Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Guide to Class Participation at Darden

I get questions from people all the time asking about what grades are like in business school, and specifically at Darden. Do they matter? Is it hard to get good ones? My friends in medical and law school would answer by saying “No, MBA grades don’t matter and you don’t go to a real grad school” (Of course, they’re just jealous). But in reality the answer is: it depends. And it depends mostly on the type of person you are.  Since one of my favorite pastimes is to categorize people and judge them, I figured why not talk about the different “grade seekers” at Darden. I'm talking specifically about this as it relates to class participation, which is usually 50% of your grade at Darden because of the the Case Method.
Now before I do this, I want to lay out the following disclaimers:

1)      I am a huge nerd. I try really hard in class, especially those I care about. You can talk to anyone who’s had a class with me since high school: I raise my hand in class to comment all the time, mostly because I have a huge ego. I’m not saying my comments are good, because they hardly ever are, but if you think this is about making fun of people for trying too hard, you’re wrong.

2)      Almost everyone at Darden will fall into more than one of these categories. 

3)     Seriously, I really enjoy all of my classmates at Darden and am lucky that I get to learn with some of the smartest and most I’ve ever met. This just meant to be fun, so relax already.
Without further ado:

The Gunners

These are the students who will stop at nothing to be in the top of the class. Some want it to help them get a scholarship for second-year, while others just take a lot of pride in having the professor know they are smart, even if it means the rest of their classmates roll their eyes every time he/she speaks. While Gunners are highly prevalent in the first year, they are nearly an extinct population in the second year of business school, mostly because people have rediscovered golf, video games, or golf video games. Thank God for Gunners though, because without them the other 90% the class who barely read the case and didn’t run the numbers would be in serious trouble.   

Gunner Symptoms: Excessive hand raising, pit diving the professor or speaker after every class, constant use of abbreviations or acronyms, always sits in the same spot to ensure professor can clearly see them
Gunner Treatment: Several alcoholic drinks

The Masters of the SP
For those non-Darden people reading this, SP stands for “Standard Performance”, which is essentially given to half the class (Darden grades on a curve) and is the equivalent of getting a “B”. At Darden there could not be a more appropriate term for this grade than Standard Performance. The people who get many of these understand exactly what it takes to be in the middle and do no more, no less. Mainly that involves reading the case, getting the general gist of what’s going on, and then offering a solid comment every 1-2 classes. The goal is to make sure not to stand out, good or bad. This is the largest group of students, with a population that continually grows from the first day of class to the last, as people realize they aren’t special.

Master of the SP Symptoms: Dressing in non-bright colors to divert the eye, answering every question with “it depends” to avoid taking a possibly wrong stance, only talking during cases related to companies they used to work for
Master of the SP Treatment: A professor who relentlessly cold calls

The “I don’t care because I either a) already have a job or b) don’t have a job yet”
I would bet that most of these students don’t even check their grades when they are released. To them, grades are a complete afterthought. I mean, after all who cares? Companies don’t look at them. Your parents don’t get them in the mail like undergrad. And there’s a 99.9% chance no matter how badly you’re doing that you’re not going to fail out. Instead, why not focus on getting your post-graduation dream job or enjoying your last few months of freedom before working a hundred hours a week in investment banking. This group is virtually non-existent in the first year before growing exponentially in the second.

Symptoms: Sitting in the sky deck, having your laptop open in a class that requires no spreadsheets, having your laptop closed in a class that does require spreadsheets, an “eff you” look in their eye
Treatment: For those that don’t have a job, getting one. For those that do have a job, nothing. Just keep living the dream my friends. 

Let me just briefly close with this: I honestly believe that grades don’t matter that much, if at all, in business school and at Darden. But that is not to say that people don’t try or shouldn’t. I see my classmates come prepared to class everyday with numbers, insights, and questions that add tremendous value to our case discussion. It’s just that they’re not doing it for the grade, but because they are passionate about the topics and they don’t want to let their classmates down by being unprepared.  Darden really is a self-policing classroom in this way and it that makes grades irrelevant. And I think that’s great.

Dave’s Awesome Songs
·         Citizen Cope – Sideways
·         Eels – Fresh Feelin
·         Marshall Tucker Band – Can’t You See

If you would like to contact the author, he can be reached at


  1. I definitely fit into the category of "excessive hand raising" and "pit diving the speaker," although most of the rest of the gunner description doesn't really fit me. Good post.

  2. i everyone i am finding some MBA stud stuff something business regarding. I like your post dear. nice blog.
    Online MBA