University of Virginia (Darden) Essay Analysis, 2012–2013

Is Darden trying to keep aspiring consultants at bay? Does the school just not have the resources to read a large number of essays? We have no real way of knowing, of course, but we have a hard time imagining that the admissions committee can get a full and accurate impression of a candidate from a single 500-word essay. Nonetheless, our analysis of this standalone essay prompt follows…

Share your thought process as you encountered a challenging work situation or complex problem. How did this experience change your perspective? (500 words maximum)

Darden wants to know about your thought process, so choosing a situation to discuss that required clear and measured consideration on your part is imperative. In other words, simply explaining the nature of the situation is not enough for this essay—you need to reveal the process of contemplation that ultimately led you to action in your efforts to resolve the issue. Interestingly, you do not necessarily need to show that you achieved your desired results, and the type of challenge you describe is not of primary importance (though it does need to be one from the professional sphere). The key to a successful essay here is showing not only that you invested an appropriate amount of thought for the problem or situation at hand, but also the progression and development of your thinking. Another important element of this essay is demonstrating that you learned from the experience. Further, what you say you have learned will need to clearly be impactful, because it needs to fulfill the essay prompt’s requirement of having been significant enough to have “changed your perspective.” You will therefore need to show a contrast between how you thought of things before the situation and how you considered them after, showing how you now approach similar encounters (or, for that sake, different encounters) in a new way.

Just a note: make sure that your resume is in stellar condition, because you will need to rely on it to reveal other important accomplishments to the Darden admissions team. However, be careful not to overstuff it. Do not mistake quantity for quality.

If you feel you could benefit from more guidance on your resume, we suggest checking out our mbaMission Resume Guide.  This guide discusses how to write a strong admissions committee–focused and results-driven resume; explains how to approach spacing, formatting, special sections and descriptions of consulting work; and includes three sample resumes with notes, plus more than 300 action-oriented verbs that demonstrate accomplishments rather than responsibilities.

For a thorough exploration of Darden’s academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment and more, please check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the Darden School of Business Administration.

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