2012 UVA Darden MBA Admissions Q&A with Sara Neher

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2012 UVA Darden MBA Admissions Q&A with Sara Neher

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Linda Abraham: Hello. My name is Linda Abraham. I am the founder of Accepted.com and the moderator of today’s Q&A. First I want to welcome all applicants to the Q&A today, and I want to congratulate you for taking the time to learn more about UVA Darden’s MBA program. It is critical to your decision making process and your admission chances that you know as much as you can about the schools you are applying to. Being here today allows you to ask the expert about this top business school and its admissions process.

I also want to give a special welcome to Sara Neher, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at UVA Darden.

Thanks to everyone for joining.

I’ll start by asking my first question of the applicants. I want to know what your biggest concern is at this point in the application process. Okay, some of the responses posted are: low GPA, part-time work experience, low GMAT score, break in jobs, low AWA score, non-traditional work experience, age…We get some idea of what people are concerned about.

Now I’d like to ask Sara what is new at Darden.

Sara Neher: We have a couple of things. One is that our Global MBA for Executives (GEMBA) Program is having its first international residency that started this past weekend in Brazil. We have four teaching faculty and two administrative folks there in Brazil with the group. And we’ll be having recruiting events while they are down there. They are visiting companies and having case discussions with our faculty, and they will be there for two weeks together. So we are all excited to hear how that is going. I haven’t heard anything yet, which I’m sure means that it’s going well because if it was going poorly, we would have heard. So that is exciting and we’re excited about what kinds of cases that will bring back with four faculty members spending two weeks in the region with companies and students and alumni.

Then we have another couple of dual degree programs. One that started at the end of last year and one that has just been announced, and those are programs with our Public Policy School and our Education School. So you can now get an MBA/MPP or an MBA/MEd. We hope that this will bring more public private partnerships to the forefront, and more of a connection to what is going on in the world of education reform and the world of policy. And we hope to bring some business acumen to those areas, and have them bring some of their knowledge to our business students. So if you are interested in those kinds of opportunities, we have more dual degrees than we’ve had before.

Linda Abraham: Min asks, "How many Chinese students are you looking for this year, and how many have already been admitted?"

Sara Neher: I don’t have any particular number in mind. We certainly are looking at how many of the highest quality students that apply we find a good fit with and admit. I actually don’t know exactly how many were admitted in round 1; I think around 10. That is about 5% of the total people that were admitted in round 1. And in round 2, I expect that number to be greater. We also have some wonderful Chinese students on our wait-list, and we will reevaluate them in round 2 as we compare all of the students in round 2 to all of the students on the wait-list in round 1. But I don’t have any particular quota.

I think that one of the most challenging things for international students is really demonstrating English proficiency. The case method classroom requires such a high level of English to allow you to read quickly and be engaged in the conversation. So we assess that, not just through the TOEFL and the other standardized tests, but also through our interview process and all the communications that applicants have with us. That is one area of quality that we are really looking for in non-English speakers.

And the other challenge is in helping us understand your work experience. You need to be able to speak English to participate in the classroom, but you also need to be able to describe your work experience and experiences to participate in the classroom discussions. And sometimes we see non-English speakers having a tougher time with that, but frankly, Americans have a tough time with that too. That is really just about how well you can articulate your experiences, and that is in the essay and the other parts of the application, as well as the interview. So that is what we are looking for and that is how we choose the best applicants.

Linda Abraham: Chaitanya asks, "How does Darden look upon candidates with 6-7 years of work experience?" Maybe we can expand on this question and ask, how do you look at people with "too much/too little/ diverse/non-traditional" work experience?

Sara Neher: The average years of work experience in the classroom is 4-5, depending on the year. So 6-7 years of experience would be very close to that average. What we would like to see in all work experience is quality and explanation for changes you’ve made in your past. If you’ve spent 6 or 7 years with one company or maybe two companies, and you can show progression and promotion and a lot of what you’ve learned, that would be highly valuable for our classroom. The same is true but may be a little harder for someone with 2-3 years of work experience to explain, but it can be done and has been done.

