It’s Elective Time

As first-years complete term 4, we’re finishing up the last core curriculum classes with our section: in short order our schedules will be filled with electives. It’s going to be different adjusting to courses without the comfort of Section A. However, I’ll spend most of this post writing about the rationale and process of selecting electives.

On process, Darden students are able to choose electives through a bidding system, which I’m frankly a huge fan of. Each student is given 450 bid points and armed with statistics on last year’s required number of points to successfully bid into three classes (while three classes doesn’t sound like a lot, consider that you meet every day in the school week). From there, it’s up to you to figure out how you’re going to allocate your bid points, to hopefully come up with a schedule that works. Probably the funniest part of the process is hearing people whine about the bidding system after missing out a on a class or two: this is either due to (a) the student developing a poor bid strategy, or (b) the student wants to get into all of the most popular classes. Either way, the process works, and yes, I may be a bit biased as I got all three classes I bid into. For those students with unsuccessful bids, there is a second round of bidding, followed by drop / add period. In reality, there are only a few courses that are really tough to get into: with most, a bid of 1 of 450 points will get you into the class.

On rationale, selecting classes at business school doesn’t differ that much from my experience in college. That said, differences do exist. Please see below some main drivers of class selection, highlighted in no particular order:

  1. A Balanced Schedule. A good number of students end up taking two more difficult classes and one class where the workload will be less demanding. For many, the heavily quantitative courses (valuation, data analysis and optimization) look to be the most challenging, at least on paper. Especially in these instances, keeping up in a difficult class where you have no background is no joke: I sympathize with those that want to ensure they won’t be walking into a buzz saw next term.
  2. Professor. At my undergrad we had a Professor Evaluation Profile System (PEPS) that rated each professor and provided tremendous detail on the difficulty of the class, workload, teaching style, etc. Basically a ridiculous system (but one I loved while in college). The point being, there were probably a few professors to avoid at my undergraduate. At Darden, there definitely are not any professors to avoid, but at the same time a few professors always jump out as being really popular.
  3. Preparing for Summer Internship. Of the three classes, at least one class is usually selected to prepare you for the upcoming summer. In my case, I’m going into consulting. While there is a course entitled The Consulting Process, I ended up taking Marketing Intelligence as a class that I think will prepare me well for the summer. With a strong quantitative background from years in investment banking, I look at this course as a way to improve upon my potential areas of weakness in a consulting role (things like questionnaire design, market sizing, etc).
  4. Desire to Get Good Grades / Avoid Groups of Really Smart Students. To clarify, Darden grades on a curve so unlike undergrad, no professor has a reputation for grading easier / harder. Darden also has a nondisclosure policy with employers, so your grades really shouldn’t matter like they did in undergraduate (that said, grades do determine distinction during second year, which can end up on a resume). I have heard from so many people that they want to avoid Valuation this spring because “all the banking kids will be taking it”. Especially given the unimportance of grades, I think avoiding a class for these reasons is lame.
  5. Time of Day. Whether it’s a student who (a) has a wife / husband and kid and wants to be back home by 5pm each day, or (b) wants to sleep in, the time of day dictates the desirability of certain classes. I’ve got Valuation at 10, Marketing Intelligence at 11:45, and Global Financial Markets (GFM) at 4:30. While GFM is a little bit late, I figured the earlier section would be more popular and I might not have the points to get into it. With this schedule, I’ll probably wake up and do work for at least one of the morning classes, go to class until 1:10, then have a nice break in the day to study, grab lunch, work out, and nap. Pretty good living if you ask me.

After sufficiently offending at least a few of my classmates, I think this summary will probably suffice. At the moment, first years are finishing finals and embarking on spring break adventures all over the world. I decided to return to California where my family is from, mostly as a way to save a few K (I’m saving my worldly adventures for a 16-day trip in May). In any case, having almost two weeks off for spring break is yet another reminder of how awesome business school is.

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