New UVA Darden Admissions Head Shares Vision for Future Classes

22 February 2018

By Jay Hodgkins

Dawna Clarke, who returned to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business last fall as executive director of admissions and financial aid, has been hard at work with the School’s Admissions team reviewing applications, accepting future students and building the Class of 2020.

Recently, she took a moment from the busy admissions cycle to sit down with Poets & Quants Editor-in-Chief John Byrne for a Q&A about Clarke’s decision to return to Darden, her vision for future classes and what she looks for from applicants.

Watch the full Q&A above or on Poets & Quants, and read highlights from the interview in the following edited transcript.

JB: You just came back into admissions after a short stint as an MBA admissions consultant. What did you discover from the other side of the desk?

DC: I would say, more than anything, a deep empathy for the applicant experience. For those of us who are final decision makers on hundreds or thousands of applications, to see the blood, sweat and tears that go into the process is really valuable.

When helping people navigate the school selection process, undoubtedly you learned a lot about your competition. What makes Darden stand out among that set of schools?

There is so much positive momentum at Darden right now. I was really excited to learn about Darden’s new dean, Scott Beardsley, who was a leader at McKinsey, and how much he and his team have accomplished in a short period of time. Of course, one of the considerations that is on the mind of a lot of students is affordability, and Darden has done a lot to prioritize becoming one of the most affordable, top business schools in the world. There has been an over 700 percent increase in the amount of philanthropy given for scholarships.

Historically, many times business schools award scholarships on the basis of merit, but you’re now starting to shift to focus on need.

My first question was: What is my scholarship budget? I was thrilled to see how generous Darden is regarding the scholarship budget for students and how truly committed we are to making it as affordable as possible.

What are you looking for in a successful candidate?

In the admissions process, we do look at a lot of different criteria. I am a fan of the GMAT. I am a fan of the GRE. I think to look at someone’s GPA over four years is a great indicator. But there are others as well, and work experience is one. They can perhaps show they’ve done a great job managing people or budgets or have made an impact some way within an organization. Maybe they come from a unique industry that would add a unique perspective in a case method environment. So I think we’ll have a more holistic approach in the academic credentials we’re looking for.

What does Darden do to welcome people who might be interested in testing the place out?

We work really hard to make sure, if an applicant is taking time off work to come and get to know the School better, that it’s worth their while. So there are information sessions with faculty members. There are tours with students. And I think, most importantly, the class visit is so illuminating because Darden is so well known for the qualiy of teaching and the education experience. That is something I would highly recommend. And if you are applying to Darden, definitely recognize you have so many advantages by being part of the broader University and such a great community.

At one time in your life, you were a student. You took The Executive Program, and you saw first-hand the power of case study teaching.

Darden really prides itself on how experiential it is. The case method is one of many ways Darden has become more and more experiential. To be exposed to cases every single day — what would I do if I were in this situation versus what if I were in that situation — and see how your perspective is altered because of a really vibrant discussion in the classroom, it’s just so applicable to a person’s career going forward.

And to do it in a safe space. I was talking to a group of women who are looking at Darden and saying this is such a great opportunity for women to find their voice at an early point in their career where you’re in a safe environment and you can express your opinion, you can question other people’s opinions, you can elaborate on something someone else is saying. To have that opportunity, particularly for a young woman early in your career, is something I think is incredibly valuable.

You have a son. What would you tell him about Darden to convince him to come here?

For him or any other applicant, if you’re investing two years of your time, the opportunity cost, the financial commitment it takes to go to a two-year program, why wouldn’t you go to the school that’s best known for the quality of teaching and educational experience? Because, ultimately, you want to come away with the skills that are going to really help you hit the ground running and succeed. That’s what we hear from recruiters about Darden grads consistently and why they come back, and why they have such a great track record in so many corporations.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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