We have people in our classroom with one year of work experience up to about 15 years of work experience. The high levels of work experience tend to be people from the military who could not leave earlier, or from countries with mandatory military service with the same sort of expectation of service. And the people at the lower end tend to be people with some kind of experience in college, maybe entrepreneurial experience or family business experience, which means that they have more than what the one year shows. But there is a wide range and we are certainly looking for people who can show us that quality and progression and articulate what they’ve learned from their work, more than a quantity.

Now a quantity of job changes is not necessarily a positive thing. And I’d say at the upper end of the age ranges, 8-9+ years, we do have our executive programs that may be a better fit. What I encourage people to do, if they can, is to come and visit both classrooms. And usually what happens when people do that is they say, "Oh, you are right. I want to be in the executive classroom; those are more my peers, rather than being in a room that includes people that are 23, 24, 25." Even though the average age may be 27 or 28, there are people that might be 10-15 years younger than you, and often that means that you want to sort yourself into those executive classrooms.

Linda Abraham: Somen asks, "In hobby 1, 2, and 3, do you expect the applicants to mention the hobby in detail?"

Sara Neher: No, I don’t think so. Some do and some don’t. We have some that will just write one word like "traveling" or "cooking". But sometimes we’ll have unusual musical instruments which might be a cultural instrument in India, and I appreciate a little bit of explanation there because I don’t always know from the name what that is. So if it is something obvious, then I don’t think you need explanation. And if it’s something that you might want to explain, that is always beneficial. But I would say just a few words, not sentences.

Linda Abraham: Aeda asks, "To compensate for a low GPA, I’m thinking of taking accounting, economics or statistics classes before applying. Are community college classes okay or would UVA prefer classes from non-community colleges?"

Sara Neher: Community college classes are just fine. And a class in person is better than a class online, but there are great classes online if you need to go that route as well. So a community college class would be great. BYU actually has a really strong online system.

Linda Abraham: Doesn’t NYU also?

Sara Neher: Yes, I think so. And we really accept a wide range of those. We appreciate really when people see that they might be at a disadvantage there and they take that action proactively and sign up for those classes. That is great. Send us the transcripts, or write a note in the additional comments section that says, "I recognize that my GPA is not as strong as I would like it to be, so I am taking these classes", or "… so I plan to take these classes in the spring." That is self-aware and shows that you have that awareness of yourself, and then you are taking some action to improve it. That is really beneficial.

Linda Abraham: So in the case of those who are concerned about low GPAs, the thing to do is to attempt to show that now you know how to perform in an academic environment, and the best way to do that is by taking classes.

Sara Neher: I think so. A high GMAT or GRE can help as well. But just telling us that you weren’t mature—I’m going to guess that. But if something actually did happen – if you were working full-time or even part-time at a significant job during college, if you were a varsity athlete—if you were doing something out of the ordinary that took time away from your classes, be sure that we see that so that it can mitigate some of those things as well.

And know too that we know that there are some schools that are very challenging in some parts of the world, where a C is a good grade, and in America that is not true. We take that into account. So if you are in an education system like in the Arab world, a C is really strong. That is just fine. If you are at a military academy here in the US, the same would be true. Their GPAs are not inflated. If you are in an engineering program…There are a lot of places where a lower GPA is more understandable than others.

Linda Abraham: Massoud asks about a background in not-for-profit, as opposed to the typical banking and consulting background. Is that a disadvantage/ an advantage?

Sara Neher: I think it can be an advantage if you know how to talk about it. I find it interesting. I’d say probably less than half of our students are coming from what most people would probably call "traditional" – the banking and consulting world—and about half are coming from something else. That could be an engineering job, which might seem traditional but isn’t a business job really. It might be a non-profit job, a teaching job, a job in the art world—just what used to be called "non-traditional". I think that is probably half the students going to business school now, and I’m glad for it. So there is no right or wrong job to come to business school. And that is one of the reasons that I like this job so much; it’s because anyone can come to business school. We don’t actually have prerequisites; we really want a wide variety of students. And you might perform better if you’ve taken accounting or statistics, but it isn’t actually a required prerequisite to get into the Darden program because the case method is going to teach you things from all different angles, and you will get all the basics in addition to the other things.

