will it be published anytime soon???

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