ANOTHER JUMP IN GMAT SCORES
The 2017-2018 admissions season represented the best and worst of times at Darden. Like nearly every Top 25 full-time MBA program, Darden experienced a steep fall in application volume – a nearly 33% drop that can be directly traced to the August 2017 white supremacist protest in Charlottesville. That protest, resulting in the death of a young woman, made headlines around the world and scared off many international applicant, among others. Despite fewer candidates, the Class of 2020 set an all-time high for average GMAT at 718 – a number that’s a 5 point improvement the previous class and represents a 12 point leap over the past five years. By the same token, average undergraduate GPA held steady at 3.5.
The class composition also remained doggedly similar to previous classes. Women accounted for 38% of the 2020 class, down a point over the past three classes. The percentage of international students also dipped by three points to 31%, the lowest mark the school has posted in the area since the 2015 class. In addition, the percentage of underrepresented minorities slipped by two points to 18%, a number that still outpaces totals from the 2015-2017 classes. Overall, the class hails from 36 countries, not to mention 34 American states.
Like the previous class, business majors make up the largest share of the 2020 Class at 27%. Economics holds 17% of the seats. Combined, STEM majors represent the largest bloc of MBA candidates, led by engineering (15%), sciences (11%), and computer sciences (2%). Social sciences and humanities compose another 22% of the class, with an even split between the majors.
The biggest difference between this class and their predecessors? There is a higher concentration of consultants. The profession comprises 21% of the class, a 6% jump over the previous class. That difference was nearly made up by financial services, whose share tumbled from 23% to 18%. The remainder of the class features students who previously worked in technology (10%), non-profits and public sector work (8%), and healthcare (5%). Another third fell outside these categories. Military veterans constitute 5% of the class, including recipients of Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, and the Global War on Terrorism medal.
HIGHER STARTING PAY AND MORE SCHOLARSHIPS
The future of the class looks bright as well. Last year, the graduating class earned $160,717 to start, up nearly $7,500 from the previous year. 94% landed jobs within three months of graduation and another 90% earned signing bonus. Not surprisingly, Darden rates among the top general management programs, with 1,500 alumni holding a CEO, founder, owner, or chairman title according to Dean Beardsley. The program has also grown increasingly popular in the tech sector, with nearly a fourth of the previous class entering that sector – many on the west coast. While consulting still draws the largest segment of graduates – Dean Beardsley spent a quarter century at McKinsey after all – Darden students are being drawn more-and-more to the allure of entrepreneurship. In this area, alumni success stories abound.
“A good example of that would be Doug Lebda, who started LendingTree when he was here at Darden, adds Beardsley. “He had the idea as a first-year student, then he built it up in our iLab, and now LendingTree is a multi-billion dollar company in the fintech space. So our students are successful in many domains.”
After taking the reins in 2015, Dean Beardsley devoted heavy attention to making a Darden MBA education more affordable. The result, says Ron Wilcox, has been a boost in scholarship fundraising. Maybe ‘boost’ is too modest, considering the 700% jump in funds over the past two years. In 2018, the school posted $13.7 million dollars in new scholarship commitments. As a result, the program now offers 150 merit scholarships to admitted students each year, Wilcox notes.
“In 2018, we announced the Batten Scholars Program, a new competitive scholarship offering multiple full and partial tuition scholarships for students interested in entrepreneurship, innovation, and technology. We were also thrilled to announce the Batten Worldwide Scholarship program in 2018. As a result of a generous gift, we are now able to provide every student in Darden’s full-time MBA program with a scholarship to attend a Darden Worldwide course — short courses held in countries outside of the U.S. addressing issues critical to global business — at no incremental cost. The program will make the school both more affordable and more global, and aid us in the effort to ensure every Darden student has a global experience before graduating.”
THE AMAZON EFFECT
Enhanced scholarship support isn’t the only news coming out of Charlottesville. Last summer, Darden partnered with the McIntire School of Commerce to launch a Master of Science in Business Analytics. In addition, the school also raised its profile in the nation’s capitol – a magnet for Darden MBAs and just a two-and-a-half-hour drive up I-95.
