Darden is the first school I visited, and not for any significance, other than the fact that the school was geographically close to where I was visiting some friends the prior weekend. I requested Monday off from my job, avoiding the side-eyed look from my boss who no doubt was wondering why I wanted time off only 2 months into the job. I anxiously booked my tour date through Darden’s website, and called their on campus hotel, which is aptly named The Inn at Darden.
Fast forward a week, and I was arriving into Charlottesville at 9PM after getting a late start to my drive. My first impression, upon turning up the drive, was sheer awe. The campus is immaculate, even at 9:30 PM on a cold winter Sunday. I got the key to my room, and as an aside, I definitely recommend staying here if you go visit. The rates are in line with any hotel in town (Call ahead and tell them you’re a perspective student – they have a discount!), and its obviously very close to the grounds. Once I was settled in, I decided to go out and see what I could see.
The forum, as its known – I think its really the PepsiCo Forum, but whatever – is the first place you see. This is where the (in)famous first coffee occurs every weekday, with hundreds of students and faculty converging for an impromptu morning meeting after the first classes, and before the second. Seeing it at night really shows how big of a space this is. I started walked down the student side of the quad, looking in at the sparsely occupied student study rooms. I noticed that in the heat of recruitment, there was some interviews/prep happening so I kept my distance, but was amazed at the variety of companies that had these rooms staked out. Along the hallway, there is the Darden Wall of Fame so to speak, with notable alumnus’s photos and biographies – and interesting read if you have the time. As I looked in the classrooms, I found them to be well outfitted – in the standard amphitheater type seating with chalkboards at the front of every room. I even was lucky enough to bump into a 2nd year student who was studying and chatted for 20-30 minutes. She was off to one of the MckBainGroups next year, and was coming from a similar background as mine. She graciously volunteered her contact info, and has been a helpful resource so far – My first impression of the “community” at Darden floored me, and I haven’t even been on my class visit yet!
The next morning, I woke up to typical North East weather. Bummer, I was hoping to get away from that while visiting the south for the day. At the admissions office, I met the first year student that I would shadow for a class. I was given a copy of the case I would be sitting on, and rapidly scanned the pages so that I would have 0.05% chance of understanding what was going on in class. I got a bit excited as the case was pertaining to an introductory finance course. As we headed to first coffee, he was told me that if people didn’t want to talk to me, they probably didn’t get their internships yet, and were freaking out. He was headed to Amazoogle this summer. The course banter was great between the teacher and students. Though the initial cold-call was less-than-thrilled to be driving the case for the class, the students all seemed to be excited and participated seamlessly. After class I had a chance to talk with the professor one on one in the forum, and was very impressed at her approachability. I also got a chance to meet up with some people I networked with online prior to my visit (Thanks gmatclub!). I wasn’t able to stay for a lunch with other current students, as I had a long drive ahead of me, and was worrying about the deteriorating weather conditions.
Needless to say, Darden is definitely on my list. I felt very at home here, but am struggling to decide if Darden really is that special, or if its just all MBA programs. I recently visited NYU, and it wasn’t as great – Chalk it up to a location/style difference? I’m not sure just yet. All I know is that I was largely impressed by Darden, and highly recommend you visit if you have the opportunity. I really felt the sense of community people always harp on when talking about schools like Johnson, Tuck, and Darden. I have high hopes for my visits to those schools as well.