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Darden Launches New “Future Year Admissions” Deferred MBA Program

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The University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business is taking a page from the Harvard Business School (HBS) playbook and launching a deferred admissions program targeting college students. Similar to HBS’s 2+2 Program, the new program at Darden is open to current college students or students in full-time master’s degree programs who entered directly from undergrad.

“Same as Harvard, we’re looking for applicants who haven’t been in the workforce yet,” explains Sara Neher, Darden dean of MBA admissions. But unlike HBS’s 2+2 program, which is based on the premise that admitted students will then spend two years working before completing two years in the MBA program, the Darden program is less rigidly defined. It’s called “Future Year Admissions” because participants are invited to embark upon their MBA in a “future year,” be it after two, three or four years of work experience.

“It can be anywhere between two and four years,” says Darden Senior Associate Director of Admissions Katherine Alford, who will be leading admissions for the new program. “Although I expect that the three- or four-year options will be more popular.”

In fact, Neher, who teaches an interviewing elective at Darden, had a student who recently completed a project on Harvard’s program. His interviews with UVA undergrads revealed that many were turned off by the specific two-year work component of the HBS offering, Neher says. “So we decided to make it future year—come back when you’re ready,” she says. Besides, the students will be well served by more than two years of work experience, she adds.

“We know that in the industry there are some companies that hire college students and will want them to commit to three years,” adds Alford. In terms of the type of work experience “Future Year” applicants need to attain, there is not a set list of acceptable employers, industries or functions. “It’s more about the story that they are telling in terms of why they are coming to business school,” Alford says. “Their work experience needs to makes sense in that big story—we want to see professional experience that is adding value to their future goals.”

Dean Living on the Lawn with Undergrads Sparks Idea

future year admissions
UVA’s prestigious Lawn rooms

The decision to launch the program was prompted in part by the fact that Darden Dean Scott Beardsley lives on “the Lawn” at UVA, a coveted string of dorm rooms inhabited  by UVA undergraduate seniors who go through a competitive application process to secure them. Beardsley, a veteran of consulting firm McKinsey, last year replaced long-serving Dean Bob Bruner and took up residence in a pavilion on the Lawn. “His neighbors are all fourth-year students at UVA, and I think he has been really impressed with the talent he has seen,” Alford says.

But more than just being impressed by his neighbors, Beardsley and others realize that it also makes a lot of sense for students to start thinking about business school while they are still in college.

“One of the big barriers to entry is the scary GMAT exam, and when students are in college and are in the test prep mode, they tend to perform better on those exams,” Alford says. It’s also an advantageous time for business schools to get onto college campuses and start talking about how versatile the MBA degree is. “We find we can debunk some myths—like it’s not only for people who want to work on Wall Street, but really anyone who wants to be a leader in their organization,” she adds.

To apply, interested students complete the same application form used by applicants to the traditional full-time MBA, although letters of recommendation from faculty members—generally discouraged for applicants who have been in the workforce—are accepted. Alford notes, though, that some initial applicants included recommendations from supervisors they had during summer internships, which were very helpful. Students can submit scores from either the GMAT or the GRE exam.

Informal Pilot Launch Targets Just UVA Students
The initial announcement of the program occurred this past spring as part of what Alford called a relatively informal pilot launch, basically a pizza info session for UVA students. “We were really just getting our toes in the pond,” she says. But the launch yielded several applicants of extremely high caliber. “We haven’t sent out any official offer letters yet, but we are very pleased with who we think we will be admitting.”

Students who are admitted will pay a non-refundable $500 deposit each year until they enroll, which will be applied toward their future tuition. The students will then head to their first jobs after college and, after two years, Darden will send them an email asking if they would like to enroll the next fall. “If the answer is no, they will stay in our admitted students pool for the following year,” Alford says.

Once they are ready to enroll, they will be required to submit an additional letter of recommendation and an updated application including questions about their work experience, an updated essay about career goals and an updated resumé. “Provided that all checks out, then they come to campus in the fall,” says Alford.

Admitted students will also have other opportunities to tap into the Darden network before actually coming to campus. “We are already thinking about inviting our admitted students to attend an event at Google we’ll be hosting this fall,” Alford says. “A lot of these students will be in large metro areas where we have a number of events, and we will also include them in those,” she continued. Her team will also work to connect admitted Future Year students with current Darden students and alumni at the companies where they go to work. “We will not be on top of them, but we will provide opportunities for them to engage as they see fit,” she says.

Plans to Expand to Other Virginia Schools, Then Beyond
In the coming year, Alford and team will expand outreach about the program to undergraduates at more schools by working with different campus career centers. The plan is to start with a regional focus on Virginia colleges and schools in cities where Darden already travels for full-time recruiting, but eventually to expand beyond that. “I don’t want to go out real big in the beginning,” Alford says. “I would like to start smaller, do it well and then continue to grow—and there are so many great schools right here in Virginia that it’s a great place to start.”

That said, even though initial marketing of the program will be limited at the outset, interested students from anywhere in the country or the world are welcome to apply. “This program is for anyone across the globe,” Alford says. This year’s deadline was in June, although Alford expects the deadline in future years to move slightly earlier, to coincide with the end of the academic school year for college seniors.

Though there has been no official collaboration yet with HBS in terms of jointly recruiting students interested in deferred admissions options, Alford sees it as a possibility, adding that her best friend works in admissions for the HBS 2+2 program. Yale School of Management (SOM), which features its own deferred admissions program called Silver Scholars, has worked together with HBS in the past getting the word out about the programs. “It’s such a collaborative industry,” Alford says. “As soon as there is a need, I am sure it will be easy to work together.”

Though she clearly has a vested interest in admitted Future Year students ultimately enrolling at Darden, Alford notes that they aren’t making a binding commitment. “In fact, I want to encourage them to look at other programs in the period while they are working as well,” she says. Of course, she hopes that they will decide that Darden, with its small class size and case method teaching style, is the best fit. “But ultimately we want them to go to the program where they will do their best work.”

Neher adds that Dean Beardsley has also invested heavily in scholarships for the program. His experience living on the Lawn has led him to conclude that many undergrads just don’t understand the opportunity an MBA presents, she says. “Offering them a scholarship can help them understand the value and see it as a real option,” she says.

Alford points to another perk the program offers for students who choose to take part. “I have been telling the students who applied, ‘Now you can go and really focus on your job. Your colleagues, in two to three years, will be the ones saying they can’t go to happy hour because they have to go home and study for the GMAT.’”

Learn more about Darden’s Future Year Admissions program.