Another New MBA Class, Another Big Welcome

Darden MBA students arrive for a new academic year

As 349 of the newest MBA students filed into an auditorium this week at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, you could feel the excitement and the energy. At the very start of what will be a two-year learning journey, the students gathered for a warm welcome from both Dean Scott Beardsley and Executive Director of Admissions Dawna Clarke.

It is a scene that will increasingly play out on one business school campus after another in the next few weeks. Schools will begin a new academic year with fingers crossed, hoping that the lingering pandemic will allow them to continue normal class schedules, global immersions, and social events. Students, too, are hoping this will be the new normal, even at a time when new strains of COVID continue to persist.

Dean Beardsley wasted little time to address the issue. “I’m not going to spend a lot of time talking about COVID,” he told the assembled students, “but I want to acknowledge the tough times all of us have been through and continue to navigate. As we start the school year together, be kind to yourselves, be kind to each other, assume positive intent and seek understanding even when discussing complicated issues. Please raise your hand if you need help. We are here for you and dedicated to your success and well-being — and care deeply not only about your academic progress but also your emotional and physical health.”


Darden School of Business Dean Scott Beardsley

He also tapped into the unspoken thoughts of Darden’s newest students. “Looking around at the amazing people in this room, it is natural to have some insecurities creeping into our consciousness when starting a new, potentially intimidating journey,” he said. “Some might call it imposter syndrome. Let me erase any doubts and be crystal clear: You all deserve to be here. You each bring something important and special to this community in your unique way. You have earned your place at Darden, and you should be very proud. It’s incredibly competitive to get into Darden, and you earned your seat through merit. We also admitted you because we thought you have character and would be a wonderful member of this special community.”

The big reveal of the day, of course, was Clarke’s release of Darden’s newest class profile. She told incoming Darden students that they applied during the second most competitive admissions cycle in the school’s history, with just shy of 3,000 applicants for those 349 classroom seats. Application volume slipped just 3.5% to 2,952 from 3058 a year earlier, well below the 13.9% drop at Wharton. To vet the class, the school’s admission team reviewed each application at least four times via a pre-interview read, two post-interview reads, and a final read. The group also conducted more than 1,200 recruiting events and more than 1,700 admission interviews.

The result: Darden set several new records with its Class of 2024. It class had the highest average GMAT score ever at 720 (up five points from last year’s 715); the highest percentage of international students at 43%, the highest percentage of first-generation college grads at 16%, and the highest percentage of LGBTQ+ students at 8%. The international students hail from 48 countries, the highest level of international diversity in Darden’s history.

The Top 10 Countries Represented In Darden’s Class Of 2024

  • United States
  • India
  • Nigeria
  • China
  • Brazil
  • Bangladesh 
  • Mexico
  • Canada
  • Indonesia 
  • Peru


Dawna Clarke, executive director of admissions at Darden

The global nature of the class, however, isn’t fully captured by the percentage of international students. Clarke noted that 118 of the students have studied abroad, and some 120 out of the 349 students–more than a third of the class-speak three or more languages. “Collectively, you speak 81 languages including American sign language,” Clarke added.  

A record number of students, 18.9%, have already earned an advanced degree. And Darden also achieved the highest representation of veterans in its history, with 9% of the class having served their country’s military. One new MBA student designed and executed the evacuation plan that led to the rescore of 7,000 Afghan refugees. “You’ve served as surface warfare officers, company commanders, intelligence officers, special forces troop commanders,” Clarke said. “You’ve flown helicopters, and served on destroyers and submarines. And you bring incredible leadership and team skills to Darden.”

The Class of 2024 has worked at 290 employers in 32 industries, with 20% in financial services, 16% in consulting, and 11% in technology. “Collectively and according to your resumes,” Clarke told the group, “you’ve led it, analyzed it, compiled it, managed it, improved it, migrated it, streamlined it, initiated it, and we know what you’re going to do at Darden, you are going to crush it.”


One factoid drew much applause from the new students. “Twenty-four percent of you are married or in a partnership,” Clarke said, “which means  76% who are not.”

Many of the details of the newest class demonstrate the remarkable diversity of the young professionals who get MBAs today. “So many of you are very musical and yuu should consider joining the Darden band,” joked Clarke. One of you was a background performer for Mariah Carey. You are accomplished, collegiate athletes. So many of you were captains of too many sports teams to list. We also have a few extreme athletes. One of you completed the Swiss Alps 100K. Someone else had a 40K horse endurance race, and we have a certified Alpine Mountaineer. Your class likes to dance and you’ve done so as both amateurs and professionals: ballet, Hip Hop, Bhangra, Indonesian Traditional, Indian Classical and we even have a world champion ballroom dancer. You have done theater and improv; one of you is a magician.”

Dean Beardsley told the new students he has four aspirations for them over the next two years. “I hope you get a great, global education,” he said. “I hope you take the next step toward a career that you love. I hope you build a great network. And I hope you have a great time.

“You will have incredible job opportunities available to you as a member of this network, and I urge you to seize them,” Beardsley added. “Has anyone asked you what you want to do after Darden and made you feel you ought to know?  How do you know what you don’t know?  Many of you may have a clear vision of where the MBA will take you, and many are still considering which path to pursue. Here’s my advice: open to the serendipity of the job search and treat the process as an opportunity to learn and create options. I had no idea what consulting or McKinsey was when I started B-school, and I had no idea in B-School that I would become the dean of Darden.

“Know that it is OK to see plans change, to try something you’ve never tried, or have things go a different way than you expected. It is neither a race to be the fastest to get a job nor a competition to see who can earn the most. It is about finding the place and role where you can make a difference. Remember, also, that the job you have coming in the summer and then out of Darden will just be two steps on your journey and not the final destination. After all, the retirement age is already 70 in most countries.”



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