So if you have a strong intellectual ability, I’m going to be excited to have you, no matter what your background is. And I need for those backgrounds to be very different from each other for the case method to really work well. It needs different ways of thought, different backgrounds, different experiences in the workplace, different experiences in your hobbies, in your extracurricular activities. All of that matters. Some of your primary budget experience might be in a non-profit you worked with as your job, as your hobby, or activity, so that is going to be great experience for the classroom.

Linda Abraham: Your response is triggering two questions in my mind. One is, what qualities make for a good student in the case method? And the other question is, for somebody coming from a non-traditional – non consultant, non-finance – background, what do you want to see to be convinced that they can handle the quantitative demands and the business demands of the program? So they are two very different questions.

Sara Neher: The quality is that you really need to have confidence and conviction in your ideas and opinions. In the interview, in the essays, we are looking for the fact that you: a> have those ideas and opinions, and b> we think you have the confidence to share them with others. It takes communication skills and intellectual ability to assess what those ideas are. Then it also takes listening skills because you have to be able to follow the conversation in the classroom and add your value as the conversation is flowing.

As I learn more about some of these studies they are doing on brains, I see that people that are really good at multi-tasking will be really good at the case method. That tends to be women, but I’m sure there are men that are good at multi-tasking too, but in those studies it shows that women are really good at that. So you need to be able to be focused on multiple things at one time and follow the conversation. Those are the people that are going to do the best. They are also the people that are going to do the best at a board meeting or a work meeting. It can be experiences in business or in any kind of setting that you have meetings and conversations and discussions. That is probably what makes it a little different than some. But everybody is looking for people that would be good at presenting ideas, sticking up for them, and having that confidence. That is what being successful in business boils down: having ideas and knowing how to share them. That is what we are going to teach you, but you also need to have some sort of aptitude and track record for that.

Linda Abraham: And the second question was how does an applicant who is not coming from a finance/investment banking background or a management consulting background show that they have the quant skills, or even just the business inclination that I would assume you would want to see before you invite somebody into your case based method classroom that is also very quantitatively demanding?

Sara Neher: Certainly there are easy ways like the GMAT, the GPA. A strong quantitative score on one of the tests does the job. When we are looking at an applicant, we are looking to check off quantitative ability, so if it’s in the GMAT, it’s an easy checkmark. If it’s in the GPA, it’s also an easy checkmark. And for a non-traditional student, we might dig into the GPA a little more and see if they’ve taken statistics in their first year. Sometimes they are taking some of those classes that we are looking for but they didn’t major in it. So if we see it there, we will check it off.

If we don’t see it there, like an English major doing a non-traditional thing, then we are going to be really looking at what their recommenders say about their abilities. I always encourage people without a lot of quantitative objective things in their application, like scores, to encourage their recommenders to talk about analysis they have done in the workplace. Chances are that you have worked with some kind of spreadsheet, or you’ve done some kind of analysis in your work, even if it’s working out time cards or something that you do in a teaching environment that is quantitative. We are going to be looking for anything you’ve got. And recommenders can give us a lot of confidence in your ability if they say – has an analytical mind, doesn’t always have to prove it with spreadsheets, but I know it’s there… That can really back up things we might see in your writing or in the verbal parts of the scores or in your grades, and translates. And that really helps.

And certainly, if you have everything else that we want, we are going to take the chance on you because we think you’ll be able to do it because so much of our process is communication. We are going to need you to communicate with the rest of the students that are more quantitatively focused and bring out their creativity and bring out some of their other strengths, and then have them help you with the quantitative things. That is what the learning teams are all about in our structure. One of my accounting faculty once said to me, "If you had met someone with no accounting experience, make sure it’s like person X in the class, who has a positive attitude, knows they are going to have to work hard in that class, and is seeking out friends to help them." And that is what we are really looking for in people who maybe don’t have the experience or the skills set so obvious in their application. We are looking then for their attitude to be positive and their drive to succeed.

