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As we have seen for the past several years, the University of Virginia’s Darden School has released a single essay question for its application. However, the school has typically added a few—much shorter—prompts a little later in the season, so you will need to keep an eye out for those, in case Darden takes that approach again this year. In the meantime, focus your efforts on the program’s primary essay question, which prods applicants to share a career-related story about receiving some consequential feedback. At first glance, we assume that with this prompt, Darden’s admissions committee is hoping to gain insight into applicants’ professional experience and attitudes as well as their capacity for self-assessment and their openness to other viewpoints. You have only 500 words with which to convey all this, though, so you will need to be simultaneously thorough and concise. Our analysis should assist you in achieving this.
Essay 1: Describe the most important professional feedback you have received and how you responded to it. (500 words maximum)
Darden definitely wants to know more than just what others may think of your professional capabilities. The admissions committee also wants evidence that you are capable of reflecting, learning, and growing. If you are not able to do this, the school might assume that you simply do not have the necessary qualities to become a standout manager. To craft an effective essay response to this query, focus on describing a “before and after” situation in which the suggestion or input you received served as an inflection point that triggered a dramatic change in you. If you start your essay by simply leading with the feedback you received, you will kill any mystery in your story. Instead, consider relating a narrative that involves a lot of momentum in one direction that is suddenly derailed when you are disarmed by someone else’s input—input that leads to clear and tactical change.
One thing to keep in mind is that feedback is a response. Some applicants will likely mistake or interpret the word “feedback” in Darden’s query to mean “advice,” but these are two very different things. If your father always told you, for example, that “hard work is the most important thing in life,” that aphorism may have indeed shaped your professional career, but it would not necessarily be considered feedback offered in response to or in light of a specific effort on your part. Confusing advice with feedback will lead you down the wrong path and cause you to fail in answering the school’s question. Do not let this be you! So, ensure that the incident you choose to highlight in your essay involves that element of evaluative response and subsequent change, and your submission should be an effective one.
For a thorough exploration of the UVA Darden academic program/merits, defining characteristics, crucial statistics, social life, academic environment, and other key features, check out the mbaMission Insider’s Guide to the UVA Darden School of Business Administration.
The Next Step—Mastering Your UVA Darden Interview: Many MBA candidates find admissions interviews stressful and intimidating, but mastering this important element of the application process is definitely possible—the key is informed preparation. To help you on your way to this high level of preparation, we offer our free Interview Primers. Download your free copy of the UVA Darden Interview Primer today.