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Posted by Chioma Isiadinso
Darden School of Business has released their MBA application for the class of 2021, and the school certainly doesn’t scrimp on deadlines (or essays). The deadlines for the 2018-2019 application season are:
If you plan to apply to Darden School of Business in Round 1, you’re going to want to get started as soon as possible. The school has gone all in on essays this year, with five short answer prompts of varying lengths instead of a single long essay.
The Darden admissions committee believes that this approach will be a better way for them to “get to know all of the various facets of [our applicants’] background and personality.”
The prompt reads:
“Tell us what you would want your learning team to know about you – personal, professional or both.(100 words)”
Broad, open-ended topics like this can be incredibly challenging to write. How do you narrow down what you want your learning team to know about you to just 100 words?
One of the keys to a successful response is to understand what Darden means by “learning team”.
Like Harvard Business School, Darden uses the case method as their primary instructional approach. MBA students are grouped into learning teams with other students from a diverse set of backgrounds, cultures, and industries. Teamwork is extremely important at UVA Darden – the school describes these learning teams as “an integral part of your experience”.
I always advise candidates to save questions like this, and respond to them last. When you can take a look at your application profile as a whole, you’ll be able to get a better sense of your strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll be able to use this essay to fill in the gaps.
For example, should you write about something personal or professional? Well, if your resume, recommendation letters, and other essays illustrate a strong professional background, I would suggest using this essay to share some personal anecdotes that reinforce your brand and make it clear you’re a well-rounded candidate.
On the other hand, if you’re an early-career candidate or your work history is not as strong, I would encourage you to use this essay to highlight some of your professional accomplishments or evidence of leadership skills.
Global experiences and perspectives are increasing important at top business schools, as students learn how to do business in (and with) different regions of the world. MBA programs are looking for candidates who are comfortable with travel and with other cultures.
UVA Darden gets at this international perspective with a direct question:
“Each year, Darden connects with over 80 countries. If you could choose any location in the world, where would you want to go with Darden? And why? (50 words)”
Note that this is not a question about going on vacation, or about where you want to visit – it’s about where you want to go with Darden. It’s all about what you want to learn and accomplish through travel. The school offers several learning opportunities worldwide, from global immersion or topic-focused courses to exchange programs to direct work on global client projects.
With a limit of just 50 words, you can’t waste a lot of space on fluff. You can choose from one of Darden’s current global course options or suggest a different locale, but keep the focus on what you want to learn or do, and how your chosen location will help you get it done.
Darden’s third essay provides another example of the school being relatively explicit about what they’re looking for in a successful MBA applicant – leadership – and asking directly for experience in the area. The prompt reads:
“Darden strives to identify and cultivate leaders who follow their purpose. At this stage, how would you describe your evolving leadership style and please provide an example. (200 words)”
There are a couple of different elements to the prompt that you need to be sure to address in your response.
For one thing, the school is looking for a single example to illuminate your leadership skills, so you’ll need to do some careful brainstorming beforehand to ensure you choose the best example.
The other key elements of this prompt are “purpose” and “evolving leadership style”. In other words, the school wants to see evidence that you are learning and growing as a leader, and that you’re acting with intentionality.
Darden invites their MBA candidates to “Put your why to work” in their program. While you’ll address your career goals in the final essay, it’s worth your while to spend some time here thinking about how your leadership example reflects both your personal brand and your career trajectory.
Finally, make sure your example covers not just what you did, but also why you used that approach and why it defines your leadership style.
This essay focuses less on intentions and actions, and more on outcomes. The prompt reads:
“Please provide an example of a situation in which you have made a meaningful impact. (200 words)”
What does it mean to have had a “meaningful impact”?
While UVA Darden focuses a lot on leadership and accomplishment, the school’s small cohort size and heavy emphasis on teamwork also means that they put a lot of emphasis on personal missions. As their website puts it, “At Darden, you’ll learn to leverage the power of business to create value based on your values.”
This is a question about your values. If someone asked you about the work you’ve been most proud of, what would you say? This is an excellent space to talk about volunteer work you’ve done – assuming it was significant.
The most effective response to this essay prompt will make it clear that you’re willing to work for your values – and that you’re able to assess whether than work has had a real, measurable, meaningful result.
Fortunately, Darden’s final MBA essay prompt is a simple, straightforward one. The prompt reads:
“What is your short-term, post-MBA career goal and why? (150 words)”
This is a question you should be well-prepared to answer regardless of where you apply, as nearly every business school is going to want to know why you’re applying and how you plan to use your degree.
After all, prominent alumni are good for the school’s brand. This is especially true at Darden, which boasts a huge number of alumni who are company presidents, C-suite executives, or founders.
To some extent, this essay is more about weeding applicants out than it is about looking for specific goals. Elite business schools don’t want students who are only enrolled in their program because they didn’t know what to do next with their life, or because they think grad school is a good break from the working world.
The specifics of your post-MBA goals are important only in that they’re reasonable, achievable goals (even if they are ambitious), and that you can show the concrete steps you will take to make your goals a reality.
With a wide range of essay topics to cover and extremely limited word counts for most of them, getting outside feedback is crucial when it comes to writing solid essay responses for UVA Darden.
Fortunately, the admissions consulting team at EXPARTUS has years of experience helping applicants create effective MBA application profiles for elite business schools. We’ll help you get perspective on your application as a whole, and ensure that each part of the application highlights your strengths and reinforces your personal brand.
To learn more about how we can help you become the clear choice for admission, get in touch today.