New Darden Scholarship Initiative Aimed At Attracting Diverse Candidates To PE, VC & Hedge Fund Jobs

The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville

It’s no secret that MBAs who land jobs in private equity, venture capital or hedge funds are among the most highly paid graduates of business school. But those lucrative positions often prove elusive to both women and underrepresented minorities. Just 20% of senior leaders at private equity firms in the United States are women, less than 2% are Black, and less than 12% are people of color, according to a 2020 McKinsey & Co. report. Another study by Women in VC found less than 5% of VC firm partners are women, and only a third of those are women of color.

To address those shortfalls, the University of Virginia’s Darden School Foundation is launching a new scholarship fund and career program to encourage and promote diverse leadership in those fields. The Breakthrough Scholars Program will target an annual cohort of up to a dozen students who apply to either Darden’s full-time MBA or Executive MBA programs. Besides a full-ride merit-based scholarship to Darden worth roughly $150,000, students in the cohort will get a curated MBA experience with new elective courses, an independent study project, internships and mentorship to ease the way into what has long been a fairly closed set of jobs largely reserved for white and male MBA graduates from Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.

Darden is betting that the newfound consciousness on diversity and inclusion might open a crack in the door of these firms. “The industry knows that it has this dilemma and if they are working actively to solve it we believe that this could do a lot to begin to diversity their ranks,” says Greg Fairchild, faculty adviser for the Breakthrough Scholars program. “The industry recognizes the need to increase diversity at all levels and firms are eager for partners like Darden to help them find diverse talent.”


Greg Fairchild is serving as faculty advisor for the new Breakthrough Scholars program at UVA Darden.: “

Fairchild notes that the time is right for such a program. “This is an area of immediate demand and frankly pressure on the industry,” he adds. The late David Swensen, Yale’s long-time chief investment officer, addressed his concerns over the lack of diversity in the industry. “Blackstone came out and said they want to see diversity on the teams. We are seeing the market signal from the funds that they are now looking for a diversified talent pool.”

The idea for the program came out of a dean’s strategy session at the school when discussions centered on future opportunities for MBA graduates in both finance and technology. After the conversations, Fairchild called Darden Dean Scott Beardsley and outlined the challenge. “I told him, ‘Let’s go with the glass-half-filled approach. This isn’t a problem, it’s an opportunity for us to help these industries. They do want to take steps in the right direction. Let’s help them do it.’ Scott said, ‘Great. Let’s do it.’ By curating the right people and programs, we could deal with the challenges that people have in navigating this industry and securing jobs in it. And in a cohort, they could be mutually supportive of each other even after they graduate.”

A group of Darden professors with expertise in these areas then began to think through what a program would look like. Besides Fairchild, they included Susan Chaplinsky, John Glynn, Elena Loutskina, Pedro Matos and Ting Xu.  What the faculty came up with is a bold and costly endeavor, with a potential added cost to the school approaching $2 million a year. For one thing, most of the private equity shops, venture capital firms and hedge funds tend to be on the smaller side, hiring just one or two MBA graduates a year. More often than not, the firms hire students who already have had experience in PE or venture capital, making it difficult if not impossible for many to enter these fields. The firms also tend to recruit MBAs from a small subset of business schools, namely Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. Last year, 18% of the graduating MBA class at Harvard went into private equity, 15% of Stanford MBAs, and 12% of Wharton MBA grads.


Fairchild is hoping that the Darden program will allow exceptional graduates who lack previous experience in the fields to get a shot at a job in PE, VC or in a hedge fund. “There could be a really bright person with a physics background who doesn’t know this field exists and might be interested in it,” he says. “One of the barriers to diversity in the industry is that it is a relatively closed circle. You have heard of PE or VC but you don’t know the entry points or what is required to be in it. There will be people who will have to be brought along to understand that this is a viable career option. There will be people who are already interested in the industry but won’t find other schools offering them a curated set of opportunities like this.”