Linda Abraham: Marcin asks, "My GPA is not on a 4.0 scale. How do we fill out the GPA if you have the international percentage or the class or whatever? And can you discuss the minimum and maximum GPA range?"

Sara Neher: These questions are funny. I inherited them and we try to use them because that is what the GMAT guidelines say, but I honestly think we should reevaluate them because it is confusing. This question is not the first one we’ve all received about this. So if you have an international GPA, leave the other GPA items blank and just answer the international GPA question. And answer it in whatever format you have. So if you have a 70%, then put that. And we’ll match it up with your transcript. And for your benefit, it does not get counted in our GPA averages because that would be impossible.

For the domestic students, I think those min/max questions are supposed to be—the min is 0 and the max is 4.0, if that is what your range is. But lots of times people answer it as their own min and max. For example: the lowest semester I had was 2.9 and the highest was 3.9, and my GPA is 3.5. That is fine; that is interesting and it helps us get an idea of your range. But ultimately, we do want to know what sort of system you are graded on, and usually we go to the transcript to figure that out.

Linda Abraham: Emily asks, "I’m submitting my GMAT scores, but I’m unsure as to whether or not I should additionally submit my GRE scores. I’m not sure if they would strengthen or weaken my application. What would you recommend?"

Sara Neher: I would recommend calling us and talking to us about it. I would say only submit one type of score because I really don’t want to encourage students to take both tests. That is not the point of accepting the GRE. The point is to provide access to the business degree for a wider range of people. But if you’ve taken both scores, I’d say, submit the one that is best and go with that.

Linda Abraham: Do you have any preference? If you see an eightieth percentile GRE, is that just as good to you as an eightieth percentile GMAT?

Sara Neher: No, the scales are not the same, so it wouldn’t translate like that. That is because the set of people taking the GRE is very different than the set of people taking the GMAT. So we would need to see on the GRE a higher quantitative percentage than we would need to see on the GMAT.

Linda Abraham: What is your comfort level on the GRE percentile?

Sara Neher: The test just rescaled their scores this year, so I’m not sure yet. We tended to see people in the high eighties, but mostly in the nineties on the GRE. And we have a little more of a range on the GMAT. I don’t expect as high a percentage on the GRE verbal as I see on the GMAT. It’s not really an expectation, just more of an observation.

Linda Abraham: Ashwin writes that he is hoping that you could tell him about various resources for international students hoping to pursue entrepreneurship as a post-MBA career goal. What does Darden offer in that area?

Sara Neher: The offerings that we have in entrepreneurship are the same for all students, international or domestic. They start with scholarships before you even get here that would be pay for your tuition; full tuition scholarships for the areas of entrepreneurship and innovation. So you would want to be mindful in your application to describe any entrepreneurial experiences that you’ve already had which helps demonstrate that aptitude and interest for entrepreneurship or any innovation things that you’ve had. So if you are an engineer and you have created something new or you have patents, include things like that. Those would be things we would use to see innovation. A faculty committee then decides who gets those scholarships; there are at least ten a year.

Then once you are here in school, whether you have the scholarship or not, you can take advantage of all sorts of opportunities. There are classes in business planning and in entrepreneurship. You can apply to be in our incubator over the summer or after you graduate, and it pays your salary while you pursue your entrepreneurial opportunity. There are opportunities to present to angel investors that are Darden alums. The Batten Venture Internship program is a really neat program where we pay half your summer salary and entrepreneurial startups pay the other half, so that you can get a chance to work in a startup when it’s not fully your thing. Then you can see if that is what you want to do, if that kind of environment is right for you. We’ve had students go out to San Francisco, work in a startup, and decided that is absolutely not the environment they want, and then some have decided that it is the environment they want. So it’s a great way to put a toe in the water and see if that is really what you are after. But there is a whole range; business plan competitions with cash prizes and all kinds of opportunities.

