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Real Humans of UVA Darden’s MBA Class of 2024

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Matt Ohlson, UVA Darden MBA Class of 2024

Age: 25
Hometown: Vienna, Virginia
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Virginia – B.A. in Economics
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): Three years of experience as a business analyst in the defense industry

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
Business school was on my horizon for quite some time. One of the main reasons I decided to pursue an economics major, other than the tremendous faculty and staff of the UVA Department of Economics, is that I desired a more wide-ranging liberal arts background with the intent to specialize in business for my master’s degree. After graduating with my B.A. in econ, I worked in the defense industry for three years as a business analyst both at the program and division levels. I had the opportunity to work with tremendous people on my business management team and cross-functional analysts/leaders from across the organization. But I knew after a few years in various roles that I wanted my career to shift away from strictly numbers to a healthy mix of quantitative and qualitative analyses within marking, strategy, and operations to drive the future of products and organizations. To gain credibility for such a move and to ease a transition between industries, I decided to pursue an MBA. Many have asked the very valid question of why I chose to pursue a full-time MBA rather than a part-time program or executive program down the road. Industry/function transition plans aside, I wanted to be immersed in the learning and growing experience a full-time program offers.

Why did you choose UVA Darden? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
My decision to attend Darden can be boiled down to two points that encapsulate my overall thought process: the case method and the people. Career placement opportunity was also a significant consideration, but the business schools I considered all placed very well per their reports, so it did not serve as a point of differentiation.

I had the opportunity to take two case method classes open to economics undergraduates and found them to be incredibly engaging and rewarding. They leaned on the knowledge, insights, and perspectives of the entire class, which made the learning experience much more productive. I knew that to get the most out of my MBA academic experience, a systematic case method approach was the way to go — which pointed a big green arrow toward Darden. In addition, the case method provides a great way for students to get to know their fellow classmates and professors on a deeper level.

In my personal and professional life, I’ve always placed a very high premium on interpersonal connection and community. Since my first interaction with Darden in 2018 and every subsequent interaction with the admissions team, faculty, staff, and other students, it became clear that Darden is a special place principally because of its people.  As a “Double Hoo” (those who have completed or are pursuing multiple degrees from UVA), I knew exactly what the community at the University of Virginia encompassed and I had high expectations for Darden. At Darden Days, our admitted MBA weekend held in April, those expectations were blown out of the water. I got the sense that we really had an innately motivated, incredibly intelligent, and deeply caring group of people here on multiple levels. That hunch has only been further confirmed over my first four weeks here and my goal is to connect with all my fellow classmates over the next two years.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2024?
Since the age of 13, I’ve had a mild to moderate speech stutter. For many years, I let it take control of my life and how I lived it. I would forego desired opportunities because of it. Toward the end of high school, I started to realize that I needed to take back control. My stutter was a given and I could only mitigate the impact through deliberate practice. I started running for leadership positions and speaking in front of progressively larger groups. In 2019, I had the opportunity to give a five-minute address in front of over 1,000 admitted students and their parents as a part of UVA’s undergraduate Days on the Lawn program.

The case method relies on cold calls and voluntary participation in front of a larger group, both of which have historically precipitated my stutter. I noted in my application to Darden that the idea of cold calls and classes that rely heavily on participation terrified me, which was exactly why I chose to apply and wished to attend. In business and in life, we need to dive into things that make us uncomfortable. One cannot grow in perpetual comfort. I knew the case method was my preferred approach to learning and I was not going to let perceived barriers get in the way. The silver lining to my experience is that I feel a greater appreciation for the challenges everyone faces in their own lives. In business school and beyond, I’d like to serve as an inspiration to others who have a stutter. They should embrace it and not forego their dreams because of it. We all have a voice and perspective that adds value.

I have to give credit to my professors and classmates for fostering an environment where everyone’s views are valued and people are given space to say their piece. It can certainly be intimidating at times when you’re surrounded by such exemplary people, but I have received nothing but gracious support from everyone, stutter or not.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself that didn’t get included on your application:
I am a huge fan of The Simpsons. My classmates know that if there ever were to be a Simpsons trivia night anywhere in Charlottesville, I’m the guy they want. Additionally, I am a proud member of Darden’s (best) section, Section D. To celebrate the end of the academic week, Darden sections wear their flagship colors to class on Thursdays and D’s color is blue. As part of this tradition, I wear a pair of blue graphic socks that show Homer Simpson thinking about a doughnut.

Post-MBA career interests:
Marketing and General Management. I’m still refining my exact career targets, but I plan to pursue a brand/product management internship.

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:
–What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
Before and while filling out a particular school’s application, attend admissions information sessions and application Q&As. This will provide insight into what the school values, help guide your essays, and allow you to tailor your application, in general, to ensure you’re putting your best self in front of the admissions committee. It can be helpful to talk to current students during the application process as well so you have specific examples of what excites you about the school to which you’re applying.

–What is one thing you would change or do differently?
I wish I had been more diligent in examining my post-MBA career goals before making my application short-list. I am fortunate that Darden excels in many areas thanks to our illustrious career center and my decision to attend Darden has never been in question. But, I was initially convinced I would pursue consulting and have since made a hard pivot to general management and marketing after learning more about both paths. There are cases where such a change would have been significantly more difficult to bear. You certainly don’t need to have everything figured out even when deciding where to matriculate — part of the MBA experience is also discovery — but it pays dividends to research and know your true interests as early as possible.

–What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
I don’t necessarily wish I had skipped it, but the interview process with each school was a bit nerve-wracking as a person with a stutter. I got through it by staying authentic. My interview with Darden was what some might refer to as a “nightmare” interview, objectively. I had good answers to the questions presented, but I couldn’t push forward as clearly and concisely as I would have liked because of my stutter. I figured, given the pool of stellar applicants, my prospects after the interview looked bleak. I need to give credit to my interviewer for focusing principally on what I was saying, not necessarily how I was saying it. If I hadn’t been upfront about my challenges and how I’ve worked to mitigate and overcome them, my story would have been missing critical context. All this to say, whatever your story, stay true to yourself and you will feel good about the outcome.

What is your initial impression of the Darden students/culture/community?
World-class. I walk to Darden every day knowing I’m surrounded by phenomenal, caring, and supportive individuals at all levels. I had a back-of-mind concern about business school relationships feeling superficial or transactional. So far, that could not be further from reality. We are all motivated and competitive people by nature, but that never gets in the way of looking out for each other first and foremost. It’s no secret that Darden is challenging. We read a lot of cases every week. But even when I find myself struggling at times, I never feel unsupported. As odd as it sounds, I’m still trying to find someone I don’t like here. It almost seems too good to be true.

What is one thing you have learned about Darden that has surprised you?
I would never have expected our professors to be so involved and invested in our overall Darden experience. The faculty cheer us on and even participate in Darden Cup events, they hold optional review sessions on their own time to help us understand specific concepts from class and the cases, and they provide office hour meeting opportunities for us whenever possible. They, of course, have busy schedules, but it’s clear the interests of students always come first at Darden, which speaks to our broader community culture. To the Darden faculty, each student is a unique person, not just a face in the crowd.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
There are so many fun, exciting, and rewarding activities here at Darden. Unfortunately, there just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything. I am still trying to find the appropriate balance that will maximize my overall experience while not sacrificing the essentials. There will be challenges as I work through that (sometimes it’s very hard to say “no”), but I have confidence I will land on the right mix.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.