We had an excellent Q&A just before the year’s end where we learned everything we needed to know about UVA Darden‘s admissions practices, interview tips, student life, curriculum, and more! Thank you Sara Neher, Assistant Dean of MBA Admissions at UVA Darden for an excellent Q&A!
Here’s an excerpt from the chat on UVA Darden’s application process:
Linda Abraham: Chuck asks, “Can you please tell us about the life-cycle of an MBA application once the applicant submits his/her application? Please throw some light on how the interview process works.”
Sara Neher: Yes, I’d be happy to. I know that it seems like your application goes into a giant black hole. The first thing that happens after you hit that “submit” button is that one of our Account Managers, either Pat or Maggie, checks your application. They are divided up by alphabet so depending on whether you are at the beginning or the end of the alphabet, you’ll get to know Pat or Maggie, and you can talk to them on the phone or email them. They’ll check to make sure that everything is complete. And if it’s not, they’ll reach out to you to see what might be missing. Then the next part of the process is that it gets assigned to a first reader. Each application is going to be reviewed a minimum of three times. If the first reader says they think we should interview this person, it will go onto another person. And then if that person agrees, it will go to the interview. For the last two years, that has been a virtual process, so we read all of your applications online through software that we have. So we can actually look at them at the same time, or it automatically goes to the next person when the person before finishes. It is a very efficient process and it allowed us to survive in bad weather last year which hopefully is not going to happen this year. If the person does not think it should go to interview, it still goes onto another person who gets to review it and decide that. All of these people reading are members of our Admissions Committee, and there are seven of us. Eventually, it will get to me, so I’m either the third reader or the fifth or sixth reader, depending on how much agreement or disagreement there is about your application. And for those people that we really can’t decide about, maybe you have a lower score but a really great GPA, or you have lots of things going for you but we are not sure, we will sit around a room and all talk about you together, and then we make the decision. So it’s pretty comprehensive. We do spend a lot of time with your application, and nothing is decided based on any one element. Before any possible decisions are entered, everything is reviewed by multiple people. Once the reader says yes, this person should be interviewed, we make a determination based on where you live as to what kind of interview we offer you. So if you live in the Continental US, we invite you to interview here at Darden, to come to Charlottesville. We are very lucky to have a beautiful campus, and we want you to be able to see it.
Linda Abraham: It is one of the most stunning campuses I’ve ever seen.
Sara Neher: We are really lucky; it’s beautiful. And then if you live outside the Continental US, we will invite you to interview either with an alum or via Skype. The reason we would do a Skype interview is either if we need to do it in a hurry for some reason, or if there is no alum that lives in your area, or if the alum is unavailable at that time when we need it done. In any of those cases we’ll invite you to do it via Skype. And I’ll give some advice because the first people we did Skype interviews with, sometimes they had really funny things behind them in the picture. So just practice that before you do any Skype interviews with any schools; just make sure that what is behind you in the background looks normal and pretty drab so that our focus could be on you. And then we just get the interview right up. It becomes part of your file, and then again goes onto another reader. And then again, eventually to me. I review every single file and I am the final decision maker on all the applications. But usually that is easy for me because many people have read it before and agreed.
Linda Abraham: And then the second part of the question was about how the interview process works. Well actually, you did discuss that.
Sara Neher: A little bit. We have 28 people here interviewing today. We do have specific days; you sign up on our website for whichever type of interview you are going to do. And it works really well because we like to bring people in as a group. That way you get to meet each other. You also get to have lunch with both faculty and students, and you get to have a tour with some students. There are students always in our lobby to talk with so it’s a really enjoyable experience, and you really get to make an assessment of the school. When classes are in session, we also offer you class visits, but the classes are done for now.
Linda Abraham: What are the different roles of the essays, interview, and letters of recommendation in the evaluative process?
Sara Neher: It’s hard to say. It really depends on the context of the individual. I always say that I am look for quantitative ability. So if your GMAT is very high, then I can see it there. If not, then I go to the GPA and the transcript. If it’s not there, then I go to the work experience, and maybe even the recommendations. If a recommender says that this person does tremendous analytical work working with complex data sets, that tells me something that maybe isn’t somewhere else in the application. The same is true about the essays. We get a sense for who you are and how you write. And the essays are really your opportunity to tell us what you’ve done at work, but more importantly who you are as a person and if you are someone we want to talk with. And then we will invite you to interview if the answer is “yes”. But the most important thing is that the entire application be consistent. So if your recommendation says something about you and your essays say something similar and we get the same feel from the activities you’ve been involved in, and we see that you understand that there is a world outside of yourself, those are all things that we are looking for. But it will depend on each individual. Also if you have more work experience, your grades in undergrad might matter a little less, but if you have not much work experience, we don’t have a lot else to go on so we are going to be putting more emphasis on the scores and undergrad. So it really depends on the individual.
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