Allen, a former business development manager at a law firm, was turned off by UCLA’s Anderson's casual approach when she visited the school. UCLA sent alumni rather than faculty to interview her, whereas Darden, part of the University of Virginia, embraced her like one of their own.
“Darden seemed to have a very supportive environment,” says Allen, who is due to graduate in 2010. “I got the feeling that not only is it a school, but also a community. You wander around, talking to people... being there seemed so natural because everyone is very connected.”
When she discovered Darden's reputation for outstanding teaching, Allen was convinced. She felt she needed to develop core business skills - something her political science background didn't cover: “I come to [a school to] learn as opposed to only wanting a job after. I want the skills to progress in my career, and Darden is probably the number one teaching school out there for that purpose,” she says.
In the recently published 2009 edition of "Best 296 Business Schools," the Princeton Review ranked Darden first in the “Best Professors” category.
The idea of doing an MBA came to Allen from a former boss. While working for a non-profit organization, the British American Business Council, in San Francisco five years ago, her boss pointed out that she had “natural leadership qualities” but should “use more education to polish it.” She listened.
Initially Allen, whose GMAT score was 710, considered London Business School in her home country. But the younger age of MBA students in the US and four “very happy years” spent in California meant she quickly eliminated European schools from her list.
“I felt like the European MBA programs were more geared to slightly older individuals who are already established in their careers,” she says. “In contrast, the U.S programs would give me a broader education base and were better geared to someone at my stage in my career.”
Students at Darden have an average age of 28, perfect for Allen, who is 27. Since her enrolment last year, Allen has made “life-long friends” in Charlottesville. She says she rarely just does her own thing, and hangs out with friends and classmates all the time. Cooking together, wine-tasting and attending American football games are among their favorite activities.
Despite finding quantitative subjects tough, especially accounting, Allen still manages to spend plenty of time outside the library. She’s currently the Vice President for international students on the Darden Student Association, working on ways to improve their career competitiveness after college.
“We want to enhance their [post-school] applications. We have a number of initiatives… with international companies to help them… if they want to stay in the US after graduating,” she says. A third of Darden students are from overseas.
Allen also encourages international students to make as many school visits as possible during the application process. “Considering how much you will spend on an MBA,” she says. “I believe it’s worthwhile investing time and money on conducting due diligence before you get there to make sure you find the right place,” she says.
“Finding the right school is not about who is top in the rankings, but where you fit best.”
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