How to Tackle the UVA Darden MBA Application Essays

Matt P, an expert coach and Darden alumnus, provides insight into best practices and approaches for the UVA Darden MBA application essays.

Matt P.

By Matt P.

Posted January 10, 2024

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As part of the application process, Darden applicants are required to answer three, short-answer questions. As stated on the application website, Darden places particular emphasis on authenticity and genuineness with a goal of showing, not telling.

The essay prompts for the 2023-2024 application cycle are:

  1. Community of Belonging: What would you want your classmates to know about you that is not on your resume? (100 words)
  2. Inclusive Impact: Please describe a tangible example that illuminates your experience promoting an inclusive environment and what you would bring to creating a welcoming, global community at Darden. (300 words)
  3. Careers With Purpose: At this time how would you describe your short-term, post-MBA goal in terms of industry, function, geography, company size and/or mission and how does it align with the long-term vision you have for your career? (200 words)

As a Darden MBA alumnus, former Second Year Coach, and MBA coach on Leland, here are my thoughts on optimal approaches for each question!

Essay 1: Community of Belonging

Prompt: What would you want your classmates to know about you that is not on your resume? (100 words)

  • Watch the word count: This applies to each essay prompt, but the word limit is intentional for a reason. Don’t go beyond it. Admissions will be looking for concise thoughts that articulate a clear point of view. For initial drafts, I would worry about getting your ideas on paper rather than the word count, but as you edit, make sure your thoughts are communicated with specificity and brevity in mind.
  • Avoid generic qualities/language: The key here is specificity. I recommend steering clear of saying things like, “I’m hardworking” or “I’m passionate about helping others.” Qualities such as work ethic, intellectual curiosity, and leadership are likely evident in your resume.
  • Draw from your unique passions/interests: For this question, focus on your unique qualities and strengths. Admissions want a class that is diverse across several domains. What difference do you bring to the classroom that’s not obvious from your resume? I recommend starting out by jotting down your passions, interests, and strengths and defining how each might resonate in the Darden classroom. The strongest connections should serve as the best foundation.

Essay 2: Inclusive Impact 

Prompt: Please describe a tangible example that illuminates your experience promoting an inclusive environment and what you would bring to creating a welcoming, global community at Darden. (300 words)

  • Be specific about your role: This question is focused on YOU and how YOU have promoted inclusivity in the past. What were the steps you took to promote an inclusive environment? Why did you take those steps? The Darden classroom and experience emphasize leadership and accountability so for this question, ensure you focus on your specific role and actions taken.
  • Describe any challenges: Deep learning and insight often come from challenges as much, if not more, than success. Did you encounter any challenges in the past trying to promote an inclusive environment? What did you learn that’s enabled you to succeed in the future in promoting inclusivity?
  • Create a structured response: With 300 words, being concise is critical. A solid structure will support concise, articulate thoughts. Leveraging methods such as STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) can help you craft your response. The key here is to ensure you not only document a specific example/experience, but that you also tie it to why that experience matters at Darden.
  • Do your homework: Make sure you research what diversity and inclusivity mean at Darden. Here is a helpful link to get started. The Darden experience is one of active interpersonal engagement, particularly in the classroom through the Case Method. Highlighting any experience or examples of directly engaging with others to promote and maintain inclusivity will help provide a comprehensive answer to the question.

Essay 3: Careers With Purpose

Prompt: At this time how would you describe your short-term, post-MBA goal in terms of industry, function, geography, company size and/or mission and how does it align with the long-term vision you have for your career? (200 words)

  • Define your goals upfront: I recommend starting this response by defining your short and long-term goals at the very beginning. With a tight word count, articulating your short and long-term goals at the beginning will help consolidate your structure and word output.
  • Consider time bounds for short and long-term: For short-term goals, you want to generally think of the three-to-five year window after business school with long-term falling into anything beyond that range.
  • Leverage specific examples: For a question like this, I recommend specifying specific roles and companies to help articulate your short-term aspirations. For example, sharing that you want to work in Product Management for a social-media-focused company like TikTok is a far more powerful statement than wanting to work in tech for a large global firm.
  • Tie back to your “why”: Ultimately, this question is asking why business school and a Darden education matter in helping you attain your goals. How will a degree from Darden, combined with your personal experience help you achieve your goals?
  • Be realistic: Articulating long-term goals can be challenging but optimal answers will have realistic objectives. A long-term goal of “being a leader that inspires others” is nice but doesn’t really speak as much to your unique strengths and interests. Using the previous TikTok example, a long-term goal of leading an organization dedicated to developing and sharing innovative technology products that bring communities together would be more realistic given the short-term context.

Beyond the tactical advice for each question, here are a few other suggestions for crafting your essays:

  • Do your homework: Resources such as alumni ambassadors and the Darden website will give you deep insight into the Darden experience, which will help in guiding your essay content.
  • Draft, draft, and draft: Given the tight word counts for each question, I would recommend writing as much as you can upfront for each question, and then gradually refining with subsequent drafts.
  • Get another set of eyes: Having a friend, peer, or relative provide additional insight into your drafts will help with style, flow, and those sneaky grammar edits!

I believe these tips will be helpful as you begin to start drafting responses and refining the other components of the application. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time to draft and edit for optimal quality.

Good luck!

Matt P. is a Darden alumnus and former Darden Second Year Coach. He is also an expert coach with a passion for helping YOU navigate the MBA admissions process. Book a FREE intro call with Matt P. today!

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