Here’s a talk with UVA Darden student blogger, Caroline Kalinoski, a second-year student with lots of advice to share about the application process, Darden clubs and courses, and favorite study spots on campus. Thank you Caroline and best of luck to you! (You can read more about Caroline’s b-school adventure on her blog, The Rolling Ship.)
This interview is the latest in an Accepted.com blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. We hope to offer you a candid picture of student life, and what you should consider as you prepare your MBA application.
Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself – where are you from, where did you go to school and when did you graduate? What is the last book you read for fun?
Caroline: I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, and then went to undergrad at Northwestern University, where I majored in Learning and Organizational Change. I graduated from college in 2007, and moved to Washington, DC where I worked in research and consulting in the HR practice for Corporate Executive Board.
And a book I’ve recently read for fun…Ha! With three cases a day, I don’t have much extra time or energy for additional reading. Even this summer when I thought I’d get to read for fun, I was reading Too Big to Fail by Andrew Sorkin and Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg for my internship (both happened to be very interesting). However, I’ll be reading Killer Angels by Michael Shaara for the reading seminar I’m taking next term on leadership during the Battle of Gettysburg, which I probably would have read for fun anyways.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about UVA Darden?
Caroline: How much everyone goes out of their way to help each other. I love that Darden is incredibly competitive, in that everyone is always pushing to be the best both inside the classroom and out. But what makes this work is that success isn’t seen as a zero-sum game: helping your classmates succeed won’t hurt your ability to succeed. Instead, helping others actually contributes to our success.
You can see that ethic in classmates offering to explain concepts to each other and many even teaching review sessions to the whole class. Or in how much time in our nightly learning team meetings that team members take to make sure everyone understands and is prepared to present the case in class.
Outside of class, we see it all the time in people offering their cars to those who don’t have them or driving classmates to the grocery store each week. I’ve found that this ethic even extends to the alumni, who are always willing to take time out of their day to speak with current students.
Accepted: If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?
Caroline: Within the first year, I found it difficult to connect with second year students just given how different our schedules were. However, thanks to the dedication of the program to collecting feedback (many will tell you we’re surveyed to death) and continuously improving, there have been a lot of changes this year to encourage more interaction between the first and second year classes. It’s great to see how quickly things can change.
Accepted: What is your favorite class so far?
Caroline: I’ve had a lot of really amazing professors, but my favorite class so far is HANDS DOWN Decision Analysis (DA), taught by Casey Lichtendahl. DA is all about helping us apply rigorous quantitative analysis to management decisions, so a lot of Excel, statistics, and game theory.
Casey made what could have been the driest subject on Earth exciting, and really taught us how to learn from each other. It’s clear he loves teaching and truly cares about making sure we understand the material and how using it will make us better managers.
Accepted: Are you involved in any clubs on campus? How central to student life is club involvement?
Caroline: I’m involved in a number of clubs in both leadership and membership roles. I’m the president of the Darden Bloggers, and also a member of Graduate Women in Business, the General Management & Operations Club, Cold Call Chorus, the Outdoors Club, and the Running Club. Being involved in this many clubs is pretty normal, which I love. Almost every part of the school outside of classes is run by students, so clubs are central to the experience.
Accepted: Can you recommend a cozy coffee shop or some other good spot for studying on or near campus?
Caroline: Darden itself has a number of beautiful study spots, including my favorite, the piano room. It’s a big, beautiful, open space with lots of light, leather couches and chairs, two fireplaces, a view of our grassy courtyard, and of course a piano. If you’re there later in the evening, you can often hear classmates blowing off steam by playing anything from Mozart to Bruno Mars.
The McGregor Room in the Alderman Library on UVA’s main grounds is also a great place to study – dark wood paneling, leather chairs, and tables with reading lamps. It feels like the quintessential old school library.
Accepted: Looking back, what would you say was the hardest part of the MBA application process? How did you work to overcome that challenge?
Caroline: I had known for a while why I wanted to go to business school, so writing my story in the essays was one of the easier parts for me. Studying all those math concepts on the GMAT that I hadn’t seen in ten years was definitely the hardest. I did a lot of studying on my own, asking friends to share their study materials, and I ended up scraping by. While I certainly didn’t get a bad score, let’s just say it wasn’t the strength of my applications.
If I had it to do over again, I’d leave enough time to take the test more than once, and also pay to take a class so that I could get some tailored guidance and accountability for staying on track with my studying.
Accepted: Any other tips for our readers?
Caroline: At the end of last year, I wrote a blog post on why I chose Darden that laid out my priorities for choosing a school, which I think are helpful for anyone considering applying to business school:
1. Choose a school that will challenge you intellectually. Coming into Darden, I had zero finance, accounting, marketing, or operations experience either in the classroom or in my job. I knew that the core curriculum (which includes all those subjects) would really push me in areas I hadn’t experienced before. That was exciting to me and was also what I thought would be critical for my long-term career.
2. Choose a school that will keep you happy. I know that I’m really affected by the aesthetics of my surroundings. I know that I really like seeing people I know every day, and working in teams. So the beauty of the Darden grounds and the strength of its community were key to my decision to come here.
3. Choose a school you want to build a long-term relationship with (and will make you proud to be associated with). Darden’s alumni network is really strong and very proud. And on top of that, everyone I’ve met, from current students to alums, is always willing to help. It’s great to be a part of such a supportive network.
For one-on-one guidance on your b-school application, please see our MBA Application Packages. For specific advice on how to create the best application for UVA Darden, see UVA Darden 2014 MBA Application Questions, Deadlines, Tips.