MBA School Choice: Fuqua Vs. Darden

The rivalry between these two institutions is intense. Both are ranked highly, but they attract different intakes who study courses of different intensities

The rivalry between Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and the Darden School of Business at University of Virginia is one of the most intense in the US, right up there with Harvard and Stanford, Chicago Booth and Kellogg, according to Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, an admissions consulting firm.

This is reflected in Fuqua and Darden’s positions in key rankings, coming within touching distance of each other in the US News, Financial Times, Economist and Forbes league tables. US News puts Fuqua at 10 and Darden at 12 in America, so both schools are good options for aspiring MBA students.

However, the choice between the two might come down to the difference in the background of each school’s cohort, and the varied intensity of the courses, admissions agencies say.

Darden vs Fuqua: MBA class

The class sizes, background and caliber of the MBA students at both institutions are broadly similar, including grade point averages and GMAT scores, which are both relatively high and indicate quality peer learning.

Both cohorts have a similar average age too, but Fuqua has proportionally more women, overseas and ethnic minority students. On that last metric, the percentile difference is 16 percent.

“The greater diversity at Fuqua may result in a student class with a wider array of viewpoints and perspectives,” says admissions consultant Stacy Blackman. This could enhance learning through case study discussion.

But anecdotally, a former Darden admissions officer says, Darden students have heavier workloads. “With its rural location and case study method, the focus at Darden is going to be on the program and your classmates — it is an intense, rigorous course.”

On the other hand, Fuqua students are often stereotyped as having more fun because the program is more flexible in terms of content, time allocation and work intensity, Blackman says.

“Fuqua attracts quirky, fun and interesting students,” adds Sherry Holland, a former Fuqua admissions officer who works on the Stacy Blackman Consulting team.

However, Blackman says Fuqua is “a more recognized brand globally”. This is reflected in Fuqua’s higher application figures — 3,796 compared with Darden’s 2,743 — slightly higher acceptance rate, 22 percent, and higher yield, 51 percent.

The application processes at both schools is similar but not identical. The big difference is that, rather than a couple of lengthy essays, applicants to Darden answer multiple, short-answer questions about their background and goals.

Darden vs Fuqua: Location

Fuqua is based in Durham, North Carolina, about three hours’ drive from Darden’s base in Charlottesville, Virginia. Durham is far larger, with 257,000 citizens compared to only 46,000 in Charlottesville. Yet Durham’s average living costs are about 9 percent less.

From a personal safety standpoint, Charlottesville has a significantly lower crime rate, closer to the US average. But the city was rocked by civil unrest two years ago following a white supremacist rally.

Blackman says: “Charlottesville feels more isolated — some clients describe it as the middle of nowhere with tougher transportation access. Charlottesville is a rural environment and is considered to be more of a college town. Durham is more bustling, but neither school is in a major city.”

Darden vs Fuqua: Post-MBA careers

Darden is the more established school, says Min, having been founded in 1955 while Fuqua emerged in 1970. Yet Fuqua has a larger alumni network, spanning 70 countries with 22,000 members including Apple’s boss Tim Cook and Melinda Gates. But Darden has a broader network, with its 16,000 alumni in 90 countries, including Steven Reinemund, former CEO of PepsiCo.

Both schools should be proud of how their students fare on the job market, says Min, with the employment rate above 90 percent for both institutions. But Fuqua has a higher weighted average alumni salary three years after graduation, $163,000 compared with $157,000 at Darden, according to the Financial Times. Fuqua is also ranked by the FT 10 places higher than Darden on career progress, as measured by seniority and company size.

That said, Darden’s career service is ranked 11 globally, 18 places higher than Fuqua. The two top industries that the two schools’ 2019 MBA graduates entered were the same: consulting and finance. They share similar top employers too, such as McKinsey and Amazon.

With such prospects, both Darden and Fuqua are good choices for MBA aspirants looking to advance their career. The big differences between them appear to be what and how students study, and with whom.

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