Another distinctive feature of the Darden MBA is its honor system — a throwback to 19th century rhythms where nurturing integrity and accountability went hand-in-hand with building knowledge and skills. At Darden, for example, students complete take-home exams under the expectation that they won’t receive help with them. The school also maintains several cherished traditions. The oldest one is First Coffee, where students, faculty, and administrators gather at 9:30 a.m. to chat, a perfect opportunity to grow a network. A more recent addition is Cold Call, a Thursday evening ritual where the Darden community come together for informal chat (along with beer and snacks). Another seminal event is BGIA (Building Goodness in April), where students take a day off class to do charitable work in the Charlottesville area. These traditions, along with Darden’s distinctive culture, foster an unusually tight network that ranks high in terms of alumni support and endowment.
The Class of 2018 definitely took notice. On campus visits, many were struck by the spirit of the Darden community. Atchison found it to be “warm” and “welcoming,” adding “the size of the campus enables faculty to really get to know their students.” In contrast, Collins was captivated by the depth and insight of his future peers. “What was different about my experience visiting Darden, though, was the speed with which I got past the simple “get to know you” questions and started diving into deeper and more meaningful conversations with current and prospective students that I had just met. This gave me the confidence to trust that my classmates at Darden would help me grow with integrity, learning from new points of view while also staying true to my own convictions.”
A SCHOOL WHERE STUDENTS LOVE CASE STUDIES
As a class, if you polled these first years on what drew them to Darden, you’d probably hear, “the case method” in unison. Here, students read narratives that outline the origins and impact of a particular business issues. The case requires students to explore the various dimensions of an issue and weigh potential solutions —with the tradeoffs and ramifications of various options making the decisions less clear cut and open for debate. The benefit of the case, of course, is that it requires intensive analysis and teaches students how to attack issues from all angles, learn from peers, and defend their ideas (often publicly).
At Darden, nearly three-quarters of class time is devoted to case study. Even more, students often prepare for three cases a day, forcing them to stay sharp and committed at all times. Not only that, but they’re always subject to the dreaded cold call, where they must be ready to answer a series of questions designed to tear apart their logic. While that sound daunting to most, Collins considered it to be his “intellectual home.”
“I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, so the quality of my academic experience was really important to me, and Darden delivered in spades,” he explains. “The school places an incredibly strong emphasis on teaching quality, which came out in every conversation I had with professors. In addition, Darden’s extensive use of the case method ended up being a big selling point for me. Initially, I was actually somewhat skeptical; however, sitting in on a class quickly made me realize that no other format mimics real world business scenarios as effectively and encourages such energetic in-class discussions.”
CHARLOTTESVILLE EMERGES AS A CULTURAL MECCA
Making the case method work requires the crème de la crème of teaching talent. This is where Darden truly shines, with teaching talent being valued as much, if not more, than research prowess. In Darden classrooms, instructors are akin to maestros, directing, questioning and encouraging — and always squeezing the most out of the talent at hand. For Atchison, the case method (and Darden’s mastery of it) “allows students to learn from their classmates and hear unique perspectives.” It also requires a total team effort adds Shota Loria, a Georgia native who worked as an auditor at Deloitte and TBC Bank before arriving in C’ville. “The brilliance about this way of teaching is that everybody is empowered and involved all the time.”
It also doesn’t hurt that Darden is located in Charlottesville, a picturesque college town steeped in Jeffersonian architecture that’s just a two hour drive of the DC suburbs. Low cost and slower paced, the city features a lively artistic scene and an extensive network of recreation and nature trails, particularly in the nearby Shenandoah National Park. “Charlottesville is fantastic town for foodies, cocktail enthusiasts, and arts lovers alike,” says Collins, who is re-locating from Chicago. “From world class restaurants, bars, and wineries to a bustling music scene, I’m looking forward to spending the next two years in C’Ville.”
While Darden cherishes continuity in its curriculum, it hasn’t been afraid to add some wrinkles. In 2015, it added a required experiential course called IDEA (Innovation, Design and Entrepreneurship In Action), which relies heavily on team-based learning and culminates with project conducted in tandem with an employer. That same year, the school underwent a leadership change, with Scott Beardsley, a McKinseyite, replacing Bruner as dean— an event that has so far had little impact on the style and substance of the program.
“I HOPE I GET TO WORK WITH HER AGAIN SOME DAY!”
In an environment like Darden, “the process” drives change in students. With the 2018 class, it is more likely to illuminate their path than change it altogether. Torres Bozzi, hopes to find work where it “pays to do things right.” In contrast, Okaka plans to start a business, with an eye towards helping people like her. “I have a soft spot for women and Africa, so eventually doing work within the continent to empower the current and future generations.” But don’t expect every student to take the conventional route, with Mechler looking to use the tools she gains at Darden to become a Formula 1 strategist…at least for one season. “One of my short-term objectives in business school is to pivot to a strategy role, and Formula 1 is an extremely strategic sport. The strategists have to be prepared to make split-second decisions based on mountains of data, and a mistake at any point could cost your team the race.”
When it comes to how they want to be viewed by classmates, the incoming Darden class hopes to leave their mark through service. Collins longs for peers to say that he made their time at Darden more “meaningful, valuable, and fun.” Likewise, Torres Bozzi wishes to be remembered for being steadfast. “I would like my school peers to say that I am someone they would blindly rely on because of my kindness, competence and integrity.” For Atchison, the goal is to become someone that her peers gravitate to after graduation, with classmates saying, “I hope I get to work with her again some day!”
To read profiles of incoming Darden students — along with their advice on tackling the GMAT, applications, and interviews — click on the links below.