In a recent posting (“Hard Work”), I made no apology for Darden’s reputation on the street, that we offer a demanding program. When I explain this to groups of prospective applicants, virtually no one walks away. Instead they ask, “Tell us more; in what ways is Darden demanding?” I think that three factors explain most of it:

**Case studies, not textbooks and problem sets. Cases require a lot of reading and are usually ambiguous. You can feel like you are floundering at times. There are no right answers (but there are many wrong ones.) And every case requires an action recommendation. If you’re used to rote learning, the combination of ambiguity and pressure to decide will stretch you. But that’s the point: every day, managers must take action in the midst of ambiguity. Real business life does not conform to sterile textbook problems. Case studies are great training for professional life.

**Active participation and the “cold call.” At Darden you are evaluated continuously. About half of your course grades will derive from daily class participation. Without warning, the professor will ask a student to begin the discussion in each class—this is the “cold call”. You are expected to come to class prepared each day and to participate actively in group discussion. To say what you think, defend your ideas, and make actionable recommendations can be uncomfortable for many people. But these demands mirror professional life. The feedback you receive on your ideas is immediate and compelling, a daily jolt of energy that lets you know how you are doing. Many students deliberately choose to attend Darden because they want to grow in the ability to communicate, think on their feet, and learn the discipline of effective professional preparation.

**Obligation to others. Any strong community like Darden’s makes demands as the price of participation. You will belong to a study group from which you will gain important insights and to which you will feel an obligation to contribute. The same goes for your section of 60-some students. Clubs, friends, roommates and family will make their demands. And UVA’s very successful honor system creates a community of trust and demands honorable behavior. If you want to play strictly by your own rules, Darden will not be your cup of tea. For its part, Darden will invest a lot in you–there is a great deal of support to help with Darden’s demands: study groups, mentors, tutors, and very ready access to faculty members. This aspect of Darden will teach you how to contribute to and lead groups, how to get timely help, and how to help others grow.

Note that nothing in this list refers to the content of the program, one that is loaded with very important and sophisticated ideas. Whether you are an engineer or a poet, an offer of admission from us is a vote of confidence that we think you can master the substance of what we have to teach. Truly, the defining factor in your success at Darden is the attitude you bring to the program.

Posted by Robert Bruner at 07/27/2007 05:55:44 PM