Returning to Charlottesville for my MBA feels like coming home. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Virginia four years ago; however, attending Darden is a completely different experience. To borrow from LL Cool J, "Don't Call It a Comeback."
Business school is very different from undergrad. For me, here are three important reasons:
In business school, my classmates and I are juggling three priorities:
- Academics - Wait, grades matter?
- Career - Seriously, you need an internship next summer!
- Network - More than hanging out, it is time to build relationships that last a lifetime
These common pursuits pull everyone together. I empathize with my classmates' highs and lows in each area. I quickly realized that we all worked very hard to arrive at the same spot: obtaining an MBA from a top tier school. So when I say to a classmate, "Sorry I cannot come to that event tonight, I have to spend sometime preparing for recruiting", he or she understands. In contrast, as an undergraduate, I was often encouraged to ignore any priority to have a good time. As a friend once told me, "I had not considered what I was going to do until my last year of college." While I appreciate the exploratory nature of college, business school has an increased level of intensity. You can explore careers, companies, and topics but the end goal is as clear as when you applied. Fortunately, my journey is not a solo trek. I have over 300 friends traveling with me.
Darden, like many business schools, prides itself on a community. By pure math, interacting with 300 classmates is easier than 3,000. You build relationships and camaraderie, especially through your section which competes in the year long Darden Cup (more about that in a later post). Contrast this with my experience in undergrad in which I could quickly become a number. At Darden, you are a face that everyone knows. Nearly a third of the class of 2016 attended the pre-matriculation camping trip. I felt privileged to meet so many people before school started. On the flip side, if I make an errant comment during class, there is no hiding place. Fortunately, this is as true in class as in real life. I cannot simply erase my mistakes. Instead, I learn the lesson, I right the wrong, and I move on to the next challenge. This process requires careful evaluation, preparation, and most of all discipline.
In college, I could easily find ways to waste time. I watched my dormmates play Guitar Hero for hours on end. In business school, I can have a lot of fun; however, I have to budget my time. My typical schedule leaves little room for idleness:
6:00 - Wake up and head to gym
7:00 - Breakfast and prep for class
8:00 - In class
9:30 - First Coffee with a second year student to ask about his or her summer internship
10:00 - Back to class
1:15 - End of last class
1:30 - Lunch
2:00 - Case Prep
3:00 - Club Meeting & Catchup with Classmates
5:00 - Case Prep & Dinner
7:00 - Learning Team for 2 hours
9:30 - Wrap up case study work
10:30 - Read
11:00 - Bed
Darden classes are typically Monday through Thursday, and sometimes Friday. For me, business school feels like a full time job plus all of your favorite extracurricular activities on the same day. Every morning, I must prioritize my schedule in order to accomplish the job at hand. Despite my busy week, I have thoroughly enjoyed returning to school.
I was surprised at how different Darden was from my initial impressions. I thought attending Darden would be returning to an all too familiar place. Instead, I am tackling new challenges within a tight-knit community that is working to become the next generation of business leaders. I am glad that I took the time to find the distinction between my undergrad experience and Darden.
For me, it is definitely not a comeback.