A (Surprise) Dose of Perspective

One of the key elements of my plan to prepare for the workload at Darden was to spend the summer prior to my start full of time with family and friends. This plan did not go as expected.

In early June, I received an email from Darden containing a friendly message welcoming me to Darden and “inviting” me to complete mandatory pre-matriculation courses and pass tests for each subject. The “silver lining” was that all you had to do was pass the tests with a 70 and tests could be taken multiple times, if necessary.

 After taking a deep breath, I thought, this can’t be too bad right?

A qualified “yes” was the answer, but it took me a while to appreciate the full benefits of the classes.

When I clicked through the email link, I found 7 courses. 7 courses! They included: Math, Statistics, Probability, Finance, Accounting I, Accounting II and Excel. I hadn’t cracked a math text book for over 20 years and have never had any formal education in any of the other subjects.

 After more deep breathing (more like hyper-ventilating), I began to progress through the stages of grief.

  1. Denial and Isolation – CHECK
  2. Anger – DOUBLE CHECK
  3. Bargaining – CHECK
  4. Depression – CHECK
  5. Acceptance – Sorry, not ready for you yet – I’m still stuck on #s 3 & 4

For the bargaining stage, I immediately put my years of legal experience to work and began formulating my argument to Darden admissions for why I should be exempt from this requirement. I developed less than creative arguments like: this must have been an error and isn’t this what you all are planning to teach me in the fall and, my personal favorite – what about my work/life balance and need to be one with nature and my family in my last few months of freedom?

Knowing these arguments would not likely carry the day, I started to work my way through the courses. What I came to quickly learn was that the material, though daunting at times, was full of things that I had always wanted to know. It also gave me a chance to test the waters at home and work with a “school schedule.”

Like it or not, this was the start of my (unexpected) transition back to school.

I stuck to a strict schedule of one course per week and made it through each course without having to retake any of the tests – the biggest shock of the summer. Though I would have appreciated more notice about these pre-matriculation courses and time to complete them, the material helped to bridge the gap between my skills and the analytical and technical skills needed in school.

As I began the first week of class, terms were more familiar to me than they would have been without the courses. In addition to providing a better framework to understand school, the pre-matriculation courses put my return to school in perspective in two important ways.

First, passing these courses gave me confidence that I could be successful with material that was technical and quite foreign to me. While I am not striving to be top of the class,  if I could pass these classes, I knew I could be successful at school, at home and at work.

Second, my success would not have been possible without an incredible team effort of understanding and support at work and home. This was a striking difference than when I was last in school. While support from parents and siblings were important before, returning to school now was pulling me away from some responsibilities at both work and home. Without the understanding and encouragement from Jennifer and the kids at home as well as Brad and my team at work, my success at Darden would be in serious jeopardy.

Lucky for me, this early test of my support system gave me the emotional confidence to know that I could do it. With these boosts in confidence, I was ready for my first week of class.


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