By Jacqui Lazo
Name: Sophie Xiong (Class of 2017)
Hometown: Nanchang, Jiangxi, China
Pre-Darden University and Major: Beijing Normal University (bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering) and Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (master’s degree in economics)
Pre-Darden Employment: United Technologies, Corporate Finance
Post-Darden Employment: Credit Suisse, Investment Banking Associate
What motivated you to want to earn an MBA?
After graduating from college, I worked for United Technologies for six years. I really enjoyed the experience of moving to different countries and working with multinational teams. However, I also felt that I was missing out on the opportunity to work for and learn about different firms. I want to continue to work in finance, but I want to have greater exposure to other companies. Investment banking fits my pursuits, and earning an MBA degree is going to help me achieve my goals.
Why did you choose the University of Virginia Darden School of Business?
Darden has a strong presence on Wall Street. A lot of the alumni work in the financial service industry. I think these connections will be beneficial for my future career. Besides that, I really like the tight-knit community here. Students, faculty and staff know each other well. My classmates are just so brilliant and kind, and I want to learn from them and contribute to this community.
Describe your first week on Grounds.
I had never been to Charlottesville before my first week here. It is more convenient than I expected. I didn’t have a driver’s license when I arrived, so being able to walk to places and get chores done was important to me. I felt welcomed by the community, and I found Charlottesville to be beautiful and charming. Growing up in a congested and crowded city, I really appreciate the scenery here. I went on a hike during my first weekend here, and it was refreshing to me.
As a non-native English speaker, how have you adjusted to the case method and life at Darden?
It definitely takes time and effort to be able to speak in classes. My learning team helped me a lot. They encouraged me all the time and relied on my expertise a lot. I attended Darden before Darden, and it helped me get used to talking in front of people. It also showed me how to form my answers while talking instead of thinking ahead.
The professors are very helpful, as well. They often want to help non-native English speakers get into the discussion, and they do pay more attention to you if you speak less than expected. By the end of the first quarter, I really started enjoying the case method. First of all, it brings everyone’s expertise and experience into the classroom. I learned so much from my class. Second, the case method also helped me get to know my classmates better. We had fun in class. By listening to their comments, I understood them better. I would never be able to achieve this kind of connection with my class if it had been a lecture-based classroom experience.
How did Darden help you find and prepare for your internship?
My internship was with Credit Suisse in New York, and I am going back full time after graduation. The investment banking recruiting process was very structured. I think the most helpful things were the alumni and the Darden community. My target banks came to Grounds for recruiting. It wasn’t hard to gain access to alumni and network with them during the recruiting events and follow-up calls. I felt their true desire to help me understand the industry and prepare me for the interviews.
The Darden community was another huge factor for me to get the internship. I was never unprepared. I always had help when I needed it. My classmates helped me review my resume and cover letter. They prepped interview questions with me. The career advisors at the Career Development Center were always there for me, too. All of them were devoted to assisting me in achieving my goals. I am truly grateful for Darden and the support I received during this process.
What advice do you have for prospective students?
I recommend getting to know the community better before you make the decision about where to apply. Getting to know the faculty, spending some time with the current students and visiting classes will really show you what it would be like if you decide to attend Darden.
How did living in Charlottesville impact your MBA experience?
Because it is a less crowded city, I actually spend quality time with my classmates. I really enjoyed hiking with them, barbecuing with them and going to restaurants with them. If it had been a bigger city, I would have missed out on these activities.
What do you hope to do after you graduate from Darden?
Darden has provided me with an opportunity to switch careers and build connections. I would like to use all the things I’ve learned here to achieve more and all the connections I’ve built to learn more.