Getting accepted into Darden was a dream come true. After the stress of feeling unqualified for a top business school with a median GMAT score, history degree, and almost no actual private business experience, I then had about six months to both mentally and mathematically prepare for the actual program. But first, I had the more immediate decision of which format to choose.
Choosing the right executive format
I applied to both the Executive (EMBA) and the Global Executive (GEMBA) formats and was accepted to both. In my heart, I knew I wanted the Global format as I love travel, have a lot of experience working with other cultures and nations, and absolutely want to lead in a global environment. However, the global format is a bit more expensive and would require larger chunks of time away from work and family. Secretly, I hoped Darden would make the choice for me by only admitting me to the GEMBA, but instead they offered both and presented a dilemma. But after reviewing the calendars, I made the more practical choice for me and accepted admission into the EMBA program.
A few things I wish I had known
During the decision period, there were a few things I wish I had known that I didn’t discover until after accepting the EMBA program. I will admit a simple phone call or a few emails would have easily cleared up any of this, but being in Kabul at the time, I never felt like I had the time or luxury to dwell on the decision like I would have liked to. But there were some helpful things I learned just before starting that may be helpful for anybody thinking about applying. #1-Darden is an amazingly veteran-friendly school. With much confusion over the Post-9/11 GI Bill, the Yellow Ribbon Program, and exactly how much out of pocket expense I could anticipate, I grossly overestimated my own out-of-pocket expenses. Had I asked the right questions, I would have learned the GEMBA was not actually out of my own financial reach. I’ll write a future post on Darden’s amazing support for the Post-9/11 GI Bill in the very near future. #2 – When the GEMBA and EMBA course schedules were disseminated after being admitted, the GEMBA clearly labeled the required distance learning courses while the EMBA calendar did not. I made a false assumption that the EMBA, likely because it met more often, must not have the same distance learning requirements and therefore, not as much of a time commitment during the off-weeks. That was an incorrect assumption so just to be clear, the GEMBA has three distance learning sessions a week when not in residence; the EMBA has two distance learning sessions a week when not in residence or on-grounds. I may have seen the GEMBA and EMBA on a bit more equal time commitment footing with that information. Just to note: I’ve provided this exact feedback to the Darden admissions team and EMBA staff before posting it here–they are some of the most amazing and supportive higher education staff I’ve ever worked with so I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a small change in this in the future.
I’ve heard stories from other MBA grads of having to take prerequisite courses in finance, economy, or accounting before starting their programs at other schools. Darden handles this a bit differently (and in my opinion a much more preferred way). Just know that after being accepted, there will be a series of online pre-matriculation tests all new candidates must pass before arriving on grounds. If you are able to pass the pre-test, then you are done; if not, the modules have detailed lessons to prepare for the post-test. There’s no limits on how many times you can take the tests so don’t worry about losing your admission if it takes a few tries! However, if you are like me and haven’t done math or accounting in a decade and a half (see my reference to how it affected my GMAT in my previous post on deciding to attend business school), you may find the pre-matriculation modules to be a wake up call. For me, it started with the very first module. While it’s simply called algebra, there was some calculus mixed in and I failed the pre-test miserably. I studied the material for about five hours before taking the final test and achieving the required 70% passing rate! I can’t even explain how much I was dreading the upcoming modules (finance, statistics, probability, basic accounting, advanced accounting, and MS Excel modeling). I did much better on all of them (passing the pre-test on most), but it definitely helped me understand what topics I needed to mentally refresh before starting.
Another aspect of pre-matriculation is soliciting 360 degree feedback using the Prospector 360 tool. You’ll have to ask for feedback from superiors, supervisors, peers, and subordinates (which they complete online in 15 to 20 minutes) that will be used during the first leadership residency to help analyze your leadership skills. While not necessarily something you’ll have to prepare for, it’s good to know that you’ll need to have this done before arriving to Darden.
You’ll be offered a laptop bundle that comes ready to go for Darden (you’ll need MS Windows, MS Office, Adobe Acrobat Professional, and the Crystal Ball add-in for Excel), but you’ll be able to use your own laptop provided you have MS Windows 8.1 or 10 professional (not home version) installed. The UVA bookstore has MS Office and MS Windows pro upgrades available for approximately $15 each so it’s an easy fix if you don’t have either. You can use a Mac too, but will need Windows installed via BootCamp or Parallels ahead of time.
As for other supplies, Darden will have a notepad and pen ready for you, but almost everything happens electronically. MS OneNote appears to be the tool of choice for taking notes and sharing them among learning teams. I’d highly recommend getting very smart on MS OneNote, sharing OneNote notebooks via Microsoft OneDrive, and being generally proficient on MS Office. The only other materials I’ve purchased have been a sturdy laptop case and a headset with microphone boom (the distance learning sessions and learning teams meeting when not on grounds are mostly done on Adobe Connect or Skype for Business, so do your classmates a favor and eliminate the crazy echoes by getting a headset!).
And on a final note, I’ll pass on advice that was given to me by an EMBA grad: build up some credit in the spouse, child, and family bank because the first year is going to be especially rough on the free time. I’m only a month into the program with the week-long Leadership Residency 1, a few distance learning sessions, and the first three-day On-Grounds session and it’s already been pretty taxing on any and all free time I used to have (working full time, going through a divorce, and having my special needs son full time doesn’t really lend for much of that to begin with–but if I can do it, so can you!).