First Year Courtney Morgan (Class of 2023) initially heard about Darden’s deferred enrollment admissions program from a professor in one of her social entrepreneurship classes at the University of Virginia. Like many college students, pursuing a MBA wasn’t yet on her radar, but after a bit of research about how the degree might come in handy in the future, she decided to apply. During her deferral period, Morgan gained hands-on business experience at an education technology startup, and found herself diving into the business strategy of the growing business. Below, she shares insights on her Future Year Scholars journey, and First Year Darden experience (so far).
Morgan is also designated as a Jefferson Fellow, which is a competitive scholarship awarded to exceptional candidates who “demonstrate qualities such as ethical leadership, diplomatic decisiveness, a track record of putting ideas into action and a superb record of academic achievement.” She also serves as co-social representative for Section C, a student-elected leadership position.
University of Virginia
What did you do between graduating from your undergraduate institution and joining Darden?
After graduating from UVA, I spent 4 years working at an education technology startup (turned growth company) called Nearpod. I held a few different roles there, but two of my favorites were in Growth Marketing where I worked closely with our product team on user acquisition and retention, and my time leading our Field Marketing efforts where I worked on our go-to-market strategy for different regions of the country. Our customers were predominantly K-12 public school districts and our end users were K-12 teachers and students, and I found working on a product that influenced learning experiences in classrooms across the country to be really gratifying and meaningful work.
What’s your favorite part of your Darden experience now that you’re here on Grounds?
I’m pretty sure this is the answer almost anyone would give, but my favorite part of the Darden experience so far has hands down been getting to know the people around me. Darden does an amazing job of bringing together interesting, fun, supportive people. I love hearing about others’ work experience in the classroom, getting to know how they think through things in learning teams and classes, and having a great time exploring Charlottesville and getting to know each other as people. It’s hard to articulate without sounding generic, but there is such a strong and welcoming sense of community here.
Favorite class/professor so far?
Surprising everyone including myself, I think I have to say my favorite class so far is Accounting. Shout out to the dynamic duo of Luann Lynch (DBD) and Mary Margaret Frank (Q1) for making it fun and showing me that understanding basic accounting will actually be a very helpful tool for evaluating the health of the early stage companies that I consider working at.
What advice do you have for students admitted to Darden’s Future Year Scholars Program?
Force yourself to be honest about when the right timing is for you personally to go back to school. For me, once I had it in the back of my head that I could go back to school any time after my second year in the deferral period, it was tempting to use that as an “escape hatch” if I was feeling bored or restless at work. Looking back, if I had chosen to come to Darden at the two year mark I would have missed out on my favorite roles at work, which happened after that point. Ask yourself: Am I really done learning out here in the real world yet? Are there new challenges left for me to take on here? Are there other skills and experiences I want to build before going back to school? Those are some of the questions that helped me think about my timing each year when the inevitable enrollment survey came around.
Did anything happen during your deferral period that reaffirmed your decision to stay on course to matriculate at Darden?
Yes! At the point in time when I applied to the Future Year Scholars program during my fourth year of college, there was only about a 25% chance in my head that I would ever act on that option. I’ve never had an interest in banking or consulting, and I had a picture in my head of what people do with an MBA that didn’t align with what I want to do.
Going into working at an ed tech startup out of college, I expected to love the social impact side of operating in the K-12 education space. What I found was that I loved the tech side and the business strategy side more than I ever expected to. I loved the fast pace, the problem solving, and the chaos that comes with being at a growth stage company. Having never taken a single business class in undergrad, I ran with ideas and took on projects that I was wildly underqualified to lead and figured it out as I went. This mostly worked out — I gained a ton of interesting experiences and learned a lot along the way — but I found myself wishing I had a foundation of more formal business education beneath the “learning by doing” skillset I had built. I had an amazing manager for a few years who had an MBA, and I was repeatedly impressed by the deep toolkit of skills she had and the systematic way she taught me to think through messy problems. These experiences convinced me that returning to Charlottesville to come to Darden would be a worthwhile decision that would make me more valuable to the next organization I join.