by Kim Clark

We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants, and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:

1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?

Applicants should think less about setting themselves apart and more about presenting their best selves. All business schools are looking for excellent applicants--from all fields and majors. So, rather than worrying about being "different," applicants should focus on self-awareness and what they can tell us about what they have done, who they are, and what they want to achieve with the M.B.A.

2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?

Essays should follow the directions and answer the questions. You would be surprised how many times we receive essays that do not answer our actual questions at all. Good essays also allow us to imagine with this person is like in the workplace and to envision how they will contribute to the classroom discussion. Applicants should think about describing and interpreting a specific incident or project that will give us a window into who they are and how they interact with others.

3. How important is the applicant's GMAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work/internship experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?

Our application review process is holistic and no item carries more weight than any other. We are looking for people with the ability to perform in our academic classroom. We can find that it a variety of ways.

4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?

Our students typically have an average of four years of work experience. However, the quality of a person's work experience is much more important than quantity--in either direction. We are looking for leaders in the workplace: people who take initiative, manage or mentor others, manage projects and/or budgets, and work well in teams.

5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?

Our school is set apart by the unique combination of four factors--perspective, involvement, connectivity, and impact. Perspective is found in the case method classroom--you will learn from and with others from around the world and broaden your own perspective. At Darden, we expect you to be involved--in class participation, in clubs and activities, and in the community. Our alumni and faculty are very connected to each other and you should be able to take advantage of that connectivity from Day One. Finally, you will have the chance to make an impact on the broader world, while you are here and after you leave. Our mission is to improve society by developing leaders in the world of practical affairs.

6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting?

At least one recommendation should be from someone who has supervised the applicant, preferably the current supervisor. The other recommendation letter should also be from the workplace. We look for the writer to have known the applicant well and worked with him/her closely. Title, importance, or fame do not matter--just that the person can comment on the applicant's work performance.

7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?

We post all of our timelines on our website and they change slightly every year. In general, the applications begin to be processed after the deadline. Once the completeness of the application is verified, it is passed electronically to one reader, then another, and then up to four more before a final decision is made. All applicants that are admitted will also have been invited to interview during that process.

8. Which firms recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?

Many firms from all industries hire from our school--including all of the top banks, consulting, and manufacturing firms. Anyone interested in details should consult our website for the most current list.

9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?

INot following directions is the biggest mistake. Please answer the questions we ask, fill out the application completely (not filling out a section is a big disappointment to us), and follow the word count restrictions!

10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?

There isn't just one type. Our class is very diverse. I do want to see intelligent leaders who are not afraid to share their ideas and work together toward common goals.

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