Chicago Booth | Ms. IB Hopeful
GMAT 710, GPA 2.77
Columbia | Mr. Infra-Finance
GMAT 710, GPA 3.68
London Business School | Mr. Indian Banking Leader
GMAT 750, GPA 3.32
Stanford GSB | Mr. Pizza For Breakfast
GMAT 730, GPA 3.6
Kenan-Flagler | Mr. Top Performer
GMAT 730, GPA 3.3
Georgetown McDonough | Mr. Navy Vet
GRE 310, GPA 2.6
Harvard | Ms. Comeback Kid
GMAT 780, GPA 2.6
Darden | Mr. Military Communications Officer
GRE Not taken yet, GPA 3.4
Kellogg | Ms. Retail To Technology
GMAT 670, GPA 3.8
Ross | Mr. Top 25 Hopeful
GMAT 680, GPA 3.3
UCLA Anderson | Ms. Qualcomm Quality
GMAT 660, GPA 3.4
Chicago Booth | Ms. Hotel Real Estate
GMAT 730, GPA 3.75
Chicago Booth | Mr. EduTech
GRE 337, GPA 3.9
Yale | Mr. Gay Social Scientist
GMAT 740, GPA 2.75 undergrad, 3.8 in MS
MIT Sloan | Mrs. Company Leader
GMAT 760, GPA 2.92
Wharton | Mr. Cross-Border
GMAT 780, GPA 3.7
UCLA Anderson | Mr. Career Change
GMAT Have yet to take. Consistent 705 on practice tests., GPA 3.5
HEC Paris | Mr. Introverted Dancer
GMAT 720, GPA 4.0
Kellogg | Mr. Safety Guy
GMAT 720, GPA 3.3
Kellogg | Mr. Danish Raised, US Based
GMAT 710, GPA 10.6 out of 12
Harvard | Mr. Aspiring FinTech Entrepreneur
GMAT 750, GPA 3.9
Stanford GSB | Mr. Fill In The Gaps
GRE 330, GPA 3.21
INSEAD | Mr. Behavioral Changes
GRE 336, GPA 5.8/10
McCombs School of Business | Mr. Texas Recruiter
GMAT 770, GPA 3.04
USC Marshall | Mr. Strategy Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 4.0
Berkeley Haas | Mr. Entertainment Agency
GMAT 750, GPA 3.8
Chicago Booth | Mr. Quant
GMAT 750, GPA 3.7

How Darden Hit No. 1 in Student Satisfaction

From the start, Bruner concluded that the greatest opportunity to enhance student satisfaction was not in a big overhaul of the curriculum, but in smaller incremental changes. “Big redesign efforts are well known and get a lot of press, but they are difficult to pull off and sustain,” he says. “All of the research on how the best organizations do innovation is through a process of small change–prototypes and projects.”

And Liedtka also felt that the greatest opportunities were not with the mainstream MBAs because by and large they were very satisfied with the Darden experience. Even going back to the very first student satisfaction survey in 1988, Darden students were more satisfied with the quality of teaching at the school than any other. The school also scored extremely well on most other satisfaction attributes measured by the survey. Even Darden’s 14th place finish in 2008 failed to show widespread disaffection. “You weren’t going to move the needle on the mainstream,” says Liedtka. “We had to find the most unhappy ones and then set expectations so they don’t come in the first place or tweak it so that is the key to helping the other group of students become more satisfied with their experience. We are constantly generalizing to the mean when it’s the outliers where a lot of fruitful innovation lives.”

Among the key goals of the project:

“Take faculty and staff on an empathic journey through the current student experience, supported with data.

“Provide a compelling description of unmet needs of current MBAs.

“Identify key opportunity areas of improvement.

“Find some easy wins.”

Darden brought in Tim Ogilvie, CEO of consultants Peer Insight, who taught an MBA class on service innovation. Nine students then were drafted to do the study on 16 second-year MBAs representing a cross-section of age, gender, nationality, marital status and educational backgrounds. After a couple of training workshops, the student researchers spent hours with their classmates, taking each through 11 key steps in the MBA journey. They started with the moment each decided to get an MBA until his or her graduation two years later. The interviews were done in the last quarter of their second year, between March and May of 2009, and reported to the faculty just before graduation in May.

What they found surprised Bruner, Liedtka and much of the Darden faculty. The school had long assumed that all of its students had the same experience going through the Darden program. After all, it was a lockstep, cohort driven program, heavy on case study teaching, close student-faculty contact, teamwork and collaboration. In fact, different types of students were having significantly different experiences that altered their highs and their lows.


The research team identified four different types, or personas, of students, each with his or her own issues (see matrix on next page). There were “Mainstream MBAs” who were using the degree to switch careers into typical MBA jobs; “Happy Wanderers,” who were using the degree to find a new direction in life; “Mature Ticket-Punchers,” who sought the MBA to enhance their career mobility, and finally “Map Makers,” the most likely group to be dissatisfied. Unlike the “Happy Wanderers,” they’re more likely to be angst ridden about not knowing what they will do when they enter the program. They’re still trying to make sense of their careers. Some of them go into social entrepreneurship after getting their MBAs. They’re also far more interested in the program’s intellectual content. “We have been so busy designing for the mainstream that we haven’t recognized this group existed in the past,” says Robert Carraway, senior associate dean for degree programs. “But we have some very talented folks in this group.”


About The Author

John A. Byrne is the founder and editor-in-chief of C-Change Media, publishers of Poets&Quants and four other higher education websites. He has authored or co-authored more than ten books, including two New York Times bestsellers. John is the former executive editor of Businessweek, editor-in-chief of Businessweek. com, editor-in-chief of Fast Company, and the creator of the first regularly published rankings of business schools. As the co-founder of CentreCourt MBA Festivals, he hopes to meet you at the next MBA event in-person or online.