University of Virginia Darden Essay Analysis, 2014–2015

*Please note: You are viewing an essay analysis from the 2014-2015 admissions cycle. Click here to view our collection of essay analyses for the current admissions season. 

The Darden School at the University of Virginia claims to have released its essay question for the year, but last year, it released a single essay question on its blog but then added more when the complete application was later released. Let us hope that Darden makes things simple for applicants this year and takes a “what you see is what you get” approach—keeping the required application essays to just one. We will stay on top of this and update our essay analysis as needed, if Darden happens to be up to its old tricks again! [Update 12/1/14: Just like last year, Darden has added two short essay questions through its online application—we have now added them to our analysis here.]

DardenEssay 1: Describe the most courageous professional decision you have made or action you have taken. What did you learn from that experience? (500 words maximum)

Darden’s use of the word “courageous” here may fluster some applicants, leading them to wonder, “At this point in my career, can I really say that I have been courageous in my professional life?” In this context, you do not need to equate courage with heroism. Do not worry if you have not yet bet the farm on a new technology or stared down a Wall Street raider—the admissions committee knows that most candidates are still in the earliest stages of their careers and therefore understand “courage” in relative terms. So, rather than equating courage with heroism, think of courage as referring to “risk.” Have you ever stuck your neck out for something you believed in or stepped out of your comfort zone to take charge of something? Some moments to consider include the following:

  • Taking a risk in telling someone senior that his/her plan will not work
  • Asking for a greater level of responsibility to execute on a high-profile project
  • Pushing your firm to change its thinking on a client/supplier
  • Advocating for an individual to be hired, fired or promoted

In any of these circumstances, for a story to work, something must be at stake for you—your reputation needs to be on the line.

You can also consider discussing moments that touch on personal risk. Maybe your most courageous decision was leaving a job or declining one offer to accept a more challenging nee. Or, perhaps your most courageous moment came as the result of a failure or disappointment, or you took responsibility for an error and learned invaluable lessons. Our list could go on and on.

As you write, work to create a narrative structure that has a clear inflection point, one at which you can choose one of two paths. If your reader does not understand the risks to you that are inherent in these two choices, then your ultimate decision will hardly seem courageous. So, to reiterate, your narrative must involve and present a very clear conflict that forced you to take decisive action and altering your path in some way. Then, after presenting the results of your decision, you must examine your behaviors and discuss your learning—possibly exploring your relationship with others and/or your understanding of your own capabilities. Reiterating the obvious themes will not work. Your reader needs you to be introspective and show that you have true insight into your actions and that the lessons you learned have been profound and enduring.

The following two short essay questions are buried in the Darden application:

1. The Darden classroom is a high-engagement environment where students learn from classmates as well as faculty. Our case method teaching style is highly experiential and obligates students to share their perspectives. What knowledge and skills will you bring to our classroom? (200 words)

For this essay, you will need to relate your experiences to the case method, so your first step is ensuring that you clearly understand what the case method truly entails and demands. For example, you will need to be able to develop strong opinions, while simultaneously being open to those of others; you must possess an analytical mind and be capable of dealing with uncertainty; you will be required to participate actively (speak publically), and your ideas will be challenged from many angles. Once you have fully grasped the nature of the case method, you must then incorporate anecdotes and examples from your life into your essay to demonstrate this nuanced understanding. So, for instance, saying simply, “I was a debate champ, and I think I will thrive in a case environment” would not be enough to accomplish this. Instead, you would need to link your debate background to the case method and explain what exactly this experience will enable you to do in the classroom. How would you use the skills you gained from debating to facilitate others’ learning? In a mere 200 words, you will need to reveal a skill—or even better, expertise—you possess in an area that applies to the Darden classroom environment and then illustrate that connection in a compelling manner.

2. What is your short-term goal and why? What makes this goal a good fit for you? (200 words)

This essay prompt is essentially an abbreviated version of a standard personal statement, and  because personal statements are similar from one application to the next, we have produced the mbaMission Personal Statement Guide. This free resource is meant to help applicants write this style of essay for any school. 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.

Want some essay-writing advice straight from the source? Sara Neher, assistant dean of MBA Admissions at Darden, offers several helpful tips for prospective students in a recent video blog. Click here to watch!

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