University of Virginia (Darden) Essay Analysis, 2010–2011

1. The Darden MBA program expects students to actively participate in learning teams, the classroom, and the broader community. Please share one or two examples from your past experience that best illustrate(s) how you will contribute to this highly engaging and hands-on learning environment. (500 words)

This question presupposes some knowledge of how Darden works. So, you should start by educating yourself on the school itself, via its Web site, podcasts, alumni and/or a class visit. You may also want to check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Darden School of Business Administration for a thorough discussion of the school’s unique approach and attributes. Once you understand what a learning team truly is (with its nightly meetings), how a classroom functions (with the professor as a facilitator) and how each class of 300 becomes a much bigger community of professors, partners, administrators and more, you will be able to identify and present an appropriate experience or two of your own that will reveal your potential contribution. As a simplified example, a senior analyst could present a story of how he/she mentored/educated a junior analyst who was falling behind and then might apply this story to the learning team experience, wherein team members are expected to educate one another and share responsibility for each other’s learning. Your particular experience need not be so broad, but it can be—if you have unique knowledge of the economics of an emerging market or how to market detergent online, for example, your experiences are no less relevant or applicable. The key to writing an interesting essay is identifying what is distinct about your experience and applying it in a way that reveals that you truly “know” Darden.

2. Please discuss how a global event that has taken place in the past two years has impacted the way you think about leadership broadly and personally. (500 words)

Above all, keep in mind that this question is about your leadership style, not your politics. This is not your opportunity to discuss your solution to the crisis in the Middle East or show that you have an axe to grind with President Bush or Obama. Darden certainly makes owing this question difficult by limiting your potential events to those that occurred in the past two years. But then again, the world is not that small, and, to state the obvious, global events occur each day. So, you can consider your event carefully and attempt to avoid the blatant.

You must show that the global event you ultimately choose has affected you profoundly and that your opinion on leadership has subsequently changed. So, you can discuss how a recent global issue was managed and then transition the focus to yourself, potentially showing the way you have navigated a situation. A “before and after” approach may also be applicable, in which you describe your behavior before the influential event and then reveal the event’s impact on you by describing your actions and attitude after it occurred. (This is not mandatory, however, and may be difficult to execute in 500 words.) Whatever event you choose, the effect needs to be profound, and the event itself can only be a vehicle to discuss your experience. Your focus is not on the event, but on you.

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