Essay Advice – UVA’s Darden School of Business

And so, it begins…the first 2021-22 MBA application is live! Last week, the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business opened their application, which again includes a variety of short answer essay prompts (although they’ve been tweaked slightly from last year). They will continue to offer an early decision round, with both binding and non-binding options. In other exciting news, they shared that they plan to begin the year with normal operations and in-person instruction!

Application Run Down

The deadlines are as follows:

Early Action – 9 September 2021

Round 1 – 6 October 2021

Round 2 – 5 January 2022

Round 3 – 6 April 2022

The essay prompts include:

  1. Tell us what you would want your Learning Team to know about you that is not on your resume. (150 words)
  2. Darden strives to identify and cultivate responsible leaders who follow their purpose. Please respond to one of the following prompts (200 words)
    • Option 1: Tell us about a time when you acted with a team to solve a problem or seize an opportunity. What role did you play? What did you learn from this experience?
    • Option 2: Tell us about a time you acted to solve a problem for the greater good. What drew you to this issue? What did you learn from this experience?
  3. The Darden School develops practices and cultivates a culture that reflect and incorporate the worldviews of its many community members. In this inclusive culture, the community learns important — and sometimes uncomfortable — lessons from one another, resulting in more conscientious global leaders and citizens. Please respond to one of the following prompts (200 words)
    • Option 1: Share a time when you learned something related to diversity, equity or inclusion that was previously unknown to you? How did this experience impact your perspective?
    • Option 2: Share a time when you advocated for a perspective, identity or community different from your own. How did this experience impact your worldview?
  4. What is your short-term, post-MBA goal and how does it align with the long-term vision you have for your career? (150 words)
  5. The Batten Foundation Worldwide Scholarship provides all Darden students in our full-time MBA program with an opportunity to participate in a Darden Worldwide Course. If you could choose any location in the world, where would you want to travel, and why? (55 words)

How To Tackle These Essays

The biggest challenge of the Darden essays is their limited word count – it’s really hard to write a robust and compelling answer in 200 words or less. That’s basically two paragraphs! On the flip side, because you are asked to write about a variety of topics, it’s somewhat easier to paint a multi-dimensional picture of yourself and what you bring to the table.

Make Every Word Count

This advice applies to all MBA essays but is even more critical here – make every word count! This is not the place for loosely worded sentences with a lot of ‘fluff’ (or any fluff, quite frankly). Your language should be concise and each word you choose should be done with purpose. That’s the only way you’ll be able to pack in everything you want to say and show the adcom how incredible you are!

From a process standpoint, with answers this short, it’s often best to start long and edit down. By long, I don’t mean 1000 words. But early drafts that are up to double the allotted word count is okay in this case. As you iterate, think of ways to say something in one word instead of several and enlist the help of a trusted friend or family member to determine which details you can cut while still sharing necessary context.

Tell Your Own Story

When I work with clients on the Darden essays, I generally advise them to resist the temptation to look at each question and ‘see what story pops into their head’ as an answer that fits. This is letting the application tell their story instead of them actively managing the narrative. Instead, we revisit their personal branding and pull out the critical stories we have identified that support the picture they want to paint of themselves. Then we bump these stories up against the prompts and see what works!

For instance, a past client wanted to position herself as an accomplished athlete with a passion for mentorship and proven ability to unite teams around a common goal. With this branding in mind, we told stories about her time as a D1 athlete, her experience tutoring students from an underserved area, and how she united a virtual work team during the pandemic (the prompts were slightly different last year, as previously mentioned). We then filled in the rest with her career goals and a unique answer to where she would like to travel. She told the story she wanted to tell within the confines of the application, as opposed to letting the application define what she shared.

If you need help with your MBA applications, including Darden, click here to schedule an initial consultation.

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