One of the things that we believe, which isn’t true at every business school, is that entrepreneurship can in fact, be taught. And we actually teach two different kinds. One is more your traditional entrepreneurship where you analyze a market, find an opportunity, and invest in that opportunity. The other is what our faculty member Saras Sarasvathy calls "effectuation". That is when you look at what you’ve got and see what you can make and see what kind of entrepreneurial venture you can start. "What you’ve got" includes any personal resources you have or networks or anything like that, and so anyone can do that. So it’s two different tracks on that. And they really help people be more innovative and entrepreneurial in large companies just as much as they help people start their own businesses.

Linda Abraham: We’ve had a couple of questions that are clearly from non-US based applicants. Min asks, "How does Darden help the international students fit into the US culture and society?"

Sara Neher: The first thing we have is an international student orientation that happens before the rest of the students arrive. That is really very lifestyle focused; how you get a car and a driver’s license, how you open a bank account… And a lot of this happens online before you come. International students learn how to understand baseball metaphors like "that’s a homerun", because the reality is that recruiters are going to use those terms. Our faculty doesn’t use them that much anymore—they try to be very culturally neutral in terms of using those metaphors—but the recruiters honestly do still use the American sports metaphors, so we do help you learn those so that you can keep up with that. That is the first round of it – the two day international student orientation.

And then there are some sessions from then on that involve social etiquette in the United States and all kinds of things as the recruiting process progresses. One of the biggest challenges is definitely the American style networking. Walking up to someone and talking to them when you don’t know them is definitely an American thing to do. So we do give you extra support on how to do that. And some Americans want that extra support and practice as well, so it works out just fine that we have a lot of sessions for that.

And one of the people that will really help you with that is your second year career coach. There are 60-70 second years chosen each year, based on their success in the process the year before, to be career coaches for specific areas. For example, they will have 7 or 8 first years all interested in consulting, and they will be a person who got a summer job at McKinsey. The coach is there to help you, and they will do that practice; that interview practice, that networking practice, they’ll videotape you and give you advice. They come together with all the consulting career coaches and mentees and then separate back out into their smaller groups, so there is a lot of support that is available for everyone, but it is in small enough groups that if you are an international student you won’t feel left out; you’ll be able to get that help.

Linda Abraham: Ian asks, "I’m a younger applicant (24), and I’m curious about your statistics for acceptance on the lower end of the age spectrum. I’ve been working abroad since I’ve graduated and think I have a lot to contribute, but how will that be viewed by the admissions committee?"

Sara Neher: It’s all going to be about how you describe your experiences, just like anyone. I think it is completely valid. When I advise people who are still in undergraduate, I usually say that I think three years is optimal. You are going to be applying for the same jobs as anyone with more experience, and at that point you have enough work experience to really have strong things to say in the classroom because chances are that you’ve had that opportunity to be promoted. If you had your first job you didn’t like, you still had the chance to move and be in another job for a couple of years. A lot of the traditional jobs have changes at three years. So I think—why wait, if you can do it at two or three years.

The challenge is just going to be to show us all you’ve learned. And we have a lot of people in round 1 who have 3 years or less of experience, and then we have a lot of people who apply while they are still in college or with less experience, and their applications are not good. They are not good for the same reasons that somebody with 6-7 years is not good; they didn’t do a good job of explaining their experience, their grades are not good, or their GMAT is not good.

The one thing is that the less experience you have, the more I have to go on the GPA and the GMAT as my indicators of potential. You don’t have as much in the recommendations or the work experience to balance out a lower GMAT or especially a low GPA because you are just closer to it. So if you have those lower numbers, you might want to think about working 4 or 5 years, and working up that track record of success that will balance out something else that is a little bit lower. But if you have strong numbers, go earlier.

