There’s big changes coming to the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business MBA for Executives, so this may not apply for future students: Term 3 is tough. The entire energy of our cohort was visibly different this term during our two on-ground sessions in January and this past weekend. Our classes this term include Management Communication (MC), Accounting for Managers Part II (ACC), and Financial Management and Policies Part I (FMP). In addition, we continue our Professional Advancement Course (PAC) and Action Learning components.
If you have a strong accounting or finance background, this term may not have the same effect, but coming off of the holidays and having a liberal arts background, I found it challenging! A friend of mine who just got admitted to the class of 2018 visited one of our accounting classes this term and commented, “Wow, I think I need take some accounting ahead of time to get ready.” I don’t actually advise that for anybody considering Darden, I think the faculty and your classmates will give you everything you need to be successful. I’d instead recommend taking your pre-Darden time to brush up on algebra, calculus, statistics, and The Economist.
What made the term tough for me was the steep learning curve in finance. About five years ago, I first thought about an MBA and took a term of courses through Liberty University’s online MBA course. It just so happened one of the courses I took was Managerial Finance. I had a very negative experience, but what really highlighted my dissatisfaction with their course was our lesson on WACC… the weighted average cost of capital. I won’t try to teach WACC, but when I took the course back in 2011, I remember writing my professor, Dr. Jeffrey Woo, with a very simple question: “Dr. Woo, I fully understand how to calculate the CAPM and the WACC, and I’m getting the correct answers, I just don’t conceptually understand what the WACC means, how it’s used, or why we calculate it. Can you help me understand just what we’re actually calculating?” His response was simply, “See chapter xxx in the textbook.”
I was very unhappy with the response and decided at that very moment that an online MBA from Liberty was not for me– I knew that I really wanted to learn this stuff and I wanted a real classroom experience. Going through the same exercises at Darden in FMP Part I, I can’t ever begin to describe the differences. The most important part, I fully understand why we calculate WACC, how it’s used, and why it works. But each FMP case took me 3 to 4 hours to complete. It wasn’t easy and in most cases, my initial work was not right; however, our case discussions answered most of my questions and usually showed me I was overcomplicating the problem. Lesson — Darden is great, but it’s hard.
I will just add, ACC and MC were also challenging and each case took 1 to 2 hours to review and prepare for as well. With my background, I’ve definitely enjoyed what many at Darden call the ‘soft’ skills — Leading Organizations (LO), Business Ethics (ETH), and MC. But that doesn’t make them any easier! There’s a lot of reading and a lot of writing involved with these courses, and I’ve had to learn to be open-minded and in total receive mode during the readings. Term 3 was a bit tougher as MC has a lot of very long readings. The plus side… they were all great reads!
We have one more FMP case to do tomorrow and then it’s the start of finals… wish us all luck!