We’ll start our “less traveled by” survey with DARDEN, at the University of Virginia. Darden is a school known for being academically rigorous, for using the case method in all classes, and, in EssaySnark’s opinion, for being friendly.
For those who are tracking such things, Darden lands just outside the Top 10 (#13 on the US News 2010 list, #11 on the most recent BusinessWeek list).
Darden has a much smaller class than many other schools, at about 300 students each year (Haas, Yale, and Tuck are the only ones smaller). This is an advantage once you’re there, though of course with fewer seats to fill, competition in the application process can be more intense.
This post from a 2007 applicant describes the Darden = rigorous angle. He talks about the case method and the professors cold-calling students in the classroom to speak about the case. This is how Harvard does it too. Nobody complains about Harvard being “rigorous” though. Feels like a doublestandard to us. ANY bschool worth attending is going to put the students through the wringer in terms of workload and expectations. IT’S PART OF THE PROCESS. (EssaySnark was definitely overwhelmed and struggling at times during bschool.) So many times, our clients b1tch and m0an about how much work it is just to write the essays and study for the GMAT — they’re so busy. Yes, we know. We also know that bschool is no walk in the park! If you’re looking for a vacation, go on a cruise. Getting your MBA is work. We don’t see this “rigorous” thing about Darden as anything more than a very high compliment.
An observation that EssaySnark will offer from that blogger’s post is that Darden’s Dean Robert Bruner is well-liked. He claims to be “student-centered” which we find refreshing. He’s been at Darden a really long time. Some might argue that Darden is Bruner. EssaySnark has never met him personally but we think he’s a smart cookie. He uses his blog to discuss important issues in the world of business and economics (and politics). He seems still to be more academic than administrator. He values the worth of history, and data, to teach us and to learn from. He travels a lot and seems to be engaged with his constitutents (students, teachers, alumni). EssaySnark feels that any organization is a real reflection of the person at the top, and we trust Bruner to run a solid operation that serves the needs of its “customers.” So Bruner gets a vote from us.
The Darden faculty is known to be accessible. They are working with a significantly smaller student population and so it makes sense that they would get to know more of their students. It’s easy to get lost in the halls of a big school like Wharton or Columbia. The small class size is an advantage at Darden not just in relationships with fellow students but also with professors.
How to stand out in an application to Darden? Don’t let us tell you; we’ll just repeat the very useful advice offered by a Darden student blogger recently:
[Y]ou must show through your past experiences how you took action to build a stronger community. Darden wants driven people, but not those driven to excel at the expense of others. Darden needs students who will give much of themselves for the sake of the group, and you must express a genuine interest in being actively involved here.
This of course was summarized from Dean Bruner’s own blog post from early 2009. where he talks about his characterization of Darden as “high touch, high tone, high energy” and the value of the student-teacher interaction in building skills, not just knowledge, in the student.
Darden is interested in international applicants. Their admissions director did an international tour recently (Copenhagen, London, Turkey) trying to drum up interest from prospective students around the globe. Darden has an Hispanic Associate Dean (Peter Rodriguez) which is a little unusual (don’t see all that many US minorities leading things at top schools). EssaySnark has seen full-ride scholarships offered to the strongest international applicants. They are motivated to bring in a diverse bunch, which means that international applicants might have an easier time here. This is true at other out-of-the-way schools like Tuck as well, by the way.
Darden is interested in military applicants. Some schools are marketing themselves more aggressively for people transitioning out of the armed services. Darden is one of them. This is probably due in part to their location; there’s an awful lot of military/defense contractors concentrated in Virginia. It’s a natural recruiting pitch for them — in both directions, not just in getting new students but in placing graduates. Plenty of top schools appreciate the leadership skills that ex-military types bring with them. The high percentage of students accepted from the military — averaging about 8% or around 25 students — and the active Darden Military Association on campus show that Darden is very supportive of these applicants.
It’s pretty easy to stand out in the application process at Darden. As we’ve said, this is a school that’s often overlooked; they get just 2500 applications each year. Their admit rate is about 25% — very high for a school that’s almost Top 10 and definitely Top 15. They are out of the way, in a small town in Virgina, which for some is a showstopper. (It’s a 2-hour drive from the DC airports, 1.5 hours from the airport in Richmond, Virgina. Yes, it’s a little removed.)
If you are interested in the EDUCATION and not just in spending two years partying in a big city while you get your MBA, Darden is worth considering.
EssaySnark wonders what happened to that blogger… His last post in January 2008 reports that he submitted his last application but then he goes dark and we never hear from him again… hopefully he had success in his quest for bschool!