Things are changing quickly.
We’ve never seen an admissions environment this fluid.
Kudos to (some of) the admissions teams for being dynamic, open-minded, creative, and flexible.
UVA Darden has impressed us by far. Yesterday (March 24) they posted a very big announcement that they’re basically letting applicants do anything (within reason) to get an app in for the end of the season. Get this: Darden will accept any standardized test you’ve taken before — including an ACT or SAT from college, or if you’re an international, anything you took to get into university. WOW! Darden already was accepting the LSAT and MCAT for admission to their MBA program so it’s not too surprising that they’d do this; it’s on-brand, for sure. But it’s way (way!) more liberal of a policy than we would’ve ever predicted. They’re also being incredibly flexible and very very generous on dates and deadlines, and what you have to literally submit before you can get your app evaluated. That doesn’t mean that just anyone with a pulse is going to make it into Darden this season — but it may not be that far from the mark to say so.
Tuck weirdly came out with a quite rigid stance initially. They announced this on March 20th which, dang, was only last week, but now feels like it was a whole season ago. They said that they would have a rolling-admission Round 4, and all interviews would be invite-only and done virtually (presumably Skype or Zoom), but basically they’re not making any other real accommodations. They said specifically that an application must be complete in order to be considered for admission. Maybe they were this inflexible because Hanover is so remote, that they didn’t yet get a true sense for the impact of coronavirus out in the rest of the world. Or maybe they felt that keeping to existing processes and requirements would help people because right now, routines and dependable circumstances are one way to bolster some semblance of mental health. Not really sure what the reasoning was.
Tuck and Darden are about on par with each other now, in EssaySnark’s opinion, in terms of how “good” of a school each one is. They’re much more competitive with each other for similarly-positioned candidates than they used to be. That’s because Tuck has unfortunately been a laggard just lately — not with coronavirus responsiveness, but as a school. Over the past few years of downward-trending volumes and waning applicant interest, Tuck has not quite got the energy and moxie to let it differentiate itself in the minds of BSers looking for the best school for them. It’s not to say that Tuck is a lousy program now; not at all. They actually ARE innovating and doing good things on campus, including important changes to the curriculum and a focus on students. And they have amazing professors, and an incredibly tight community. But they’re just kind of lumbering along in the MBA marketplace, rather than being nimble and quick in their outreach, marketing, and conveying differentiation.
By contrast, Darden is on fire. This responsiveness to the realities of the coronavirus among their candidate community is totally representative of the type of agility that is now expressing itself as part of the DNA of this school. Since bringing a former McKinsey guy on board to lead the ship (Dean Scott Beardsley) they have proven themselves to be mold-breakers, status-quo-changers. We’ve said for awhile that Darden is one to watch.
If you’ve been toying with the idea of applying to business school this year — or if you’ve applied to other schools earlier in the cycle, and either came up short with no offers so far, or none that you are totally in love with — we would suggest you consider Darden. Do your research first, of course. Darden is a unique environment, and not everyone is going to be a fit there. Just because a school is differentiating itself does not mean that every MBA applicant is going to find them the right choice personally, academically, culturally, geographically.
There are other up-and-coming programs, too, and maybe some day soon we’ll dedicate a post to them. For now, we have to acknowledge UVA Darden’s leadership for being so forward-thinking, and accommodating to the realities of our current situation.
These schools are only putting these policies in place because they want to be sure they’ll be able to fill their classes in the Fall, so this isn’t exactly an altruistic move on their parts. It’s self-serving. They need more applications to help with their prestige factor and standing against their peers in the marketplace of MBA programs. But still, a select few schools are TRULY applicant-friendly.
We’ve never seen anything like what Darden has done.