Darden Mba Application Essays

Darden has a new question this year and is giving applicants 500 words to answer:
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, opinions frequently shift. Tell us about a time when your opinion evolved through discussions with others.

This is a fairly challenging essay to write, as it will likely be new to most applicants. It is not a typical goals essay, leadership essay, or teamwork essay. Nor is it an open-ended essay like HBS or Stanford where you can take it where you want. Instead, this essay is specific and Darden is looking for something specific from each prospective student: What experience have you had where you changed your opinion, how did this happen, and what did you learn from it and/or do differently next time?

Here are some tips to consider as you write:

• Be specific.

Darden is not looking for you to give generalities about the importance of listening to others’ perspectives but rather to tell about a time that you were in a specific situation and changed your opinion. So set the context of where you were, who was involved and what specifically happened.

• Consider global or cultural examples.

This essay is tailor-made for an example that involves people from different countries, cultures, communities, etc. If you can weave in any global experience you have had, all the better. Your example doesn’t have to be professional. You may have had cross-cultural experiences as part of your extracurricular activities.

If you don’t have any global or cultural examples, think about people who simply saw things completely differently from you. Were they from a different part of the country? Completely different background? Rural? Urban? Older? Younger? As our last election showed, people can have wildly differing perspectives from even their neighbor next door.

• Tie in how you respond to criticism or differing opinions.

Many schools ask applicants’ recommenders how the applicant responds to constructive criticism. With this essay question, Darden is asking you how you respond to people who have different opinions. Is there any sense of arrogance or entitlement or do you come across as a humble leader who is open to hearing others’ opinions?

Ultimately, Darden is trying to gauge how you will react when you are in your learning team or section and someone disagrees with you. Will you take the feedback constructively and learn? Change your opinion? Or will you shut down or be defensive?

• Focus on learning and improving.

Demonstrate your learnings or takeaways that have helped you improve as a leader. Could you have come to the table better prepared? Could you have listened better to others? What might you do differently next time? What was it about the other people’s comments that made you change your opinion? Think about how you have grown as a result of the experience and try to tie that back to how you will grow during your two years at Darden.

Darden is seeking students who are self-aware and can integrate new information and perspectives as they contribute to the collaborative community. Use this essay to demonstrate that you have the skills and desire to make a positive contribution to the Darden learning environment.

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Topics: MBA Admissions Insights, MBA Application Tips, School Specific Articles | Tags: University of Virginia Darden School of Business


During the global economic crisis I was an observer, not a victim. I learned a great deal from being a spectator at a play about leadership, with the economic crisis as the backdrop.

When the crisis hit I was developing my own leadership style. From my first day as a military engineer I was persuading people of different backgrounds, ages, and cultures to implement my managerial and technical solutions, not sitting alone in front of a computer. I quickly learned that to lead I needed confidence; learning about the situation before acting, “reading the market”, gave me that confidence. The more successes I accumulated, the more confident I become. I had not yet learned about the fine line where confidence takes on the prefix “over”, and becomes dangerous.

During the crisis I purchased equipment from two family businesses – “Seller & Son”, an importer of leading manufacturers, and “Maker & Son”, a local manufacturer of similar equipment. “Seller & Son’s” business prospered during the crisis, adding an extra work day to keep up with demand. “Maker & Son” survived only as a component supplier, losing the basis of its reputation, its identity as a manufacturer.

Working during the global crisis with both of the leaders, and people who knew them for decades, clarified for me that making the effort to understand the situation, reading the market, is an essential part of leadership.

“Maker & Son” was established in the sixties. Emphasizing technologies and successfully selling systems for decades, its leader felt he didn’t need to focus on service. When customer concerns shifted, “Seller & Son” did its research, “read the market” and offered responsive service. “Maker & Son”, outwardly confident, did nothing to keep its market share. During the crisis it continued to have long response times, forcing clients to find solutions for themselves. “Seller & Son” was always willing to help without looking for an immediate profit, welcoming clients’ problems and providing immediate solutions. Those customers that still had the resources to buy during the crisis voted, with their wallets, for the company providing service.

During my latest project I made the same mistake, while deciding which Sections would be responsible for the safety testing of newly purchased equipment.

I divided the responsibility between two units, without doing the research to find out who already had the necessary expertise. I re-invented the wheel with the new distribution. Only my reputation and good relationships with those involved in the project saved the new wheel from breaking because of the bumps in the road, the internal conflicts, I accidently created.

Struggling to keep my new wheel turning, I remembered “Seller” and “Maker” during the crisis. As “Maker” had done, I assumed instead of checking. I was paying for the over-confidence borne of my past successes. When I admitted my mistake, the road became smoother. Now as I lead, I know that asking the right questions can help you succeed during hard times. It will not harm a leader’s image; it is over-confidence that can ruin it.

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