Looking at the class composition, business-related majors dominate the class. Business and finance graduates take up 31% of the class, up from 25% last year. Economics also owns a healthy 18% share of the class, meaning nearly half of the class is versed in academic business fundamentals before starting their MBA. STEM majors account for over a quarter of the class, with engineers (21%) composing the vast majority. Humanities majors constitute the remaining quarter of the class, up three points over the previous year.
At the majority of MBA programs, the largest bloc of the class is made up of students from financial services. The same is true of Darden, with 23% of the class hailing from banking. 15% of the class bring consulting backgrounds, with another 12% come from the tech sector. Non-profits and consumer packaged goods each represent an 8% share, followed by manufacturing (6%), government (5%), and Healthcare (5%).
SCHOLARSHIPS AND PAY UP BIG TIME
On the surface, the Class of 2019 is heading into Darden’s golden age. In October, Dean Scott Beardsley shared that the program had raised $13.7 million dollars for MBA scholarships, a 700% increase over fiscal 2015. “The record breaking scholarship fundraising in fiscal year 2017 allowed us to create more scholarship funds than ever before, making Darden more accessible and affordable to top students of all walks of life,” explains Ron Wilcox, senior associate dean for degree programs in a statement to P&Q.
The school’s outcomes were equally impressive. The 2017 Forbes MBA ranking, for example, found that 2012 Darden graduates saw their incomes rise $73,000 to $180,000 within five years of earning their MBA. The Class of 2016 also reaped the rewards of a Darden education, pulling down starting median compensation packages of $150,668. That pay was only eclipsed by Stanford and Harvard – and ranked higher than Wharton and Columbia.
Such results have emboldened the school to invest even more heavily into the program. “We introduced a new MBA/Master of Data Science dual degree, a technology venture fellowship program offering a hands-on look at venture capital, and a number of experiential learning opportunities, Wilcox says. “We have also expanded our Career Services Department, with areas of expertise, bringing more personalized attention to every student.”
And that was just the start, he adds, noting that the program is beefing up its offerings in global business and experiential learning. “Darden continues to expand its global offerings (Darden Worldwide Courses: Global Immersions, Global Topics and Global Consulting Projects). From 2016 to 2017 demand doubled for these faculty-taught courses, and we have greatly expanded need-based aid to ensure all students can take advantage. The course topics are also addressing critical global issues, such a new course in Germany on artificial intelligence and automation. While we currently offer more global courses than ever before, students may create their own global consulting project anywhere in the world.”
CHARLOTTESVILLE PROTEST NOT REPRESENTATIVE OF THE COMMUNITY OR THE SCHOOL
Indeed, Darden has laid out an ambitious agenda, with the goal of displacing Berkeley Haas and Michigan Ross as the top public business school in the United States. However, the program’s momentum has been tested by the events of August 11-12, when a white nationalist march in Charlottesville resulted in a death and over 30 injuries. It had been over 70 years since the United States sacrificed over 400,000 lives to keep fascism from its shores. So the world was stunned as torch-bearing out-of-towners – some bearing Nazi flags – streamed down campus to rage against the removal of a Confederate statue.
While cities from Boston to Gainesville have endured similar marches, Charlottesville remains a symbolic flashpoint, a progressive enclave rooted in the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, who championed equality, independence, individuality, and public virtue. The city is a mix of north and south, urban and rural, go-getter spirit and antebellum charm – the quintessential college town known for blooming magnolias near the rotunda to the breath-taking majesty of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains. Not surprisingly, this city has been home to figures as diverse as James Madison and the Dave Matthews Band.
For Dean Beardsley, this rich and welcoming culture of Charlottesville is exactly why the August protesters targeted it. “I asked myself the question, ‘Why did this happen here?’ And the reality is, it could happen any number of places,” Beardsley tells P&Q in a recent interview. “But perhaps one of the reasons that it happened here is exactly because the University of Virginia and Darden are very progressive places, they’re wonderful places and they knew that they would get a reaction. If you’re seeking to draw attention to yourself, you go to a place where you can draw the sharpest contrast between what you stand for and the place where you’re making your statement stands for.”
Despite the protests, Charlottesville remains the place to be for students and residents alike. It has been ranked among America’s happiest cities by the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, while being celebrated in the media for its lush food and culture scene, historical prominence, and overall beauty. Not to mention, students enjoy the lowest rents of any major business school, with rents averaging under $850. “I was fortunate enough to experience Charlottesville years before when visiting friends,” shares Rodriguez. “When it came time to apply to business schools, I knew I already loved the town. It has the right mix of small town charm and entrepreneurial buzz that I wanted for business school.”