Linda Abraham: Yanal asks, "I have a low GMAT (low 600s), and I have attempted the test more than once. However, I feel I excel in all other areas. How do you assess such a candidate, and would you suggest that I apply?"

Sara Neher: The GMAT score is truly not the only thing we evaluate. We don’t sort you by GMAT and use that to decide who gets an interview or anything like that. We read every single application, and we admit people every year from the high 500s, which is very rare but it does happen, to 780-790. Actually I don’t think we’ve ever had a 790, but I would be interested to see one if they could communicate! So there is a wide range. The ones that tend to be on the lower end have English as a second language often, which makes sense, or have a non-quantitative background or work experience, which again makes sense. So I think it’s all about making sure that your full story comes together and that you show us that you have those quantitative or communication abilities in other places in your application. And sometimes those things won’t be enough, but sometimes they are enough or we wouldn’t have people at all ends of our GMAT spectrum.

Linda Abraham: Aeda asks about applying in the third round versus waiting to apply first round in the fall. Are there any differences in terms of competitiveness, acceptance rates, etc.?

Sara Neher: Yes. I will say that it is hard to get in, in the third round. Not that many people get in. It really depends on the year. In the past few years, we’ve had as few as 6 people get admitted in that round, or as many as 45, so we really just don’t know. It depends on the yield on the other two rounds. But what I will say is I still think it is better to apply in the third round in the spring, as long as you realize that you might have to reapply in the fall. Because at Darden, we give you personal feedback. So the only downside to applying in round 3 is the $215 you have to pay for the application fee. That is something to consider. But what we will do is we are still going to read your full application. And in the best case scenario you get in, either because you have something to offer that is different than what we have so far or we happen to have more room than we expected or whatever that case might be. Or we might put you on the wait-list and may be able to take you later in the summer. Or we might have to say no, but in June, you can call us and have a 15-minute phone appointment with one of the admissions committee, and they will be able to go through with you how you can improve your application for applying the following year. I personally don’t think there is any downside to applying in round 3, as long as your expectations are in line with the fact that it might not work out, and the reason might be because we are full. But at least you’ll get feedback and you’ll be able to improve your application in some way before the next year.

Linda Abraham: Roger asks, "How does Darden view applicants with an existing master’s degree? How does an existing advanced degree factor into our application and how do you incorporate the graduate GPA in your evaluation?"

Sara Neher: Certainly it can be a positive, especially in certain industries. Like if you are in engineering and you have a master’s in engineering and you want to go into something that really is technology like Microsoft or Dell, those companies really appreciate that master’s degree in the technical field, so we see that as a positive. It certainly is not expected, but a strong GPA in a master’s degree can help you certainly. A master’s degree in the United States after an undergraduate somewhere else can help you, or even in your home country a master’s degree can help.

The thing we need to know is why you want another master’s degree, and there are a lot of reasons why you would. So it’s not a negative, but we just need for you to explain your career goals and why this makes sense to you to have this additional master’s degree. Sometimes I see people with some sort of master’s in commerce or business and then it is less easy for me to see what they’ve done and why they want to do this next step here. If you have something like that, that is where you would want to use the additional comments section in the last section of the application and really explain. For example, "I did this as a fifth year degree right after my undergrad because I had no business undergrad experience and wanted to get a job in x. That was successful for me, but now I need the MBA to move to the next level." Something like that would explain it, but often it is sort of confusing.

Linda Abraham: Catherine asks, "How does Darden view part-time work experience and non-traditional backgrounds if counter balanced by significant international experience?"

Sara Neher: Experience outside of your home country is always valued. Work experience outside of your home country is most valued, down to study abroad experience which is also valued, and significant travel experience is also valued. And that is going to trump anything else, so I think that is great. Part-time experience while in university or between things or in addition to a non-profit job, that is all strong. And sometime we know it’s because you need the money to pay your tuition or to support yourself.

