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At Darden, Accentuate the Positives

Dawna Clarke, director of admissions at the University of Virginia's B-school, is in charge of telling MBA hopefuls whether they've made the cut. Since arriving at UVA's Darden Graduate School of Business in 1990, Clarke has worked as a senior associate director of admissions and as the director of alumni relations before taking the top seat in admissions in 2000. Prior to her role at Darden -- No. 12 in BusinessWeek's latest B-School rankings, she worked as chief admissions officer in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill B-school, where she also earned a master's in higher education.

In a recent interview, Clarke offers her take on the admissions process at Darden to BusinessWeek Online management education reporter Mica Schneider. Here's an edited version of their conversation:

Q: Virginia recently increased the size of its MBA class. Currently, the school is home to about 575 MBAs. How many MBAs will you accept this fall?

A: We have 316 students in our entering class. In 2002, we expanded the class by 25%. That's it for now. Because the case method is such a huge part of the class experience, faculty members have felt it would be harder to pull it off in a larger program.

Q: About 30% of your MBAs are married. Charlottesville, Va., is a good-sized college town but is two hours south of Washington, D.C., perhaps making it more difficult for partners of your students to find jobs in the area. What are the options for spouses of MBAs?

A: There are more opportunities here than people realize, but it does require more work on the part of the spouse to find out what they are. One of the ways that Darden works around its location is to reserve certain jobs in departments. So we've had spouses of MBAs in our communications, admissions, and career-services offices. Some have taken faculty research positions, and these are all specifically allocated for spouses of Darden students. And Charlottesville is also growing. We have 70 Darden grads living in Charlottesville, so there are job opportunities with our alumni.

Richmond, Va., is a 50- to 60-minute drive from Charlottesville, so for people who really want to work for an investment bank, for instance, Richmond is an option.

Darden also has the Darden Partners Assn., an officially recognized organization by the Darden School that receives funding from the school. The school believes that the partners [of MBAs] who come to Charlottesville are a part of the community. One of the Darden Partners committees is focused on helping people find jobs. During Darden days, which are Apr. 2 and 3 in 2004, spouses should get in touch with Darden partners through the admissions office.

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