He agrees that until now it has been difficult for most MBAs to even consider these fields. “If you are trying to break into the industry as an MBA, it’s not all that open to new people. That is part of the reason we’re taking this approach. The funds tend to be small except at Blackstone or Carlyle. The firms are bringing in one or two people at a time. We’ve already lined up more than ten of them to be the sponsors for these folks. If they get an interesting prospect, they would give them a summer internship. But they will be there to advise, open their networks, and continue to meet with these folks, whatever it takes to get them into the industry.”

Part of a new set of Darden School Foundation programs to advance diverse leadership in business, the new initiative also is a part of a larger Inclusive Excellence effort. Each year, the foundation selects and awards scholarships for women and under-represented minorities that range from partial-tuition stipends to full tuition and fees. The need-based AccessDarden scholarship program was launched in 2020 for both full-time MBA and EMBA students. The program also will likely benefit from a new and separate venture capital initiative the Darden is launching later this summer to advance offerings tailored to the VC space. 


In announcing the new initiative, Darden noted it set new school records this year for placement in VC and private equity internships and full-time jobs. Unlike several other schools, Darden does not normally report placement numbers in these fields, noting only that last year 19% of the graduating class went into financial services at median base salaries of $150,000. That compares with 41% who went into consulting, the most popular industry for Darden MBAs, at median base salaries of $165,000. With the announcement, however, the school disclosed that 21 members of the full-time MBA Class of 2022 are completing summer internships, seven Class of 2021 graduates accepted full-time roles in those fields (roughly 2.4% of the class) and many more are pursuing various asset management fields. “These are among the highest career placement levels in VC and private equity among Top 10 business schools,” according to the school.

Darden said that its alumni have founded and led private equity, VC and hedge fund firms such as Grafine, Sands Capital, Glynn Capital, Columbia Capital, Greenspring Associates, Integral Capital, BlueRun Ventures, Discovery Capital Management, CCA Industries, and CAV Angels among others, and have been industry leaders at firms such as KKR, Blackstone, Bain Capital, Bridgewater, General Atlantic, Silver Lake, Sequoia, and Carlyle.

“Darden has always taken the lead in educating the next generation of executives, investors and entrepreneurs, and this important new initiative to increase diversity within private equity and venture capital is a continuation of that mission,” said Elizabeth Weymouth (MBA ’94), founder and managing partner of the alternative asset management firm Grafine Partners and former chair of the Darden School Foundation Board of Trustees. “Developing a pipeline of diverse MBA talent to join private equity firms is essential for the long-term sustainability of the industry, and I’m excited to use my experience to help women and under-represented minorities break into the field.”


While the generous scholarships will no doubt attract stellar talent into Darden’s MBA program, it is the series of curated experiences that will help them transition into private equity, venture capital and hedge fund jobs. Members of the Breakthrough cohort will receive a bevy benefits, including:

    • Curricular and co-curricular offerings from the Richard A. Mayo Center for Asset Management, the Batten Institute and the Darden Venture Capital Initiative enabling education, professional development and practical experience across a range of verticals within asset management. 
    • Network and mentoring from current industry professionals.
    • A suite of elective courses that best develop industry-relevant skills and expertise.
    • Access to career programs and internship experiences with VC and private equity firms through the Batten Venture Internship Program, Mayo Center for Asset Management Fellowship Program and the newly created Darden Venture Fellows program
    • A private equity or VC industry-related independent study overseen by a Darden faculty expert. 

Fairchild notes that in the second year of the MBA program, students in the cohort will engage in an independent study that will culminate a presentation to both sponsors and faculty. “It will be a pitch document or pitch study to help them break into the industry,” says Fairchild. “They might be asked to do an analysis of the burgeoning restaurant and supply chain industry. The document would then be a talking point in their job interviews.”

Students interested in joining the inaugural cohort of Breakthrough Scholars should visit the program webpage or connect with Darden admissions. Exceptional candidates identified through the admissions process will be invited to compete for a spot in the initial cohort.

Alumni, companies and donors interested in supporting the Breakthrough Scholars Program should contact Carter Hoerr at or +1-434-243-5871. Companies interested in hiring a Breakthrough Scholar or student in the private equity, venture capital and other areas of asset management should contact


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