How Darden Hit No. 1 in Student Satisfaction

“For the most part,” says Liedtka, “they were things the faculty wouldn’t have thought about. When we presented the findings to the faculty, one professor said, ‘I think I learned more in the last hour about the lives of our students than I have in the past 20 years.’”

Some students, the team discovered, came to Darden thinking their MBA education was the continuation of their undergraduate years. Others arrived viewing the MBA experience as a continuation of their professional lives. “For those who thought it was a continuation of college, it was ‘bring out the keg,’ says Liedtka. The other students were expecting wine and cheese parties and intellectual discussions. Some of the most unhappy students had different expectations of the social experience than the reality when they got here. It was kind of mind-boggling to us.”

Most of the emotional low and high points occurred around recruiting and job search and the pressures and demands of the school’s social life. “It was surprising how little they talked about the curriculum in the class and how much they talked about what was happening outside the class,” says Carraway. “It dawned on us that we need to think of this as a program, not just a curriculum, and that’s where we can build in customization and flexibility.”

Student satisfaction, of course, is often a byproduct of expectations. So the expectations that students bring to a program and whether they are met by the school has a lot to do with overall satisfaction. “Some students walk in the door knowing what they want out of their MBA,” adds Liedtka. We put them into one of those traditional MBA career bins likely to go to McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Goldman, Morgan Stanley or Procter & Gamble and IBM. But there is a whole group of students who have no clue with what they want to do. So when they enter that same recruiting and job search system, it’s very discouraging to them. They thought that by picking Darden, they would get this personal advice. Within two weeks of their arrival, we’re asking them which of five different careers they want to pursue because we want to put them into that track.” The upshot: “We had to create a system that kept satisfication high for most, but also put in other processes for people who have fallen through the cracks.”

Another issue that came to light was that some students had difficulty balancing their work in class with the onslaught of recruiter presentations on campus. “We found that early in the first year, when many students are struggling with the workload, we hit them with recruiter briefings,” recalls Liedtka. “That was fine for the students who knew what they wanted out of the MBA because they could only go to the consulting briefings or the investment banking briefings and still had time to do the class work. But for the undecided students, they would try to go to every briefing and it was physically impossible to do that and still prepare for the next day’s classes. They were the truly overwhelmed ones.”

A “Happy Wanderer,” for example, experienced emotional lows applying to MBA programs, balancing class work with recruiter briefings and club activities, and then the realization that the second-year of an intense MBA program won’t allow you to cruise to the finish line (see graph of emotional high and lows on next page). As one Darden student blogging under “Plan MBA” recently explained in a post: “I collapsed exhausted in bed each night not sure how I’d find the energy to get through the next jam-packed day. Where was the leisure of second year? Why couldn’t I stay afloat? And then I found out many of my classmates were feeling the same way. Over worked, more stressed than expected and confused about why the Promise of Second Year hadn’t materialized. It was more like the Myth of the Second Year.”

  • Guggenheim,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Best, John

  • guggenheim

    To all,

    I am a complete, legit Darden Alum from the early ’90’s. Whew, way back then. Even in those old days the McKinseys, Goldman Sachs, top advertising agencies, P&Gs etc. recruited at Darden. Of course, Darden was ranked in the Top Ten of the US News and World Report lists long before so many like North Carolina, Yale et al played catch up. Georgetown, really? Which of course is the larger question, how and why did Darden slip at all?

    I am sure that most of you who are students, all of you who are real grads and a few of you who are candidates have heard this truth: The MBA experience as it relates to placement only holds currency during the first FEW years after graduation. Following that, and for most of people’s careers, recruiters and hiring managers will look at concrete professional, business accomplishments. Someone above said that accounting is the easiest course offered in business school. That person clearly has not been in the working world very long. Please don’t repeat that on a interview, it’s not true, especially to those who have NOT taken accounting and those will be most of the people for whom you interview and work.

    The MBA experience as it relates to your career is a different story. As a Darden grad, you will know so much more than many of your other B School peers, work colleagues and bosses. Don’t be so shortsighted as to not realize that. Also as time goes on, your degree from Darden will command respect and dollars as do the degrees earned from other major B-Schools.

    But hold on to your hats, especially you newbies , the MBA is often mentioned as a “preferred” credential, not a requirement as jobs move further upwards. I recently watched a 60 minutes episode about Tyra Banks the former model and media mogul pursuing an executive MBA at HBS. She has already built a pretty major media company of HER OWN BEFORE pursuing an MBA, only now that she has already has millions sans MBA she wants a better understanding of what those Wall Street folks are talking about as she looks to grow further for herself.

    So try to take a longer view. And average? There is nothing average about a Darden grad or a grad from any major, intensive MBA prgram. BTW, you should read up on the satisfaction surveys from grads of HBS. I’m not knocking HBS, it’s a great program in my view and I’m a Darden grad. But read what the people who went there say. It does not or will not rank with the student satisifaction achieved by Darden. It’s tough, but sometimes it really does help to start realisticaly looking further down the road.

  • James

    According to the satisfaction chart of the 4 personality types, I would assume that Darden is now less interested in the social enterprise types. Those students tend to be less satisfied than most, and therefore will rate the school lower.

  • Darden applicant


    I appreciate your candor, but to be quite honest with you, I’m having doubts that you are a real student. I find it hard to believe that you were admitted into Darden with a 660 GMAT, 3.2 GPA, and at the age of 21. What did you do before b-school?

  • Bob

    Oh, God, PLEASE, no more MBA programs and MBA’s!!! America doesn’t need any more MBA’s who screwed up its economy through Wall Street shenanigans or through Main Street, with their short-sighted mismanagements motivated purely by greed and even more greed. When too many of their subordinates still complain of their unfairness, unreasonableness, and dbias, it’s clear that they graduated from the MBA programs without adequately learning perhaps the most critical skill in management, which is PEOPLE skill. Or, perhaps the MBA programs graduate too many MBA’s who were not cut out to be decent, practicing managers. Apparently the MBA’s who were involved the Wall Street scams forgot or ignored what they learned from their requisite courses in business ethics at their MBA schools. Enron, Lehman Brothers, Countrywide, AIG, GM, Chrysler, Fannie Mae, and Freddie Mae were all MISmanaged by the managers who graduated from some of the top MBA programs in America. They decided to offshore many manufacturing and service jobs overseas, mostly to fatten their already grossly inflated salaries or compensations, all the while claiming that it was necessary for the competitiveness or survival of their companies. Lastly, America already has a HUGE glut of MBA’s, of whom some, if not many, are probably currently unemployed or under-employed, in this horrendous recession brought on by themselves or their peer MBA’s.

  • Plan MBA,

    Thanks for weighing on. Really enjoy your blog posts. Good luck to you!