“We recently opened UVA Darden Sands Family Grounds on the top two floors of a 31-story building in Rosslyn, Virginia, directly across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. with expansive views,” Wilcox points out. “It has given us a permanent base for a growing suite of programs. We have already announced that the Executive MBA program will operate primarily out of Rosslyn beginning with the Class of 2021, joining the 12-month Master of Science in Business Analytics and a robust suite of executive education programs.”
The timing couldn’t be better, either, Wilcox adds. “We will also have an interesting new neighbor in Amazon, which announced that its D.C. area headquarters will be four miles away from ours. While Darden already had a strong relationship with Amazon — the company was the Class of 2018’s second-largest recruiter — news that Amazon plans to build its second headquarters, and eventually hire 25,000 people, suggests even more fruitful opportunities for future Darden students.”
CHARLOTTESVILLE: NOT WHAT PEOPLE EXPECT
For most, Charlottesville is the home of Thomas Jefferson, a step back into the 18th century, with rustic estates marked by Greek columns and carefully manicured gardens. That’s part of the area’s charm. However, it is also, says Dean Beardsley, a “progressive,” “dynamic,” and “safe” community – one where the dean himself doesn’t bother to lock the door. The region has sometimes been referred to as the “Tuscany of the East Coast,” thanks to boasting some of the nation’s best vineyards. A foodie’s paradise, Charlottesville is equally a go-to destination for musical acts, with the city attracting artists from Coldplay to Elton John. Best of all, the area provides an outdoor life second-to-none. That includes some of the best facilities for horseback riding, polo, and squash, along with breath-taking national parks and hiking trails huddled in the surrounding mountains.
Not surprisingly, many Class of 2020 members are making a b-line to the school’s clubs to take advantage of everything that Charlottesville offers. That starts with the Outdoors Club for Carissa Sanchez. “I can’t wait to explore, hike, kayak, camp [insert grueling activity that requires bug spray here] in the beautiful area surrounding Charlottesville with my classmates,” she says.
You can expect the School of Brew to pack a full house at Darden too. “I am always one for a new hobby, and lately I’ve come to have an appreciation for the complexities of the craft beer and brewing industry,” says Lauren Sless. “I also have heard how rich the craft brewing experience is both in and around Charlottesville. I think this club will be a great opportunity for me to get to know the city and my classmates.”
That’s so much easier in a city like Charlottesville, population 48,000. “An interesting aspect about getting an MBA outside of a major city is that everyone tends to live near each other and you’ll see your classmates at the bars, restaurants, grocery stores, and parks,” adds Aman Malik. “This brings classmates closer together and creates a very tight-knit and supportive culture.”
TEACHING EXCELLENCE IS THE EXPECTATION
That culture extends to the faculty. In many academic environments, teaching is treated as a necessary evil that takes a backseat to research (which is often the path to tenure and acclaim). At Darden, that model is turned upside down. Here, teaching is paramount, where faculty members devote hours to prepare for each class and fret when their teaching scores aren’t near perfect on student evaluations.
“Teaching matters here a lot,” says Ron Wilcox. “We expect teaching excellence of every single faculty member. If they aren’t excellent, it is not a comfortable environment for them to be in long-term. That is part of our culture that has paid dividends over the years.”
True to Darden’s student-centered model, faculty like Greg Fairchild – P&Q’s 2017 Professor of the Year – spends hours reading up on student backgrounds so they can better structure questions and frame cases. Fairchild even invites students over to family dinners to learn more about them. “I try to say to students, ‘Tell me more about who you are. Tell me about your family. Tell me more about why you’re here,’” he tells P&Q. “In that setting where people are sharing and breaking bread, connections are made that are more natural. They’re seeing part of the Darden culture while they’re in my home.”
How committed are faculty to teaching? Many times, says Fairchild, you’ll find faculty chatting in the hall about how their cases went and how students responded. Even more, faculty teams meet together weekly to discuss upcoming cases – and the strategies they’ll employ to engage students and make the discussions relevant and compelling.
To read 15 in-depth profiles of Class of 2020 students, go to page 3.