University of Virginia (Darden) Essay Analysis, 2013–2014

Darden initially announced that it would have only one essay prompt, but now that its application has been officially released, we see that the school actually requires three “traditional” essays and an optional essay, like most other programs this year. Darden can be said to be slightly more focused on fit than other schools, because it asks a narrow question about the learning team experience. Clearly, the school feels that an applicant’s fit with this structural element of Darden’s core curriculum and an understanding of how you can contribute to the experience of your peers is an important part of the selection process. So, think especially carefully about your responses with this in mind , as we explain further in our essay analysis, which follows…


1. Learning teams are an integral part of Darden’s academic experience. What personal qualities and expertise will you bring to your Darden learning team? (250 words)

To write this essay, you first need to understand how a Darden learning team operates. You might start by reading up on the learning team approach on the Darden Web site and watching a video the school produced on its learning teams. If you know anyone who is currently at Darden or has graduated from the program, you should definitely reach out to ask about the experience. Keep in mind that you will not be writing about the learning team itself, but you will need to understand how such teams work to be able to compellingly discuss how you would contribute to and participate in such a dynamic.

Even in a short essay of just 250 words, you should still tell a story about yourself. You cannot simply write something like “I am a patient teacher and would bring these skills to my learning team, where I will help others learn more effectively.” Instead, you might discuss how you are an experienced mentor and trainer and reveal how you have positively affected an individual or group. Then, you might relate that experience to how you would conduct yourself as part of a learning team. The specific personal quality or expertise you claim is not as important as proving that your skill(s)/experience will allow you to be a valuable, contributing member of that team.

2. What is your short-term goal and why? What makes this goal a good fit for you? (250 words).

In short, this essay prompt is basically asking you to write a personal statement—though a very brief one. Because such essays are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide, which helps applicants write this style of essay for any school. We offer this guide to candidates free of charge. Please feel free to download your copy today.

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.

3. Share your thought process as you encountered a challenging work situation or complex problem. What did you learn about yourself? (500 words maximum)

Choosing a situation to discuss that required clear and measured consideration on your part is imperative, given that Darden asks explicitly for you to detail your thought process. Simply describing the nature of the situation and how it played out is not enough for this essay—you must 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. The key to a successful essay here is not only showing that you invested an appropriate amount of thought for the problem or situation at hand, but also the progression and development of your thinking. The other crucial element of this essay is demonstrating that you learned from the experience—and specifically, learned something about yourself. So, claiming that you gained a new skill, for example, would not constitute an appropriate response. You will need to delve more deeply into how your understanding of yourself differed after the situation and clearly explain what the experience brought out in you that you had not known about yourself before.

4. Additional Comments: If there is further information you believe would be helpful to the Admission Committee, please provide it: (250 words)

However tempted you might be, this is not the place to paste in a strong essay from another school or to offer a few anecdotes that you were unable to use in any of your other essays. Instead, this is your opportunity—if needed—to address any lingering questions that an admissions officer might have about your candidacy, such as a poor grade or overall GPA, a low GMAT score, a gap in your work experience, etc. In our mbaMission Optional Statement Guide, available through our online store, we offer detailed advice on when and how to take advantage of the optional essay (including multiple sample essays) to help you mitigate any problem areas in your profile.

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