Becker was equally enthusiastic after spending two years in Charlottesville. “The sincerity and warmth of the people, the idyllic setting, and the intensity of the community made me feel welcome,” he adds. “This is the kind of place where people do not merely enter your life; they get in your soul.”
A STRONG COMMUNITY BOUND BY AN HONOR CODE
For most, Darden is a place unlike any other. For example, the program is defined an honor code, where students are trusted to act ethically. For example, students are given take-home exams, with the expectation that students will complete it without scouring the internet or seeking help from friends. The code binds the class to each other – and past classes – nurturing a sense of trust, unity, and collaboration. In fact, one 2014 graduate, Chirag Jain, tested the limits of the system by making paid snacks available for classmates in “George’s Diner.” So how would his classmates act when they weren’t being watched? Turns out, 98% paid for them – with Jain conceding that the default rate may have stemmed from “counting errors and poor signage.”
Another program tradition is First Coffee, where students and faculty gather at 9:30 each morning to kick back and get to know each other. After weekly classes conclude on Thursday – students take Friday off to focus on extracurriculars and interviewing – the school holds a Cold Call, another gathering where beer replaces caffeine. Such events, coupled with an honor-based culture and an engagement-driven curriculum, has fostered Darden classes marked by a strong sense of community.
“The key factor for me in choosing Darden was the community strength,” says Singh. “In all my interactions with the alumni and faculty, the friendliness and warmth was very evident. Darden has a strong community structure and extremely helpful students and faculty. It’s been only few weeks since I moved here, but I can already experience it. The relatively small size of batch helps in forming strong bonds with the fellow batchmates and the ever-helping nature of the teaching staff just brings out the best in every student.”
Jingxian Chen witnessed this sense of community spirit first-hand when she participated in the school’s Shanghai information session last year. “There were so many alumni there to support the event. The number of alumni attended even seemed to exceed the number of prospective students! I can feel the alumni’s gratitude towards Darden.”
“I WAS HIGHLY UNCOMFORTABLE, AND I LOVED IT!”
In the end, it was the case method that truly attracted the Class of 2019 to Charlottesville. Designed to give students a holistic view of issues, cases help students master the critical thinking and decision-making processes. It requires them to probe various angles and anticipate the repercussions of their actions from the vantage points of operations, sales, finance – and everything in between! Equally important, it trains students to respect healthy debate as a means to reaching the right answer.
Rodriguez, for one, has already observed that some of her biggest growth occurred during meetings with her learning team to examine cases before class. During the recruiting process, she checked out a mini-case with Professor Gregory Fairchild. To say she was blown away would be an understatement.
“Here we were, shouldering Neil Hoffman’s tough financial dilemma about whether he should pursue his out-of-the-box idea….not knowing, of course, how it would all pan out,” she recalls. “I remember sitting in the classroom feeling like I witnessed teaching unlike anything I’d ever seen before…Professor Fairchild was humorous one minute, tough on us the next, but unwavering in his ability to shape classroom discussion by asking the tough questions and guiding us to find meaningful conclusions. The entire class was driven by student participation; not having a point of view rooted in data or personal experience wasn’t an option. I was highly uncomfortable, and I loved it!”
As the Class of 2019 works through this early discomfort to find their voice, many are looking ahead to the summer, wondering who they’ll be and what they’ll do. Debruhl, for one, hopes to shed the moniker of “that ex-military guy” and be better known as a “reliable contributor, friend, and classmate.” At the same time, Sheppard is looking past her initial fear of cases to a year defined by the best of everything: “A passport full of stamps, an address book that has tripled in size, a smooth tax season for all my family and friends, and probably a good tweed suit that takes me less than 5 minutes to iron.”
To read profiles of incoming Virginia Darden MBA students — along with their advice on tackling the GMAT, applications, and interviews — click on the links below.
|Amevi Agbogbe||Lome, Togo||University of Lome||United Nations|
|Jingxian Chen||Haikou, China||Shanghai University||Ernst & Young|
|Derek Debruhl||Davie, FL||U.S. Military Academy||U.S. Army|
|Kimberly Diaz||West Caldwell, NJ||University of Virginia||oneTILT|
|Michelle Gauthreaux||Miami, FL||University of Florida||Citrix Systems|
|Ki-Shui Liao||Orlando, FL||Stanford University||National Women’s Golf Association|
|Mercedes Rodriguez||Pasadena, CA||Yale University||Brazen|
|Cecily Sackey||Hamilton, NJ||Yale University|
|Taylor Sheppard||Wailea, HI||University of Notre Dame||U.S. Navy|
|Ashish Singh||Gwalior, In||VIT University||Lister Technologies|