UVA Darden One of ’10 Business Schools to Watch in 2021′

12 January 2021

By Dave Hendrick

Poets & Quants has called the University of Virginia Darden School of Business a “school to watch” in the new year.

The publication said it compiled its annual list based in part on momentum from a “turbulent 2020,” in which the Schools that succeeded “bucked convention,” and realized that standing still was not an option. The 10 schools recognized, including Darden, broke new ground and set the bar higher for peer programs, according to Poets & Quants.

The publication credits the School with rethinking business as usual when COVID-19 took hold, particularly in the area of admissions. The changes included considering alternative certifications and test optionality, moves that both represented dramatic departures from traditional admissions requirements and helped spur a boom in applications.

When the pandemic hit, companies threw all the rules out the window. Work from home? Sure, no real choice. Hold meetings over Zoom? Hey, why not? Business schools faced a similar existential pivot. In a world riven with uncertainty, how do you convince young professionals to give up a safe paycheck and enroll in a full-time MBA program? Even more, how can you make graduate business education more accessible to populations that might otherwise bypass it?

At the Darden School, Dean Scott Beardsley quickly recognized the gravity of COVID-19.  Like any McKinsey alum, Beardsley examined his operation top-to-bottom, challenging every assumption that had guided admissions decision-making for decades. The result was a complete re-imagining of MBA admissions process that has rippled across business schools globally.

“If you’re not first, you’re last.” That was the wisdom of Talladega Nights’ Ricky Bobby – a reminder that no one remembers faint-of-hearts and followers. In mid-March, Dean Beardsley began to roll out his think big and act bold approach. As America headed into lockdown, Darden announced it would accept SAT and ACT scores in place of GMATs and GREs, flinging open the doors to an entirely new group of MBA candidates. By the same token, Round Three was extended to July 15th to make the MBA an option for professionals displaced by the pandemic. Call it a win-win; applicants enjoyed unprecedented flexibility while Darden was able to target a wider pool of candidates.

“When there is higher volatility and uncertainty, option value goes up and education is a form of an option,” explained Dean Beardsley in a March 2020 interview with P&Q. “I think an MBA will be a very strong option for many people who are unsure of what will happen in the next few years. For some people, the opportunity costs of attending school have just dropped. So we want to be able to be here for some of those outstanding people.”

Soon enough, Darden began considering alternative certifications such as the CPA and CFA as well as tests like the MCAT and LSAT. In June, Beardsley took a radical step, making admissions test-optional for the coming cycle. Well, it was a radical move to outsiders. For Beardsley, it was an extension of the school’s findings, which show the correlation between test scores and business school success isn’t particularly strong.

“We have run analytics to see the best predictors of success, and standardized tests are not the greatest predictor of success in a Darden classroom,” Beardsley adds. “It’s just one of many predictors. We will see where things shape up in the fall. We do know that academic rigor and excellence is a predictor. If someone has performed extremely well in undergrad at a good institution, that is a predictor. We have also found that the admissions interviews are an indicator of a person’s ability to do well in a classroom. And people who can perform academically while doing other things in varsity sports, musicianship or taking on strong leadership roles as an undergrad or in their work environment is important.”

In December, Poets & Quants named Beardsley its Dean of the Year, in part due to the School’s compassionate response to the pandemic.

Read the full story on Poets & Quants.

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


Press Contact

Sophie Zunz
Director of Media Relations
Darden School of Business
University of Virginia