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Darden MBA – Interview with Associate Director of Admissions Wendy Huber
Written by Sameer Kamat
Mention the Darden MBA program at the University of Virginia to any MBA applicant, and what is it that first pops into their mind? Top ranked MBA program, case studies, management consulting industry, competitive admissions process, will I land an internship, what about MBA jobs?
Recently when I had the opportunity to interview Wendy Huber, Associate Director of Admissions at Darden, those are exactly the topics we talked about. And Wendy was kind enough to share her thoughts. If you have been confused with all the information on discussion forums and blogs, here’s your chance to hear directly from someone who’ll read your MBA application soon and decide whether you’ll be eligible to attend the Darden alumni events in a few years.
MBA Crystal Ball: Wendy, thanks for agreeing to share your views with our readers. Whenever anyone talks about Darden, one topic that invariably pops up is the Case Study methodology. For those unfamiliar with it, can you please explain how the process works and why Darden places so much emphasis on it?
Wendy: At Darden, we believe that the best training for business leaders is to put students in the shoes of current and past executives at real companies. That is what the case method does every day. The case method is essentially a four-step process:
1. Students read and consider each case on their own.
2. They attend a meeting with their learning team — the group of four to five other students with whom they study prior to each class — to resolve questions.
3. They then attend a class with their section of approximately 60 students, where a faculty member skillfully leads a discussion about the case at hand, drawing on the experiences and perspectives of the students.
4. Finally, students reflect on how their initial ideas changed as a result of the input from their learning team, class and professors.
Darden places a strong emphasis on the case methodology because we find that it is the best way for students to strengthen their communication and leadership skills. Through the process described above, students are able to learn to reconcile differing viewpoints, make difficult decisions in the face of ambiguity, and challenge, persuade and inspire others.
MBA Crystal Ball: When the Admissions team is evaluating applications, what are the most important aspects that are considered?
Wendy: We are looking for applicants with strong leadership potential who will bring a global mindset and a willingness to share their experiences and perspectives with their classmates. Our students are actively engaged in the classroom as well as outside the classroom, so we are looking for people who want to get involved. We are also looking for students who want to make an impact — both at Darden and in the world of practical affairs. We look for evidence of these traits and aspirations throughout the application.
MBA Crystal Ball: Do you expect applicants from certain demographic pools to have specific traits – for instance, high GMAT scores for Indian applicants? What happens if a candidate has a low GMAT score, but has rich experiences to talk about?
Wendy: We take all aspects of a candidate’s application into account. If a candidate has a low GMAT score, we will look at their undergraduate GPA and course load, as well as their professional experience to evaluate whether or not we think they could be successful in the Darden classroom.
MBA Crystal Ball: While writing MBA essays, the word-count limit can be a big constraint. What can Darden applicants do to maximize their impact?
Wendy: Take the time to reflect on the question and answer the question thoughtfully. The worse thing applicants can do is take an essay written for another school and try to make it work. Word count is important to us as you don’t have all day in the classroom to make your point — being clear and concise is a necessary skill.
MBA Crystal Ball: Anything that they should NOT do?
Wendy: Don’t put another school’s name in your essay for Darden. Don’t write your essay before you’ve had a chance to look at the ENTIRE application.
MBA Crystal Ball: MBA Financing can be a hurdle for international students. What are the various forms of financial assistance at Darden?
Wendy: Darden has always offered a loan program for international students without the requirement of a U.S. co-signer. Each year, we renegotiate the loan program to try to get our students the best possible terms. Additionally, Darden has a wide variety of scholarships that are open to international students, some of which are specific to applicants from specific countries: http://www.darden.virginia.edu/web/MBA/Financial-Aid/Scholarships/First-Year-International/ All applicants are automatically considered for scholarships.
MBA Crystal Ball: How do students get internships? Is it up to the individual to reach out to companies or are there some firms who come to campus to offer internships?
Wendy: As soon as students begin the MBA program, they are assigned both a functionally aligned career consultant, as well as a Second Year student career coach, whom they meet with regularly throughout the job search process.
Darden has a large number of companies that come to the School each year for on-Grounds recruiting for both summer internships, as well as full-time job offers. Companies that can’t make it to Charlottesville post jobs for Darden students on our online career portal, and students also plan “job treks” to various cities around the world each December to network and interview with companies in specific industries.
Students will need to put effort into the job search process, and Darden is here at every step of the process to provide support, advice and direction. Bloomberg Businessweek gave our career services an A+ ranking and Financial Times ranks Darden #5 in placement success.
MBA Crystal Ball: Consulting firms love Darden MBA graduates. What other career opportunities do Darden MBA students target?
Wendy: A large percentage of our students go into consulting (25% from the Class of 2010), but we also have a sizeable portion of the class going into finance — corporate finance, investment banking, portfolio management — marketing, general management, and executive development/leadership programs.
In recent years, we have also seen growing interest in sustainability and nonprofit careers.
MBA Crystal Ball: Has the US job market bounced back? How are international candidates from the current class managing their job hunt?
Wendy: We recently received news that 95% of the Class of 2011 had job offers three months after graduation, bringing our recruiting statistics back up to our pre-recession figures.
MBA Crystal Ball: It’ll be great if you could describe some of the new initiatives at Darden that have been specifically designed to tackle the evolving demands of the business world?
Wendy: Darden just welcomed the first class of our new Global MBA for Executives (GEMBA) program, designed for applicants with seven or more years of work experience who need to be ready to work in globally distributed firms, across markets, across cultures and in emerging regions. The program combines six two-week residencies in China, India, Brazil, Europe and the United States with distance learning. In developing the GEMBA program, our faculty has been (and will continue) to expand our collection of international cases for use in all of our MBA programs.
MBA Crystal Ball: Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wendy.
Wendy: My pleasure, Sameer. Hope your readers find this useful.