One time I had someone who had been laid off and they took a part-time job in a restaurant because they want to start a restaurant one day. That is perfect. That makes perfect sense. They couldn’t get a full time job so they took what they could get to get experience in that industry. If that is why you took a part time job – to get experience in an industry you are interested in – perfect, tell us that!

Linda Abraham: Massoud asks, "As a UVA grad, I’m interested to know what percentage of your incoming class in the past have been former Wahoos? Also what is your opinion on returning to your undergrad university as opposed to venturing to a new institution?"

Sara Neher: As a UVA undergrad myself, I am very favorable towards UVA undergrads. There are two things. About 8-10% of our class each year is UVA undergrads. They are not necessarily also Virginia residents; they live all over, including outside the US. But I like to have a certain percentage because the University of Virginia has, as you know if you went here, a very strong honor code. And it’s really helpful to have a certain number of people in each classroom who have experience with that and can help acclimate everyone else to that honor code; they help with the training process we have for it, and all that goes with all the traditions that we have here.

Also I am lucky that the University of Virginia is a wonderful university, so I have very high quality people coming from the university. I don’t know what I would say about all institutions. My MBA is from a different school where the undergraduate business students and the graduate business students are in the same building with the same faculty. But at Darden, our campus and our faculty are completely separate from all of the undergraduate education. We are separated from the main university by the basketball arena, so it’s not very far. But it’s far enough that I find that UVA undergraduate alumni have a totally different experience here than they would if it was the same campus or the same faculty. I don’t think there is any downside. And I do think if you want to build a strong alumni relationship and be someone who is on alumni boards and committees, being a double graduate is a positive thing for that institution. So if that is your aspiration, that is great.

The one pitfall we do see is when students come in and try to tell us in the application and the interview that they want to come to Darden because they liked UVA. That is not sufficient. There are a lot of similarities, but there are a lot of differences too, including the case method being a large one. The size of the community is much different, much smaller. So you can have that as one of your reasons, but it should not be your lead reason or your only reason for being interested in Darden.

Linda Abraham: I have a couple of questions about the essay question on your application. Someone is asking, "Do you have any advice on what information an applicant should consider in the answer in answering that one essay question?" Somebody else is asking, "It seems to have a strong focus on globalization. How would you approach the question if you don’t have very global experience?"

So more generally, what are you looking for in this one question? Obviously it is very important. And secondarily, what if you don’t have international experience?

Sara Neher: We seem to have caused people a lot of consternation with having only one essay question, and I have to say, it has been really wonderful for us! When we had two essay questions, let’s be real. We know you are applying to other schools and that is okay. But we used to see people pick one of our questions to answer and one they would try to make a copy and paste thing from another school’s question. This way, you have to understand the question. We really appreciate that because people are taking the time and they are writing better responses to our one question than when we had the two bigger questions, so I really appreciate that people are putting in so much time on it.

The other thing is that you need to think about the entire application as an opportunity to help us get to know you. This is only one part, and there are short answer questions in other parts of the application that answer some of the things that are traditionally in essays. The elevator pitch question that we have in the employment area is really about your goals. I don’t need 500 words on your goal; I think 100 words is just fine because that is the amount of time you are going to get to tell a recruiter what your goals are. So it is really for your benefit to help you really distill down what your goals are; you’ll be better off.

For the longer essay itself, it’s okay if you don’t have international experience. We’ll know that from the rest of your application. So we’ll know that your perspective is different than a perspective of somebody else. Just make sure that it is your perspective and what you have learned. And so if it is a more domestic type experience but it helped you learn about people of different cultures or it helped you learn about people who think differently from you, that is really what we are ultimately after. We want to know, have you had an experience that helps you see that there are differences in the world, and what did you learn from it? That tends to be most obviously global experiences, but if your global experience is limited, it could be any kind of experience like that. We had a great one from a person working in their home country, but with a team of people with different religions. And he discussed what that meant for the kind of things the team had to consider when they were having events and gathering together.

