Darden School of Business at the University of VirginiaThe 14th anniversary of 9/11 just came to a close. It’s kind of symbolic for me to be writing this post from the Darden Inn, the on-grounds lodging at the University of Virginia’s business school, because when the first plane hit on the actual 9/11, I was driving right past Darden on my way to work. Going to the University of Virginia has been a dream since childhood. I applied for undergrad but abandoned my plan after getting iced out from taking the SAT in Wisconsin (like, the test was cancelled because the roads were too icy) and instead went to a smaller, liberal arts school in Minnesota off the results of my already complete ACT. Then I graduated and moved to Charlottesville, VA, in hopes of applying to UVA for graduate school. And that was the plan… until 9/11.

On September 12, 2001, I entered the US Army recruiting center and my life took a drastically different turn. Maybe it’s now getting back on track as I not only pursue a childhood dream to become a Cavalier–or should I say a Wahoo?–but also get that graduate degree I planned for so many years ago. It was also a result of 9/11 that I was about to board a plane for my third trip to Afghanistan, fifth combat deployment overall, last February and decided now was the time to pursue an MBA. There wasn’t much thought about preparation, I just decided I was done waiting.

On a whim, I googled the availability of a GMAT test before I actually left the country. It was a Monday, there was a test in Richmond on Thursday, and my flight didn’t leave until Sunday. I registered and arrived at the testing center with very little idea what the GMAT actually entailed. I don’t recommend that, especially if you’ve been out of college for 15 years. So after the shock and awe of calculus and statistics wore off, I was very pleased to score a mediocre score (to me at least), but near the listed median GMAT for UVA’s MBA for Executives listed on their website.

Applying to business school isn’t necessarily difficult, but it’s fairly meticulous. Applying for an MBA for Executives program includes the typical application and essay requirements, but it also involved an employer sponsor letter and a few letters of recommendation. That wouldn’t be very difficult normally, but I was working from a tent in Kabul by the time I started the application process and my boss and colleagues were back here in Charlottesville. But I made the March application round and then just kept working my 16 hours days, patiently waiting for notification. A few weeks later, I got a wonderful email notifying me I had been selected for an interview, which I could conduct via Skype. There was really only one computer on our camp that had a webcam and it was located in the one place we could go for couches, television, video games, and internet… the MWR. I hung signs on the MWR door begging, very politely and apologetically, for privacy for one hour on the day and time of my interview… which was about 10:00pm in Kabul. I was terrified the connection would be either down or slow (which was most of the time) or that a soldier would be in the background being a soldier (you know what I’m talking about), but instead I had complete privacy and the interview went very smoothly! Next came more waiting… until the end of April–the expected notification date for the March applicants.

This was the message that pretty much told me I had been accepted to UVA
This was the message that pretty much told me I had been accepted to UVA

I love Google Voice. As a frequent overseas traveler and someone who works in a building where cell phones aren’t permitted, it’s wonderful to get the poorly transcribed voicemails direct to my email. And it turns out that was how I found out I was accepted to the class of 2017 at the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Emotions are a funny thing, especially in a stressful environment. I was so happy I had no words. I am usually a fairly confident person, but I was so sure I wasn’t qualified for a top-ten business school as a history major with only military and government experience. While I had supervised small teams and had plenty of leadership experience to fall back on, my only business-related classes in undergrad were business writing and macroeconomics. I once took two online graduate business courses in 2010, but there was no spot on the application to even report them because they were not degree-producing. So I was in a mixture of extreme joy, surprise, and then fear… at how I would manage going to graduate school with a full time job and having just learned I would have my 11-year old son, who suffers from Apraxia and ADHD, full time when I got back from Afghanistan in June.

This is the first of many postings I hope to write about my Darden experience. We started last August and are now about to complete our second on-grounds session (I’ll also hope to discuss more in future posts about my motivations for getting a business degree, the Darden MBA for Executives format, and the lessons I’ve been learning) and my initial impression is beyond words… I’m in love with this place and so happy to be a Wahoo.

Tomorrow (well later today technically) I will get to watch UVA take on Notre Dame at Scott Stadium — my first UVA game as a student! Maybe an upset?

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