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UVA Darden Class of 2023 Essay Analysis

June 16, 2020

2020/21 essay questions

Short Answer Prompt 1: Tell us what you would want your learning team to know about you - personal, professional or both. (100 words)

Short Answer Prompt 2: What is your short-term, post-MBA career goal and why? (150 words)

Short Answer Prompt 3: Each year, Darden connects with over 80 countries. If you could choose any location in the world, where would you want to travel? (5 words) And why? (50 words)

Essay 1: Please provide an example of a situation in which you have made a meaningful impact. (200 words)

Essay 2: Share a time in which you engaged with a perspective, identity, community, or experience that was different from your own and how it impacted your worldview. (200 words)

Optional Essay: If there is further information you believe would be helpful to the Admission Committee, please provide it (250 words)

2020/21 essay question analysis

Given the tight word limits for each of these prompts, avoid referencing more than one or two examples, as using more will require more storytelling that risks crowding out your core theme.

For Prompt 1, think of a theme or experience that is most unique to you. It can be a formative life lesson you learned, something you are proud of, or a unique perspective you will bring to the class. Avoid just talking about one of your core strengths. It feels like an easy path to a good essay, but it will be difficult to differentiate yourself from other applicants unless your strength is truly unique. The key to making this answer memorable is telling a good story.

Prompt 2 is a more traditional MBA application question, often asked in the short answer section of other schools’ applications. It is important to highlight the impact you want to have (i.e. use your experience to boost adoption of digital marketing within consumer products companies) rather than a role (i.e. CEO of a consumer products company), as the former will be more credible for the reader given the twists and turns one’s career can take. Also important is highlighting what from your existing experience makes you the right choice to pursue this path. Many applicants want to make career shifts, but the shift will appear more credible if you showcase what you already bring to the table.

For Prompt 3, our clients last year found this challenging to communicate in only 50 words, so establish your location in 5-10 words, and spend the rest of the time explaining why. It is natural to think that more exotic locations are preferable (“Hey, look at me, I’m adventurous”), but what will be more effective is a location tied to your unique background or future goals that provide an easy explanation as to why you chose that location and what that choice says about you. Part of the answer to why may include what you would do there; doing so will help the reader understand more of your underlying character. Activities that emphasize relationship-building, collaboration, pushing your comfort zone, and a sense of lifelong learning will best align with what Darden is looking for.

For Essay 1, consider a time you had the biggest impact on a team or person, and discuss your actions and decisions that drove the impact you created. For key decisions that drove the impact, focus on why you made the decisions you did, and what you learned along the way. All things being equal, bigger projects are better than smaller ones, but schools will naturally be skeptical of how much impact you had closing that billion-dollar deal. More important will be demonstrating how you shaped the outcome of your story.

Essay 2 also requires a personal story, ideally where you engaged with someone in a way that made them better off (i.e. tangibly helped them, or changed their perspective on an issue), yet also learned something yourself that you were able to later apply to driving one of your key achievements. As with prompt 1, the key will be detailing the impact you had on the outcome, not just that you engaged a community different than yourself.

Optional essay

The optional question is available for you to explain any additional information that you may not have had the space to clarify in other parts of your application.

2020/21 deadlines

Deadline time: 11:59pm ET

Early Decision: Application deadline: September 2,2020

Round 1: Application deadline: October 5, 2020

Round 2: Application deadline: January 4, 2021

Round 3: Application deadline: April 7, 2021

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