So it can be anything that you had an experience with. And what we are really looking for is: Do you answer the question? How well do you write? Do we learn something from you? Do we think your classmates would learn something from you? And this is just a proxy for that. So it’s not so much about the experience as how you describe it, and what kind of language you use that others would learn from.

Linda Abraham: Somen asks, "Why do you ask us to report the number of times the applicant has taken the GMAT? Does it hurt to take the GMAT multiple times?"

Sara Neher: We’ve already had people this year who have taken it seventeen or eighteen times. That can hurt you, yes. It’s not going to help you, I can tell you that much. One of the reasons we want to know is because if there is someone we really love and their GMAT score is just not showing us everything we need to see, and we see that they’ve taken it only once, we might approach you about taking it again, assuming you can probably do better your next time, because we really want this to work out for you. If you’ve taken it three or four times, we are probably going to assume that is the highest you are going to do, and that is fine; there is nothing wrong with that. I will tell you that probably 90% of the people I see apply, have taken it more than once.

So if you’ve only taken it once and you have a really high score, great. If you’ve only taken it once and you have a low score, you probably ought to consider taking it again just because the people you are up against have taken it more than once. And people actually do better the second time. The whole experience of going to the testing center, sitting in front of the computer, the very short break to go to the bathroom, that is stressful. I know. So I think people do better the second time. But once you get passed that, we are not really interested in seeing you take it much more than that. And if you have a question about it, you can call us and say, "I’ve taken it three times. In my practice tests I am getting better, and I think I can do better." And we can talk with you about it.

Linda Abraham: Shelby asks, "I am interested in the new education dual degree and the target audience for the program. Are you looking for former teachers? K-12? Higher education? What are you looking for there?"

Sara Neher: The only thing we are looking for is a passion for education and business and some kind of reform ideas within that which I think we can benefit from as a society. We expect to see some people with teaching experience, maybe Teach for America or some sort of other teaching experience, but it is not a prerequisite; it is not required that you have teaching experience. I expect to see some people who have maybe volunteered with schools – tutored young people – things like that. I volunteered with Boys and Girls Clubs, so maybe people like that who just have an interest in understanding the education system and how we can improve it. And so what we are expecting you to do with it is also a wide range. You could be a person who wants to work at or start a charter school. But you could also be a person who wants to be an investment banker, but you want to be on the board of an organization like Prep for Prep in NYC. And so this will help you be a better board member. Or I had a question the other day from someone who is in IT consulting and they are interested. That would be great because there is going to be a lot of educational technology needs coming up forward, so that would be a great fit as well.

Linda Abraham: We also have a follow up question from Catherine on the MBA Master’s in Ed program. "Can you apply for the joint program in the fall that you begin at Darden?"

Sara Neher: We think so. It’s a new program. Originally the Education School wanted everyone to be known ahead of time, and I had to explain that that is not really the way our dual degrees work. For the majority of them, people apply while they are already in the first year of the other program. For instance, our JD/MBA is mostly people applying while already in their first year at the Law School. So I think that will work out. Certainly you can do it. It just may take you a little bit longer. It may take you an extra semester to finish instead of being able to finish in the summer after you graduate from Darden.

Linda Abraham: "I’m an Indian who is living in the Netherlands for the last four years. Will I be evaluated against applicants from India or against applicants from the Netherlands?"

Sara Neher: You will be evaluated as yourself! Most of what we do is truly evaluate people as individuals. We will consider your GPA from your Indian education versus the Indian education system. But then we will consider your work experience as international, outside of your home country work experience, which is very valuable. And then I assume you’ll have very good things to say about what you’ve learned from working in another culture, and that will be really interesting. And that will put you at the forefront of your ability to articulate your work experience. So it depends on how you do that.

Linda Abraham: It is the applicant’s job in the application to remove the labels and become a group of one; to individuate and to humanize themselves through the application.

Sara Neher: That is exactly right.

Linda Abraham: Thank you again all for participating today. Special thanks to Sara for joining us today. If you have additional questions for Sara or the UVA Darden team, please email them to Darden@virginia.edu

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