This application season, the University of Virginia’s Darden School is maintaining its single essay question approach, though the content of the query has changed. The school has been known to later add a few—much shorter—prompts, however, so you will need to stay alert for those, in case Darden does so again this year. In the meantime, focus your efforts on the program’s primary essay question, which prods applicants to discuss a past situation in which their opinion on a matter was changed as a result of input from and interaction with others. At first glance, we assume that with this prompt, Darden’s admissions committee is hoping to gain insight into applicants’ capacity for self-assessment and their openness and responsiveness to other viewpoints. You have only 500 words with which to convey all this, so you will need to be simultaneously thorough and concise. We offer our analysis to help you achieve this.
Essay 1: When preparing for class at Darden, students formulate an opinion on each case before meeting with their learning teams and class sections. When encountering different views and perspectives from their own, opinions frequently shift. Tell us about a time when your opinion evolved through discussions with others. (500 words maxim um)
A cornerstone of the Darden MBA program is the case method of learning, in which students are presented with an actual business problem, along with all the relevant associated data, and tasked with identifying a solution to that problem. Each person analyzes the situation and information on his or her own, then discusses and debates it with the members of his or her learning team, and finally does so once again in the classroom. So having one’s ideas and opinions questioned and challenged is part and parcel of the Darden experience, which is undoubtedly why the admissions committee has chosen to pose this essay prompt. What better way to assess whether an applicant is the kind of person who would thrive in and benefit from such an interactive and intellectually stimulating environment?
Darden clearly wants evidence that you are capable of listening, reflecting, learning, and growing. If you are not able to do so, the school might assume that you simply do not have the necessary qualities to become an integral part of its next incoming class, let alone a standout manager later in your career. To craft an effective essay response to this query, focus on describing a "before and after" situation in which the information or input another person provided you served as an inflection point that triggered a dramatic change in your thinking.
In business school—as in life in general, in fact—you will encounter people who think differently from you, operate according to different values, and react differently to the same stimuli. And success in an endeavor often involves evaluating and even incorporating the views of others in one’s efforts, but it can also result from resisting opposing perspectives. With this essay prompt, Darden is hoping to learn how you act/react when faced with such differences, using the principle that past behavior is a fairly reliable predictor of future behavior. As we have explained, in the Darden MBA program, you will definitely be required to navigate and consider differing opinions in the course of analyzing case studies, as well as when completing group projects and pursuing other activities both inside and outside the classroom. Do you tend to hold firmly to your convictions, debating divergent views and attempting to persuade others to your mind-set? Or do you readily receive contrasting opinions, taking time to weigh them and consider their applicability to the situation in question? Using a narrative approach, share with the admissions committee a situation in which you faced a perspective that deviated from your own and how this difference influenced your subsequent thought processes and perhaps even your actions.
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This article first appeared here University of Virginia (Darden) Essay Analysis, 2017–2018 by mbaMission